Over the next few weeks, we’re counting down the 10 Huskers with the highest intrigue factor heading into the 2019 season. But the series just started, so there’s only one other name on the list so far. Be patient.
Jack Stoll spent his spring and summer developing the pass-catching side of his job description. At 6-foot-4, 260, he’s got the physical tools to be a more-than-capable blocker. With a mindset that he wants to dominate the guy lined up across from him, he’s got the right mentality, too. But Stoll might be a key receiver in the offense as Nebraska looks to utilize the tight end more in 2019.
A usage bump could mean special things for the junior.
As a sophomore, Stoll saw 37 targets (fourth-best on the team), caught 21 of those balls (a 56.8 percent catch rate that was the lowest among the seven Huskers to see a target a game), turned in 245 yards and three touchdowns, and averaged over a first down a catch.
But Nebraska’s leading receiver last year is gone and he takes his 1,000 yards with him. Stanley Morgan Jr.’s production needs replacing, though the more pressing matter is figuring out a way to manufacture the spacing that he created for everyone else. The benefit of a strong, fast, home-run-hitter is he influences defensive coverage. In theory, that guy generates man-on-man looks for the other guys in the offense. That’s not always true in practice but JD Spielman has feasted in his first two seasons in part because he was the perfect compliment to Morgan.
Now, with Morgan gone, Nebraska needs a vertical threat who can win jump balls in the red zone (though this staff isn’t throwing those all that often) and a guy who can stretch the field. That’s where Stoll comes in.
A hot topic in the spring amongst offensive coaches was trying to find ways to get the tight ends more involved. In the spring game (though Stoll sat that out to protect the Stoll-et), two tight end looks were common. I think we can expect to see more of that heading into Year 2, but the tight ends also have a role to play if they want more opportunity.
“Last year we were held up way too much at the line of scrimmage, at the second level and working around because we were unsure,” Sean Beckton said of his group in the spring. “That’s development and understanding what’s going on a little bit more. (Stoll)’s getting his eyes better on the front end of the coverage where he can understand how he needs to maneuver off linebackers and safeties so he can get down the field a lot quicker.
“Being able to understand what was going on in front of him, to dissect what type of coverage pre-snap and who he needs to work. His eyes were all over the place last year, and really all those guys were, but he’s really, really come on and been a guy that can get down the field.”
Looking at the growth of the tight end in the UCF offense from the first year to the second offers a little context to go along with what Beckton’s talking about. The overall percentage boost of targets that went to tight ends was almost too small to be noteworthy — 16.7 percent in 2016 up to 18.4 percent in 2017 — but the average yards gained per target bumped up from 7.4 yards to 11.4. Jordan Akins is the big name here, as he went from 23 catches and 347 yards as a junior to 32 catches for 515 yards as a senior.
Last season Stoll was at 11.7 yards a catch (third amongst the guys to average at least a target a game) and 6.6 yards a target.
The expectation is quarterback Adrian Martinez’s passing numbers take a jump in Year 2. Maybe it looks like McKenzie Milton’s two-year improvement at UCF, when Milton went from 1,983 yards as a freshman to 4,037 the following season. Martinez threw the ball at roughly the same frequency in his first season as Milton did in his (31.5 attempts a game for Martinez, 33.6 for Milton) but was already a little more effective at generating explosive plays. He was 634 yards better despite throwing only 11 more times thanks to 12 more 20-plus yard throws and six more 30-plus yard throws.
How much of that was Morgan? I guess we’ll find out. But the point being is if Martinez’s numbers go up to that extent, which guy outside of Wan’Dale Robinson is providing the biggest year-over-year improvement to get Martinez there? I think there’s a pretty good chance the answer here is Stoll.
Let’s just play a hypothetical numbers game for a second.
Spielman, who probably would have hit 1,000 last season as well if not for injury, can match Morgan’s production from a season ago. He’s the first option and he’s a good one. No surprises here. Some combination of Mike Williams, Jaron Woodyard and a non-Wan’Dale Robinson freshman makes up the 800ish Spielman produced last year (which I think is doable). Robinson gets to 500, which seems conservative but we still have no idea how he’s actually going to be used. The collection of running backs equals the 400ish yards they produced through the air last year (and we can count Miles Jones here). Everybody else produces 300 (the guys who didn’t average a target a game last season put up a combined 240 yards).
That puts us at 3,000 yards passing with the only aggressive estimate being the 800 produced by Williams, Woodyard and Player No. 3. Where exactly do you expect Martinez to fall? Around 3,500? That’s where I’m at, which means Stoll is hitting 500, which absolutely feels in play. He might be able to get to 600. Can he consistently beat linebackers in coverage and draw safety help over the middle? Can he force defenses to put a corner on him often enough to change a defensive gameplan? Doing so would certainly make it easier for others to hit their marks.
Stoll might have one of the higher ceilings of any offensive player given the physical tools, experience and starting role, but he also only had 245 yards last season so projecting a major improvement might read a little too optimistic.
He’s one of the most interesting Huskers in 2019. And that’s only partly because of the hair.
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.