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CFF Targets - Jaylin Noel is about to TORCH the Big 12
Iowa State's rising star is poised for a breakout season this fall
It’s an understatement to say that last season was a disappointment for the Cyclone faithful. After completing several seasons with what looked to be an upwards trajectory, Iowa State failed to live up to expectations in 2021 with what is likely the most talented roster its ever had. 2022 was a changing of the guard at several key positions, as CFF superstar RB Breece Hall moved on. Still, there was optimism that this team could be more competitive than it was.
CFF managers fixated on the RB position in the 2022 offseason with a focus on which RB would replace Breece. As it turns out, none of them would. There is no replacing a player like Breece Hall, and the RB room ultimately disappointed everyone in the CFF community, whether they drafted Jirehl Brock, or budding freshman Cartevious Norton, or even someone else.
The offence overall struggled immensely, which is likely why head coach Matt Campbell decided to make wholesale changes on staff. Here is an excerpt from a beat report on staff turnover this offseason:
Three position coaches were hired from the outside. Offensive line coach Ryan Clanton (Northern Iowa) takes over a group that gave up a Big 12-high 23 sacks in conference games. Running backs coach and special teams coordinator Jordan Langs (NAIA Indiana Wesleyan) will try to ignite a run game that averaged a 3.3 yards per carry. Receivers coach Noah Pauley (North Dakota State) must find a way to replace one of the most prolific receivers in conference history in Xavier Hutchinson.
Speaking of WRs, if there is a silver lining for the 2022 season it’s that — despite fielding an anemic offence — the Cyclones were able to support an elite CFF asset at WR in Xavier Hutchinson (6’3, 205).
Hutchinson now moves on to the NFL, but his wingman — rising junior Jaylin Noel, who had a pretty solid season himself in 2022 (11.5 FPG in 1-ppr formats), returns to the fold. I think Noel is in for the season of his life in 2023, and I explain my thoughts as to why that is in the proceeding sections below.
Coaching & System
Since Matt Campbell has been head coach of the Cyclones, their leading WR has averaged 75 receptions, just under 96 targets, 1011 yards receiving and just over 6 TDs a year. Here is a breakdown by year with target numbers (where applicable) of Iowa State’s leading receivers since Campbell joined:
2022: Xavier Hutchinson Receptions: 107 / Targets: 165 / Yards: 1171 / Touchdowns: 6
2021: Xavier Hutchinson Receptions: 83 / Targets: 109 / Yards: 987 / Touchdowns: 6
2020: Xavier Hutchinson Receptions: 64 / Targets: 69 / Yards: 771 / Touchdowns: 4
2019: Deshaunte Jones Receptions: 76 / Targets: NA / Yards: 877 / Touchdowns: 2
2018: Hakeem Butler Receptions: 60 / Targets: 96 / Yards: 1318 / Touchdowns: 9
2017: Allen Lazard Receptions: 71 / Targets: 125 / Yards: 941 / Touchdowns: 10
2016: Allen Lazard Receptions: 69 / Targets: 111 / Yards: 1018 / Touchdowns: 7
The group of names on this list is impressive, as many of you will recognize some of them from the NFL ranks. Turns out ISU’s WR1 is a coveted position? This is news to me.
The number that stands out to me the most is from that 2022 stat line for Hutchinson — my guy was targeted 165(!) times over the course of a 12 game season. We’re talking about 13.75 targets a game!
His QB, Hunter Dekkers, facilitated that immense target volume through heavy pass game usage. Dekkers attempted 38 passes a game for the Cyclones last year. That’s good news for us, because Dekkers is returning this season and he’s lost his target man Mr. X.
Even more conveniently for us, the WR2 from last season — Jaylin Noel, returns to the fold and is looking for a prominent role now as the lead dog in the WR room.
There is some turbulence occurring this offseason, though. As mentioned, Campbell facilitated a major shake up of his staff after a disappointing season in 2022. Part of those changes includes new OC Nate Scheelhaase (2023-present), who was promoted from Running Game Coordinator/Running Backs/Wide Receivers coach (2021-2022) this offseason. Scheelhaase joined the Cyclones in 2018 as the RBs coach, then took on the role of WRs coach from 2019-20.
He has no prior experience as an OC so it’s hard to tell what his tendencies will be as a play caller. However, he appears to be an up-and-coming star in the coaching ranks of CFB as he was listed in 247Sports’ ‘30Under30’ as one of the top rising stars in the profession.
At the very least, we know that Scheelhaase has mentored two All-Big 12 receivers in Deshaunte Jones (2019) and Xavier Hutchinson (2020, 2021, 2022). So he knows what a stud WR looks like, and likely believes in getting them the ball.
