Week 2 of Making the Leap is already upon us and to start out we'll be covering an underrated piece in a deep receiving corps heading into the 2015 season: sophomore Jacob Martinez. Martinez is coming off of a redshirt-freshman season where he was third on the team in receptions from the slot and will look to take on a bigger role this coming season.
Career Review/Why He's Here
Coming to UB as a 3-star dual-threat quarterback prospect from Panama City, Florida, Martinez was one of the Quinn-era's highest ranked recruits with an 83 composite rating on 247sports.com. Buffalo was Martinez's only FBS offer, and the coaching staff saw his elite speed as a quarterback and the 54 (!) touchdowns he produced over his junior and senior years in high school; then transitioned him to receiver to utilize his game-breaking speed. After redshirting during his first season at UB, Martinez emerged as a viable receiving threat last season, playing in all 11 games and starting 5 while snagging 28 receptions for 280 yards and 3 touchdowns. His numbers were good for 3rd on the team in receiving behind Ron Willoughby and Devon Hughes.
More Making the Leap
Our first defensive entry is a guy that's switched sides of the ball and looks to be a leader in the defensive backfield.
More Making the Leap
His breakout game was in Jeff Quinn's final victory, against Miami of Ohio in a 35-27 win in which Martinez grabbed 8 balls for 94 yards and 1 touchdown. Martinez was also Devin Campbell's backup in the return game, giving Campbell some rest when needed; Martinez took back 6 kick returns and 8 punt returns this past season.
He's on the list because of his combination of size (6-2, 187) and dangerous speed that can make him one of Joe LIcata's favorite targets, and one of the more dangerous receiving threats in the MAC.
- Receiving Depth - The receiving corps is one of UB's deepest positions, and with Ron Willoughby firmly entrenched as the team's #1 receiver there will be plenty of competition for the #2 spot on the other side. With Marcus McGill as his primary competition, Martinez will have to fend off Jamarl Eiland, Malcom Robinson, and UAB transfer Collin Lisa, among others.
- New Scheme - Transitioning from one position to another is pretty difficult, working on that transition and improving is even more difficult when you have to learn a new offensive scheme with new language, route assignments, and blocking assignments. It'll be interesting to see how Martinez adapts to the new scheme of Offensive Coordinator Andy Kotelnicki.
Martinez enters the season as the team's 2nd leading returning receiver (in terms of receptions), and in terms of the receiving hierarchy I would expect Martinez to still be behind Willoughby in terms of receiving yards, but a very close second much like Devon Hughes from last season. Martinez brings an interesting blend of size and speed that Offensive Coordinator Andy Kotelnicki can utilize in many different ways depending on the situation at hand.
If lining up on the outside as the Z, or flanker, Martinez has the speed to run deep post and out routes to take the top off of a defense, while also having the size to run crossing patterns and catch the ball in traffic and absorb a big hit from a safety. If Kotelnicki wants to really give opposing defensive coordinators fits he can line Martinez up in the Y position, or slot, where he played predominately last season. Martinez is a good deal taller than most slot cornerbacks so he can bully them about in run blocking and easily win hand-fighting situations near the line of scrimmage to break away into his route without issue. Plus, his size up the seam and across the middle of the field will again be an asset as he has a higher vertical leap and a little more cushion to absorb big blows from safeties. The gif below is from the spring game with Martinez running the crossing pattern that I had mentioned, and if the defensive back had lowered his shoulder into Martinez's stomach, which is what would've happened during an actual game, then he would've taken a big (and painful) hit. But, as I mentioned his size allows him to absorb the hit, and his surprisingly good hands allow him to hold onto the ball through the catching process.
While he has all the physical tools to be an excellent receiver, the biggest issues that Martinez will face this season will be fighting and competing for targets from Joe Licata. We know that Willoughby will get the lion's share of the targets and receptions, but Marcus McGill looked impressive last year, along with up-and-comers Malcom Robinson and Jamarl Eiland who flashed potential, and let's not forget everyone's favorite Birmingham transplant, Collin Lisa, who has drawn rave reviews throughout the spring practices. And that's not even counting the two big tight ends in Mason Schreck and Matt Weiser who will certainly see plenty of time given the UB offense's focus on 2 TE sets.
I do think Martinez has a starting spot when all is said and done; UB started 3 wide receivers last season so he would definitely be among the 3 if UB chooses to go that route again. Finally, if Martinez can put his size and natural athletic ability to good use and get the attention of Joe Licata the way he did during the Miami game last season, Martinez could definitely surprise some people and put up solid numbers this season.
Given the ability that he flashed last year, and the departure of second leading recevier Devon Hughes and his 515 yards and 7 touchdowns that will need to be made up elsewhere in the lineup, I think Martinez can step in and thrive during his sophomore season instead of hitting the proverbial sophomore "slump".
Prediction: 45 receptions, 575 yards, 6 touchdowns