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2018 Notre Dame football redshirt projections: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame veteran wide receiver Chris Finke works in a drill this spring at the Loftus Sports Cengter in South Bend. He is projected to start at the slot receiver position this fall. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
2018 Notre Dame freshman wide receiver Micah Jones
Notre Dame wide receivers coach Del Alexander speaks with the media at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex this spring following a practice in South Bend. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
2018 Notre Dame freshman wide receiver Lawrence Keys III
2018 Notre Dame freshman wide receiver Kevin Austin
Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly watches his team from on the field during the annual Blue-Gold Spring Game in South Bend in April. (By The Associated Press)
2018 Notre Dame freshman wide receiver Braden Lenzy

The Notre Dame pass-catching corps endured a significant hit this off-season through transfers (Freddy Canteen and C.J. Sanders), graduation (Cam Smith and Durham Smythe), departures for the pros (Equanimeous St. Brown and Josh Adams) and suspensions (Kevin Stepherson and Deon McIntosh).

In totality, the Fighting Irish lost 8 of their 17 players that caught passes in 2017, including four of the top six producers. However, veteran Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said this spring that he has confidence in those that are returning.

“I think some young guys are going to get a chance now,” Kelly said. “Michael Young gets a more prominent role within the offense. Chris Finke is going to be seen. Miles Boykin, who didn’t play much until midway through the season, I think those guys get called upon to really show themselves.”

In addition to the returning athletes, the Irish added four freshmen wide receivers in the 2018 class, and that doesn’t include potential receiver Joe Wilkens Jr., who will get a look at defensive back initially.

For the first time, programs can play a student-athlete in up to four games, yet still have him maintain eligibility for four more seasons. So there are players that will perform to a level that the Notre Dame coaches believe can help all season, while they will have to juggle who to rein in and keep eligible for four seasons down the road.

News-Sentinel.com is going to take a look at each of the position groups and the freshmen student-athletes and project the level of impact for the coming season.

Today: Wide Receivers

Wednesday: Tight Ends

MICAH JONES

From a physical standpoint, Jones is ready to get some reps when training camp opens later this week.

At 6-foot-5 and 208 pounds, he brings a big, physical presence and he helped himself by enrolling in January, so he already has seven months of preparation under his belt.

“Micah is more of a boundary player,” Kelly said upon signing Jones in December, “big, physical, can win one-on-one match-ups. We love that about him and his size,”

As the spring progressed, Kelly lauded Jones for his diligence in the weight room, as well. However, from a mental standpoint, Jones has a long way to go, according to wide receivers coach Del Alexander.

“When you come in as a freshman,” Alexander said of Jones, “we are probably going 100 m.p.h., (but) right now it’s going 1,000 m.p.h. for Micah. He is at a disadvantage coming in this spring. His advantage won’t show up until we get to fall camp.”

The next month will help to determine just how large of a role that Jones has this season, which due to his size and early work, may be bigger than some believe.

Projection: His role is a fluid situation as he backs-up top receiver Miles Boykin and returner Javon McKinley. But I could see Jones playing on special teams and being in a limited role as a receiver and not redshirting.

LAWRENCE KEYS III

Keys doesn’t bring size (he’s 5-foot-11, 165 pounds) to the field like Jones does, but he is an athlete with speed.

“He has a lot of grit,” Alexander said of Keys III. “He’s a playmaker. He’s different. He’s different in a lot of ways. He’s different on and off the field.”

Keys III is projected to play in the slot behind veteran Finke and redshirt freshman Jafar Armstrong. However, Armstrong is cross-training in a receiver-runner hybrid role, so that may open some reps in training camp for Keys III if he can pick up the offensive system quickly.

Projection: Keys may get reps in a few games and/or on special teams, but he has such a long path to develop physically that I would expect that he ultimately redshirts.

KEVIN AUSTIN

Austin is the most heralded of the Notre Dame receiving recruits and with good reason. He has size (6-foot-2, 197 pounds), athleticism and brings a high level of production to the position.

“Kevin Austin can play all three positions for us,” Kelly said on National Signing Day. “We wanted somebody that has versatility at that position. He can play X, Z, and W. He’s 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.”

Austin won’t be “penciled into a position,” but he more than likely will be “penciled into” the rotation.

He is expected to begin getting reps behind emerging star Chase Claypool and Young on the outside.

Projection: Austin will show his potential on occasion this season and won’t redshirt.

BRADEN LENZY

The Notre Dame coaches wanted to find pure speed to insert into their receiving corps and they have it in Lenzy.

The Oregon native doubled as a track star and he very well may make a noticeable impact on special teams.

“When you add two guys like Lenzy and Keys,” Kelly said on National Signing Day, “they are extremely athletic with the ball in their hand, it complements very well the entire receiving class with Micah Jones, who’s already here, that really talks about the balance of the class in terms of what we were able to assemble there at the wide receiver position.”

Projection: I believe that Lenzy’s speed will be utilized on special teams this fall and he will not redshirt.

For more on Notre Dame football, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010, Facebook at Thomas Davis, and Instagram at tomdavis101010.

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