We’re scoring position groups this week for Nebraska. Based off 2018 performance, returning production and incoming talent, we’re basically power ranking Nebraska’s roster heading into the 2019 season. Each group will be getting a score on a 10-point scale.
Next up is…
Returning: junior Jack Stoll, junior Keaton Henry, sophomore Austin Allen, sophomore Kurt Rafdal, redshirt freshman Katerian Legrone, redshirt freshman Bryson Krull
Incoming: freshman Chris Hickman
Returning production: 100 percent of everything
So really, when you look at the tight end room, you look at one guy. And that guy has a glorious head of hair.
Jack Stoll grew into his role as the season progressed and he developed a better connection with quarterback Adrian Martinez. The Huskers’ staff saw early on Martinez was only really comfortable throwing it up to Stanley Morgan Jr. or JD Spielman, but Stoll’s work forced that issue and the two formed a pretty good chemistry.
Stoll’s best game came against Purdue on Sept. 29, where he caught four balls on seven targets for 51 yards, but he made a handful of plays throughout the season that put a little excitement into the staff about what he could become.
The old-school mullet has a way of fooling you into thinking he’s older than he is; Stoll still has another two years of eligibility.
Take this fourth-and-2 on the Huskers’ opening drive of the Ohio State game.
Stoll runs a mesh route to the boundary and Spielman does just enough to slow the Ohio State defender and get him trailing Stoll. Now, if this was Game 1 or 2, maybe Martinez doesn’t throw that ball up to Stoll. But he’s got enough confidence in his guy by this point to just throw it up and let him go make a play. Which Stoll does, while being interfered with.
My biggest concern with Stoll was perimeter blocking. (And in fairness, Nebraska’s perimeter blocking, in general, was a work-in-progress early on.) But as the season wore on, Stoll’s downfield technique and awareness improved drastically. When Nebraska was breaking runs, more often than not, you were seeing Stoll out on the edge sealing a guy or down the field pushing a guy back.
Head coach Scott Frost likes to say the mark of a great team is perimeter blocking, and as Nebraska’s offense took off it was no coincidence the edge blocking was getting better right along with it. Stoll and Austin Allen were a big part of that.
Allen represents half of the Huskers’ Twin Towers at tight end. The sophomore stands at 6-foot-8 while Kurt Rafdal comes in at 6-foot-7. Both are massive targets with good hands for Martinez. Rafdal is still a little rough around the edges but Allen seems ready for a larger role within the offense.
And then there’s Chris Hickman, the 6-foot-5 4-star tight end from Omaha Burke.
Tight end coach Sean Beckton has quite the treasure chest of a room, because Hickman comes in as a guy who has enough talent to play right away but doesn’t need to. Hickman can learn and ultimately redshirt (and ideally this is what you probably want, it gives him a year to work with Zach Duval in the weight room). Does he take Rafdal’s snaps? Maybe. But probably not Allen’s or Stoll’s unless he’s a superstar from Day 1.
Hickman has serious burst off the snap, either split out wide or coming off the line, and looks like a matchup problem for anyone. He’ll blow by linebackers and he’s too tall for most corners and safeties.
And he might not even beat out Katerian Legrone for snaps next season. The soon-to-be redshirt freshman was recruited to be Nebraska’s version of UCF’s Jordan Akins. Legrone comes in at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, while Akins was listed at 6-foot-3, 249 pounds. After Scott Frost took over in Orlando, Akins caught 55 balls for 862 yards and six scores in his final two seasons. Nebraska sees the same potential in Legrone.
Maybe the depth in the room played a part in Justin McGriff moving over to outside linebacker. The plan for him coming in was to start him at wideout, add weight and then move him inside to tight end. Perhaps a lack of depth at outside backer was a determining factor in that move, but that’s not any more likely than the alternative.
I like this room. And with another offseason for everyone in it to build chemistry with Martinez, build confidence within the offense and build some strength with Zach Duval, I think Beckton’s bunch has the potential to be one of Nebraska’s strongest position groups from top-to-bottom.
It has an established leader in Stoll, matchup-problems and utility players in Allen, Rafdal and Legrone and a young guy with enormous potential in Hickman.
Justification: No departures, a massive addition and everything Nebraska wants from its tight ends. There are no question marks with this group.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.