Even with all starters likely returning in 2019, wide receiver will be a heavily debated topic this off-season between Notre Dame football fans.
Coming into 2018, there were a ton of question marks revolving around the receivers. Would the LSU game catapult Miles Boykin into a dominant outside weapon? Would the uber-talented Chase Claypool take his game to the next level? How would the slot shake out? These questions were all answered pretty easily for Notre Dame football throughout the season.
Miles Boykin would go on to have a very nice season after Ian Book took over at quarterback. He is not a burner by any means, but his length created separation and allowed to beat corners on 50-50 balls most of the time. Claypool started slow and his inconsistencies from his first two seasons seemed to carry over into 2018, however, as the year went on he became a reliable target on cross routes and on the outside. In the slot, Chris Finke solidified himself as a dangerous possession receiver. Much like Hunter Renfrow at Clemson, he isn’t the most talented player, but he’s shifty and runs crisp routes — often times getting open against superior athletes.
With all three starters most likely to return next season, Notre Dame will enjoy some stability at the wide receiver position. With that said, speed and down field threats are still a legitimate concern if some of the youngsters can’t step up into bigger roles.
2019 – Nathan’s Take
Assuming that Boykin, Claypool and Finke all return for their final years of eligibility, the wide receiver room will look very similar to 2018. All three would presumably return to their starting roles, and likely become even more impactful players overall.
Claypool is the one that intrigues me the most out of the three. He really stepped up his game in the second half of the year and became a dynamic weapon for Ian Book. He should be the first guy Notre Dame fans look at to take an even larger leap in 2019. Standing at nearly 6’5′, Claypool not only possesses a significant height advantage over corners and safeties, but he is also a more dynamic athlete than Boykin and Finke. I want to see if he can be a true “take the top off the defense” receiving threat. If not, some of the younger players deserve a chance at an expanded role.
Look no further than Kevin Austin. Austin signed with the Irish last year out of South Florida, and the comparisons to many former Notre Dame greats instantly hovered over his name. He’s big, physical and has speed that others on the roster lack. Without getting too ahead of myself, he has all the makings of a future 1st round NFL draft pick. In the past, Kelly has been reluctant to rotate receivers, but Austin should receive significant snaps as a sophomore.
Michael Young, Braden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys will be hotly debated players on the Notre Dame message boards over the off-season as well. Young, a junior, has already made some memorable plays during his time in South Bend, and many felt he could take the leap this year and overtake Finke in the slot. His role should expand as a junior, but I suspect he will have a career path much like Boykin. It could be two years in waiting for his coming out party.
Lenzy and Keys were both able to preserve a year of eligibility by red-shirting this year, but both also possess traits currently lacking in the Irish offense. Keys could challenge Young and Finke for time in the slot, while Lenzy is a true burner on the outside. 2020 seems like a more likely bet for both to make significant contribution on offense, but special teams could certainly be a calling card next season.
Other receivers include Javon McKinley, Isaiah Robertson, Joe Wilkins Jr., Micah Jones and incoming freshmen Kendall Abdur-Rahman and Cam Hart, but there futures will be sorted out this coming spring and in the fall. It’s just as possible we see a breakout candidate as much as we see a possible transfer.
As we look forward to next season, a position of real strength is wide receiver.
Assuming Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool return — as we expect them to — Notre Dame will be returning a VERY strong wide receiver core come next season. The Irish lose no receivers and bring back a very experienced group who can get the job done. Not many teams can boast a returning top 3 at receiver like Boykin, Claypool and Finke.
Looking past the starters, there is very exciting young talent coming up in the receiver ranks. Expect Kevin Austin and Michael Young to have more of an impact next season.
One I am very excited about is the freshman speedster Braden Lenzy. He isn’t talked about a whole lot, but he can flat out FLY.
Notre Dame lacked an outside receiver with game-breaking speed in the 2018 season, but it now has that in Lenzy. Without trying to put too heavy of expectations on Lenzy, he reminds me a lot of Will Fuller.
Predictions and Expectations for 2019
Nathan: Overall, this is a talented group that will be a strength of the roster as a whole. It isn’t common you see your entire wide receiver depth chart return the next season. However, if Notre Dame wants to take that next leap and compete with the Alabama’s and Clemson’s of the world, a few of these guys need to take that next step as weapons. A lack of elite playmakers at the position plagued this 2018 roster. I expect the coaching staff will do everything in their power to elevate this group to new heights in 2019.
Mason: This group will have no problem equaling or bettering its production from the 2018 season. I fully expect this group to lead the Irish to another great season.