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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Position Battles | Wide Receiver

June 5, 2020
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Notre Dame returns only 45 receptions from last season at the receiver position and it may be less than that with the uncertain status of Javon McKinley.

What they lack in production is made up for in raw talent, though. It’s a group that could be as strong as any Notre Dame has had under Brian Kelly.

We’re far from knowing if “could be” will end up being what happens. These guys have to turn potential into production first and it starts with one player.

Boundary receiver

Kevin Austin Jr. is someone who could play on any team in the country. He was an elite prospect as a recruit and flashed elite skills on the practice field at Notre Dame. There is no doubt he can be a number one option playing the boundary receiver where Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool thrived the last two seasons.

It’s all about him taking care of business off the field first and then making sure he’s available to be the player he can be. He can be a deep threat, win 50/50, and do all that is asked of him on the field. He simply needs to go out and prove it.

He’ll have Northwestern graduate transfer Ben Skowronek to compete with. The 45 receptions are a bit misleading because he brings production (110 career catches) and is a big target who does a great job in jump ball situations.

It’s not out of the question that he becomes a starter playing the boundary and Austin moves to the field. That might be a legitimate option this fall.

Javon McKinley could be the odd man out because of the addition to Skowronek. There’s no guarantee that McKinley will return for a fifth year and Notre Dame may not have room under the scholarship limit.

It took a long time, but a healthy McKinley showed more than enough to be an option if he is back. Eight of his 11 receptions went for 20 yards or more last season.

With or without McKinley, Micah Jones is set to be buried on the depth chart again unless he sets the world on fire in camp. He’s been battling to even get reps in the practices we have attended over the last two years so he’s probably not going to play unless there injuries in front of him.

Field receiver

It took a while for Braden Lenzy to break out, but by the end of the season he proved to be an explosive playmaker. Whether it was running or catching the deep ball, Lenzy can be a threat to score whenever he touches the football. He needs to round out the rest of his game like blocking and consistently catching the football, but he can expose bad matchups in the secondary with his speed.

Joe Wilkins Jr. was considered ahead of Lenzy on the depth chart early in the season, but injuries didn’t let him get anything going. Wilkin has made big plays in practice whenever we’ve had a chance to watch him, though, and shouldn’t be counted out as a contributor once he gets a bigger opportunity on Saturdays.

Those two are ready for more targets, but Jordan Johnson might simply be too talented to not take some of those targets for himself. The true freshman has the mentality that the ball belongs to him every time it’s thrown his direction and if he can pick up the offense in a short amount of time, he’s going to see the field. It would be surprising if he redshirted.

Jay Brunelle on the other hand is pretty much locked in to redshirt given that he is coming off of shoulder surgery and the competition that will be in front of him. He’s someone who could end up on the boundary in the long term.

Slot

Lawrence Keys is the frontrunner to win the slot receiver job heading into the summer. His 2019 was disappointing considering how strong of a spring and fall camp he had, but with Chris Finke out of eligibility, the path is clear for Keys to show more of what we’ve seen and heard about him over the last couple of years.

It’s been a minute since Notre Dame had a dynamic presence in the slot. Keys has the potential to be that.

He has to win the job first and Avery Davis is someone who should push for the gig. He’s always seemed better suited for the slot than the backfield and at the beginning of spring practice, that’s where the coaches had him (errr) slotted.

Davis has the short area quickness to excel here and we saw a glimpse of his long speed when he took one to the house against New Mexico last season.

Kendall Abdur-Rahman took more than a few long runs to the house as a high school quarterback and showed he has the ball skills last August to become a very good receiver. He now has a year in the system under his belt and will be one to watch in the pre-season.

If you’re looking for a surprise player to emerge at receiver, KAR might be the guy.

Xavier Watts should be in the mix with him there as well. One of the more underrated players the Irish signed during the 2020 cycle, Watts has potential that far exceeds his ranking. His after the catch ability stood out on film and he’s someone I would expect to play in four games this fall and maybe more if he can establish himself in August.

 
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