McNutt deserves better
James Vandenberg fired a pass downfield toward Marvin McNutt.
The senior receiver ran a well-executed route to lose his defender, but Vandenberg's throw was well short of its target.
It didn't matter.
McNutt fully extended his left arm behind him, stabbing the football with a gigantic hand. He reeled the ball in toward his body, securing it before being tackled a few moments later.
The 6-4, 215-pounder never broke his gazelle-like stride in the process.
The catch wound up as a 30-yard gain and the spark to Iowa's first scoring drive this past weekend against Michigan State — a game that, of course, ended in a Hawkeye loss in spite of another terrific individual performance from No. 7.
McNutt is putting together a spectacular senior season and seems to evolve into a better football player every week.
"The most pleasing thing about him is he's improving each week," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He's practicing each week and making strides. That's what good players do — they work to get better."
It's just too bad he isn't getting his due from many people outside of Iowa City because of the Hawkeyes' mediocre season.
McNutt became Iowa's all-time leader in receiving yardage in the game against the Spartans; he now has 2,635. His 1,089 yards this year are a Hawkeye single-season best. Don't forget he also became the school's all-time leader in receiving touchdowns this season, too.
But it's been clear that records are the last thing on his mind. McNutt just continues to bust his butt — all for the benefit of the team.
"It's a great honor," he said after the Michigan State game. "At the same time, right now, you really try not to think about it too much because we have two games left, and you have to continue to play. Continue to be better."
While this year is McNutt's swan song at Iowa, something bigger and brighter has been calling his name for some time now — the National Football League.
The St. Louis native could have been selected last year after posting 53 catches for 861 yards and eight touchdowns on the way to earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. But he chose to stay for his senior season as a Hawkeye.
McNutt apparently made the right choice.
Not only is he a lock to become the third Kirk Ferentz-coached Iowa receiver drafted (Kevin Kasper and Kahlil Hill were sixth-round selections in 2001 and 2002, respectively), but he could end up as the earliest chosen Hawkeye receiver ever. Quinn Early was selected in the third round by San Diego in 1988.
Many scouts slot McNutt as a second- or third-round pick. The National Football Post lists him as the No. 53 player on its big board and the seventh-best wide receiver prospect.
As National Football Post college-scouting director Wes Bunting asked, "Is there a more uncoverable receiver in college football right now?"
He's got an NFL-ready body complete with massive hands that make for great targets. He uses that body well to bully smaller defenders and obtain good position. He's a fierce blocker in the running game. And perhaps what will be most crucial at the next level, McNutt's experience as a former quarterback gives him a unique understanding of running routes and defensive schemes, among other things.
And unlike this year at Iowa, he'll surely have a little more help on his team in the NFL. Opposing defenses have been able to key on him. It hasn't mattered much — he continues to produce eyebrow-raising numbers.
But McNutt could care less, because he's a consummate team player — and soon to be a consummate professional football player. He'd rather get shut out by an opposing corner as long as his team gets a victory.
I'm sure he'd trade his eight catches for a 130 yards and a touchdown against Michigan State for a Senior Day victory in his final game at Kinnick Stadium.
"He played his heart out today," Vandenberg said. "He really gave us a spark. We all wish we could have sent him out on a better note."
I wish Iowa could have, too. McNutt deserved it.
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