Hutchinson averaged 21.7 fantasy points per game (FPG) in 2022 in 1-ppr formats, and had a solid season in 2021 averaging 16.8 FPG. As mentioned, he leaves behind a massive production vacancy for someone else to fill, and I think that that someone else is going to be last season’s WR2: Jaylin Noel.
WR Jaylin Noel - 5’10, 190
Noel finished 2022 with 60 receptions (87 targets) for 572 yards and 3 TDs (11.5 FPG). He was primarily a slot receiver in his first two years, however, this offseason he’s gotten more reps on the outside. Do not quote me on this, but I believe that is what Hutchinson did last season.
Xavier Hutchinson (6’3, 211) lined up at different positions for the Iowa State Cyclones during his career, but he was primarily a slot receiver in 2020 and 2021. He was a versatile receiver who could make plays after the catch and was often used in the short-to-intermediate passing game. In 2022, as alluded to earlier, he had his coming out party and lit the Big 12 on fire.
I think it would be helpful to dive into where some of the other leading WRs of year’s past lined up as well, so I consulted ChatGPT to find some answers. Here’s what I found:
Deshaunte Jones (5’10, 180) lined up primarily in the slot position during the 2019 season for the Iowa State Cyclones. He was utilized as a slot receiver and also occasionally lined up in the backfield as a running back.
Allen Lazard (6’5, 227) lined up at various positions during his time at Iowa State, but he was primarily an outside receiver or boundary receiver. In some formations, he would line up in the slot as well, but his main role was as an outside receiver.
Hakeem Butler (6’6, 227), like Allen Lazard, primarily lined up as an outside receiver or boundary receiver for Iowa State. He was known for his size and ability to make contested catches, so he was often utilized as a deep threat and as a target in the red zone. He occasionally lined up in the slot as well, but his primary role was as an outside receiver.
So it looks like the volume pigs in this offence come in all shapes and sizes, and are role-agnostic. There is a slight skew towards bigger-bodied players, but there is also a precedent for a smaller slot receiver to reach WR1 status in Jones.
With regards to Noel, even though he has primarily played slot so far, it sounds like he’s going to be moving around some. On his role changing this offseason, Noel had this to say:
It’s a 50-50 split . . . Being more on the outside this year, it’s more interesting and fun as I develop my skills being out there.
That’s encouraging news for us in the CFF community.
Here is an excerpt I pulled from the same report I referenced earlier:
Jaylin Noel is first in line to be the featured receiver following Hutchinson’s departure. The Cyclones made a significant addition with Eastern Kentucky transfer Jayden Higgins, who has raised eyebrows with his hands and ability to make plays after the catch. Another freshman January enrollee, Beni Ngoyi, also has shown promise.
Of course, we knew that there would be other players in the WR room, but I feel comfortable in making a proclamation that Noel is going to be first in line to get his in the 2023 offence.
Regarding the QB position, the same report wrote:
Freshman quarterback JJ Kohl, the highest-ranked player to sign with the Cyclones under Campbell, enrolled in January but is not expected to unseat Hunter Dekkers as the starter. Dekkers’ main assignment this spring was to make better decisions. Last year he was intercepted 14 times, most in the Big 12 and tied for third-most in the nation.
I don’t know whether Dekkers is any good as a football player, but I do know that he has funnelled volume to his main guy in the past, which is what we’re looking for in CFF.
The Jayden Higgins character that is mentioned in the report I referenced was an FCS standout last season. At 6’4, 215 pounds, he fits the profile of the Butlers and the Lazards of years past. In 2022, he caught 58 passes for 757 yards and 10 TDs in 12 games for Eastern Kentucky. Higgins is also from south Miami, which lets me know he’s a baller right off the bat. The concern is that he could come in and usurp Noel for WR1 status. Though, there will likely be an adjustment period for Higgins to not only learn the offence but acclimate to Power-Five (P5) football. The safer bet is still Noel, but Higgins is intriguing too.
New OC new problems. We don’t know what the OC is going to do in terms of tendencies as this is his first gig in such a role. Ultimately, we don’t really want them to change anything in terms of pass tendencies, but it would be nice if the Cyclones could score more TDs than last year. Dekkers returning for another season should bring stability to the offence, and with question marks remaining at RB, I think the Cyclones will still lean heavy pass. Even if they run more balanced, or skew run-heavy, the most important thing is that the QB funnels targets to one WR — in this case, Jaylin Noel. Dekkers did this last season with the X-man.
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