Iowa cornerbacks Riley Moss (#33) and Matt Hankins (#8) are putting on clinics this season as shutdown cornerbacks in the Big Ten. Both prospects currently have two interceptions on the season. Moss collected both of his in week one against Indiana, while Hankins picked both against Iowa State in week two. As they show themselves as legitimate NFL prospects this season, intrigue builds for what they bring to the NFL level.
Moss took his interceptions from Indiana quarterback and NFL prospect Michael Penix Jr and returned them both for touchdowns. So far, he’s allowed 3 catches for 13 yards through the first two games, impacting 50% of the passes that have come his way.
Hankins isn’t far behind. He’s allowed 4 catches for 34 yards and has impacted 33% of the passes that have come his way. Hankins’ interceptions came off of Brock Purdy, the Iowa State quarterback who has been on NFL radars over the last couple of years.
It’s not that Iowa has been picking on bad quarterbacks either. They’ve defeated two ranked teams (Iowa State is currently ranked 16th on my top 25, Indiana is looking to get back in) and intercepted two NFL prospect quarterbacks three times apiece. This defense has been formidable this season and has them sitting at 7th in my top 25.
Iowa cornerbacks builds and backgrounds: Riley Moss
Riley Moss comes from Centennial High School in Ankeny, Iowa. He was a two-star prospect (PS#344, 248th CB on 247 Sports). He’s listed at 6’1″ and 194 lbs on the Iowa team website. He’s a true senior this year, but the covid season gave him an additional season of eligibility if he so chooses.
Moss was pressed into service early in his career as a true freshman in 2018, where he appeared in all 13 games and made five starts. He was a Big Ten Conference player of the week that year after a big performance against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, where he intercepted two passes on the way to a 48-31 victory.
In 2019, he was somewhat limited due to an injury where he missed four games. He started in one and played the other nine. However, Moss’ breakout season came last year, the covid year, when he became a full-time starter and started all eight games. Moss made 42 tackles, intercepted two passes, and logged four pass breakups, enough to receive Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors. He was named to the 2022 Senior Bowl watchlist this offseason.
Riley Moss vs Indiana
Moss is a very versatile cornerback prospect who can fit in a bunch of NFL schemes. He’s best suited as a zone coverage cornerback who can play well in run support. That means that Moss could play the slot if there wasn’t a spot for him in the boundary and primarily play coverage underneath. That doesn’t mean that he can’t play man coverage because he does that well too. But, his skillset and awareness best suit him to a zone scheme.
Moss’ first interception came from him simply staying aware of the play in front of him. He’s playing zone coverage, and his assignment is to play the flat. Penix throws the out looking for his man, DJ Matthews and gives him a good throw. However, Matthews slipped in his break. That little action was enough to throw his focus off of the catch to where he dropped it. The ball goes up in the air, and Moss had the awareness and the hip fluidity to adjust and to be there to catch it off of the deflection.
Moss’ other interception was an imposing play because of his play recognition. Again, Moss is in zone coverage and actually has the deep assignment. However, he does an outstanding job reading Penix’s eyes and seeing where the play is going. His teammate, Dane Belton, was actually assigned to the slot. However, Belton (a junior) wasn’t in a position to make the play, still playing too far inside. He hadn’t noticed the receiver, Cameron Buckley, sitting in the flat. Moss did. He jumped the route, and no one was there to catch him.
Iowa cornerbacks builds and backgrounds: Matt Hankins
Matt Hankins is one of those super seniors that we have heard so much about this offseason. He’s listed at 6’0″ and 185 lbs on the Iowa team website. He hails from Lewisville, Texas, where he played at Marcus High. Hankins was a three-star prospect (PS#158, #89 CB on 247 Sports). He had 21 offers and turned down schools like Michigan, Colorado, and Duke.
Hankins has been on the field since he was a true freshman in 2017. He appeared in 11 games his freshman season, collecting two starts. In 2018, he became the team’s full-time starter.
He’s missed eight games to injury in his career, but when he’s been on the field, he has been great. In 2019, Hankins won the team’s Hustle Award and received Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors last year, and served as a team captain. Hankins entered this season with 28 career starts and has no remaining eligibility after this season. Like Riley Moss, Hankins is on the 2022 Senior Bowl watchlist.
Matt Hankins vs Iowa State
Matt Hankins has a versatile skill set, but I think his professional hopes are limited to the slot. His lack of size limits him from covering the bigger body types on the perimeter in the NFL. Regardless, Hankins plays with more physicality than his counterpart and is considered the #1 cornerback on Iowa’s defense. He’s capable in both man and zone coverage. Hankins is also the better press coverage player of the two, using his physicality and the sidelines very well.
On the first interception of the day, Iowa ran a 0-blitz. That means there were no deep safeties to help over the top, and everyone is playing man coverage. Hankins is matched up against the X-receiver, Xavier Hutchinson, who is an NFL prospect himself.
Hutchinson is running a deep post into the vacated middle of the field. However, when Brock Purdy threw this ball, he was late. The ball should have been out a full second sooner. Because of that, the throw ends up severely underthrown. Hankins here probably got away with a little tug, but he stays in position and jumps in front of the receiver, snatching the pass out of the sky.
The second interception was another phenomenal tip drill play. Hankins is playing his zone and see’s the ball go up in the air. Then, he makes an incredibly athletic play to go up and catch it. The run back is just as athletic, showing impressive body control as he takes it back 41 yards.
Iowa cornerbacks offer immense upside to the Iowa defense
The Iowa defense is stacked with talent. Traditionally, this team has always been good on the defensive side of the ball, especially during the tenure of head coach Kirk Ferentz, who’s been at Iowa for 23 seasons. They have a ferocious defensive front, which opens opportunities for the secondary, and the duo of Riley Moss and Matt Hankins are cashing in.
Riley Moss looks more like the earlier draft pick to me. I think he’s the better athlete and the more versatile prospect. We should watch for Moss this season because he looks like a day two guy to me.
I like Matt Hankins, but I know the size is going to be a factor. His frame could use more size, and that will only increase his physicality. Until then, he’s more of a backup boundary corner projection with potential usage out of the slot. I think many NFL teams would see the upside he offers and would like him as a day-three guy.
Either way, these two will be key factors to Iowa’s run for a Big Ten Championship appearance this season.