Iowa: Wide receiver improvement crucial to quarterback Nate Stanley’s growth

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Iowa football offseason is here. That’s the time for player improvement, and that includes quarterback Nate Stanley.

It starts with ball security. Improved accuracy is a must. So is having Stanley understand the ideal time to use his feet to move the chains.

“Another step he’s got to make is learning when to pull down and run,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said in January. “It’s not something he did very well this year, but that’s something experience will teach you.”

Player improvement is dependent on the individual. And while it’s true with Stanley, he’s in a unique situation. His chance of significantly building on his numbers as a first-year starting quarterback requires growth from those around him, too.

Namely, his wide receivers.

Iowa’s struggles with the passing game and inability of the wide receivers to catch passes and generate separation from defensive backs isn’t news. It’s a 2-year-old problem.

It didn’t keep Stanley from exceeding expectations as a sophomore last season.

2017 stats

Comp. Att. % Yds TD INT
196 351 55.8 2,437 26 6

But it will keep him from building upon those numbers if things stay the same. Iowa’s leading receiver the last two seasons essentially were possession receivers in Riley McCarron and Nick Easley. Neither caught more than 51 passes, ran for more than 530 yards or scored more than 4 touchdowns in a season.

This isn’t a knock on either player, but those are numbers of complimentary receivers, not No. 1 options. The real issue here is Iowa’s inability to develop wide receivers the last several years. Both McCarron and Easley began their careers as walk-ons.

Only two of Iowa’s top 5 pass catchers were wide receivers last season. That number was three in 2016, but the third, Matt VandeBerg, missed most of the year with a broken left foot.

The struggle with the wide receivers is a big reason why Iowa averaged 28.2 points in 2017 and 24.9 in 2016 after averaging 30.9 points pre game in 2015. It’s hard to score when the production isn’t there on the outside.

These are the combined stats for Iowa’s top three receivers each of the last two seasons. It was Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Easley and VandeBerg in 2017. The trio for 2016 is Jerminic Smith, McCarron and VandeBerg.

Year Rec. Yds Yds/Rec. TD
2017 97 1,101 11.4 8
2016 84 1,115 13.3 9

The yardage and touchdown figures look like the totals of one star wideout ― without the big-play ability of one. The 11.4 yards per reception figure is extremely low. Of the Big Ten’s top 10 passing-yard leaders, all were above 11.7 and only one was below 12.9 yards.

It’s on Stanley to get the football to the receivers, but there isn’t much he can do to influence the play once they catch it and try to make a play.

Of course individual improvement will benefit Stanley, especially improving ball security and limiting turnovers. Improving his 55.8 percent completion percentage is a must to make the offense more efficient.

It will help his game, but only in the way a bond slowly increases in value. If Stanley’s production is going to skyrocket, he’ll need help from his wide receivers. Brandon Smith, Max Cooper, Smith-Marsette and Easley must make significant strides and become offensive weapons opponents must pay attention to. Too often, the last two years were the passing game equivalent of trying to use an engine with a restrictor plate against competition going full throttle.

There is a ceiling to Stanley’s numbers without his receivers doing more and Iowa isn’t looking for the receivers to limit what the engine of its offense can do.

It’s why Stanley’s biggest chance at improvement doesn’t rely from within, but from the one group capable of removing the restrictor plate.

The post Iowa: Wide receiver improvement crucial to quarterback Nate Stanley’s growth appeared first on Land of 10.

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