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Notre Dame Football

WR1 Candidates for Notre Dame

March 15, 2021

Brian Kelly didn’t walk into the perfect situation when he took the Notre Dame job at the end of 2009. He did inherit a number one receiver in Michael Floyd, though.

All he did was catch 179 passes and 21 touchdowns in his two seasons playing for Kelly.

In just about every year there has been a WR1 at Notre Dame under Kelly, even when it wasn’t technically a wide receiver. Tyler Eifert was the de facto WR1 in 2012. In 2013 TJ Jones emerged with an 1,1108 yard season. It then got passed on to Will Fuller and Equanimeous St. Brown, who was still a number one in 2017, but the quarterback play prevented his stats from reflecting it.

After that it was Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool with big single seasons as the top receiver for the Irish, but then 2020 happened.

The WR1 was supposed to be Kevin Austin, but a foot injury prevented that from happening. It took a few weeks at the beginning of the season to find the one who was going to be “the guy” on the outside, but a breakout performance by Javon McKinley against Florida State set him on a course to be the top option.

He had four 100-yard receiving games and turned himself into an NFL prospect in his fifth year.

There’s obviously different tiers for all of those receivers. Floyd, Fuller, and Claypool are at that top level and that’s what Notre Dame hopes to find with a receiver or two this season.

That all starts in the spring, where Claypool and Boykin launched their campaigns as WR1, and there are a handful of candidates for Notre Dame who could end up as the top dog for the Irish this season.

Avery Davis

Maybe an unlikely candidate with a player heading into his fifth year at Notre Dame and only 37 career catches, but Clemson’s Cornell Powell had 40 in four years before exploding in his final season. Perhaps Davis could do the same?

It helps that this is the first time he won’t be moving positions after a season since he arrived in South Bend.

Other than Davis not having more production, it should be noted that there hasn’t been a slot receiver who has been a WR1 for Notre Dame under Kelly. It seemed like there would have been with the way Mardy Gilyard flourished at Cincinnati, but it has not happened.

Davis might change that with more touches. He finished in the top-20 in the county for average yards after the catch in 2020 (tied with Clemson’s Amari Rodgers). There’s also a chance he could be unleashed as a vertical threat like we saw on that deep post against Clemson.

He’s now the veteran of the receiver room, so we’ll see what he can do to take his game up a notch.

Kevin Austin

Everyone has been waiting for this. It’s been prevented by injury and off the field issues. He probably isn’t going to be a full participant this spring either.

Pushing that aside, he still might be the most talented receiver on the team. It may be his time to explode onto the scene and live up the expectations that he arrived on campus with.

Michael Mayer

Is this the type of year where the receivers aren’t ready and it forces a tight end to be the top option? It happened in 2012 with Eifert and Mayer being Eifert 2.0 doesn’t seem out of the question.

He tied for the team lead in receptions last season and was a go-to target on 3rd downs. He forced 11 missed tackles after the catch and 32 of his 42 receptions went for first downs. No tight end forced more missed tackles than him and only three had more receptions for first downs.

At the very least Mayer should be a WR1a in 2021, which is an awesome luxury for an offense to have. There’s a possibility he can be Notre Dame’s version of Kyle Pitts this fall.

Jordan Johnson

The talent is not in question. Only the “traits”.

Most Notre Dame fans would be happy if he’s simply on the field making plays and the odds of him going from not ready to contribute to being the top option at receiver aren’t very good, but he’s being mentioned for a reason.

He could develop into a difference-maker. It just may not be right now.

Braden Lenzy

It was a frustrating season with a hamstring injury limiting Lenzy to seven catches and three carries for a total of 71 yards, but anyone who averaged 15 yards per carry and 23 yards per reception deserves to be included because he’s made more big plays than any of the other receivers combined.

He didn’t build off of what he did in 2019 because of the injury. He gets a do-over in 2021 if he can stay healthy and round out some other parts of his game.

Notre Dame needs explosive plays. Lenzy is the one guy who has produced more than a handful of them. It’s probably more likely that he is the Alvin Harper to someone else’s Michael Irvin, but many would have predicted that for someone like Fuller. He became much more than a complimentary weapon for those 2014 and 2015 teams.

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