2018 Notre Dame Football Position and Prospect Analysis: Wide receivers
SOUTH BEND – It is an odd dynamic that envelops the Notre Dame wide receiving corps in 2018.
On one hand, the Fighting Irish lost four of their top six pass-catchers from 2017, so the opportunity to contribute seemingly is high. And that doesn’t even include the enigmatic tight end Alize’ Mack (fourth on the team in receptions), who has just as much potential to frustrate and disappoint the Notre Dame coaches and fans as he does to have a breakout season in which he is incredibly productive.
While on the other hand, half of those top six players weren’t even wide receivers, and the fact that the Irish pass offense can feature tight ends and running backs eats into that opportunity for young and inexperienced receivers.
News-Sentinel.com sports reporter Tom Davis has been writing on Notre Dame football for nearly two decades and will take a daily look at the various position groups for next season and how the incoming class of prospects could impact the success of the Fighting Irish.
Today’s position: Wide receivers
Coming Monday: Tight ends
Kevin Austin, Micah Jones, Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys
How the Notre Dame offense unfolds in 2018 is truly a complete mystery and anyone that says differently hasn’t followed this program much in the past 12 months.
Second-year offensive coordinator Chip Long loves to throw the ball, but he adjusted his scheme last fall to take advantage of a strong run game. That could be the case in 2018, as well, if runners Dexter Williams and Tony Jones Jr. are healthy.
“I came from Memphis where we threw for 4,000 yards,” Long said in December, “and at Notre Dame we rushed for 4,000 yards. So it was a different dynamic.”
The health of the backs will dictate what Notre Dame does, but so will the ability and consistency of the quarterback and offensive line, neither of which is a known commodity at this time.
The Irish lost leading receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, as well as the ultra-talented Kevin Stepherson, but they do return junior Chase Claypool and Citrus Bowl Most Valuable Player Miles Boykin.
Sophomore-to-be Michael Young caught a score in the bowl win over LSU and should be featured more prominently in 2018, but the truth is in regards to Boykin and Young, they are both relatively unproven over any length of time.
Slot receiver Chris Finke has played a decent amount of football, but is a former walk-on, while veteran Freddy Canteen has had difficulty remaining healthy. Also, junior Javon McKinley and sophomore Jafar Armstrong are unproven.
That could open the door for any four of the newcomers to contribute.
Kevin Austin may be the first-year receiver that can get on the field the earliest, not just because of his ability, but because of his versatility.
“Kevin Austin can play all three positions for us,” Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly said on National Signing Day in December. “We wanted somebody that has versatility at that position. He can play X, Z, and W. He is a smooth player, catches the ball extremely well, and has great speed. We wanted someone that wasn’t going to be penciled into a position.”
While Austin has versatility, Braden Lenzy has pure speed.
He is a track standout that also excels in football and could make an impact as a receiver, as well as special teams.
Lenzy and Lawrence Keys don’t bring much size (and neither does Austin), but they can run.
“When you add two guys like Lenzy and Keys,” Kelly said, “they are extremely athletic with the ball in their hand, complements very well the entire receiving class with Micah Jones, who’s already here.”
Jones is the one freshman receiver that does possess size (6-foot-5, 202 pounds). He, Claypool and Boykin bring a physical presence to the field for Notre Dame. However, Jones needs to develop his separation skills.
The fact that Jones enrolled in January and will have eight months of work under his belt before the season helps in his growth immensely.
“He is here now and he is running around,” Notre Dame receivers coach Del Alexander said earlier this month. “He is doing well in the weight room. He is getting some good attention in there because when we are doing conditioning, when we are doing strength training, he doesn’t seem to be a freshman.
“He is being just as productive as the guys around him.”
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