Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Dissecting the Depth Chart - Wide Receiver

July 11, 2018
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In 2015 the top four receivers for Notre Dame caught 169 passes. Last season the top four only caught 93.

One reason why is that the Irish only threw the ball on 40.53% of their plays compared with 46.02 in ‘15, but the quarterback play and some inconsistency from the receiver group were big factors as well.

Can this year be different? The Blue-Gold game showed that Chip Long wants it to be. Notre Dame had two receivers finish with over 100 yards receiving on the day and the two quarterbacks vying for the starting job threw for a combined 633 yards. It was a scrimmage, but the point was made. The Irish want to be more productive in the passing game and they want to take more advantage of the talent they have at wide receiver.

They have personnel at the position to far exceed what they accomplished last season, but it will be interesting to see how they choose to utilize that personnel.

Big Lineup

The wide receiver rotation this year could end up being similar to how a basketball coach deploys his players. If Notre Dame wants to go big, they can certainly play big. They can line up giants across the field if they want to.

The guy who is expected to always be on the field, regardless of playing big or not, is Miles Boykin. His breakout game in the Citrus Bowl carried over into the spring and there is every indication that he is going to be the number one receiver in 2018. Expect them to take numerous shots down the field in his direction. 

Chase Claypool flashed more than a few times last fall and then again in the spring. Chances are that him and Boykin will be on the field together a lot.

Claypool is 6’4” 229. Boykin is 6’4” 227. Pretty much every team that faces Notre Dame is going to have issues finding the right players to match up against them in coverage if they both play up to their potential. Playing those two at the same time with two tight ends on the field is going to force defenses to go big to combat them.

There’s also Javon McKinley at 6’2 215 as another big body with Kevin Austin and Micah Jones as two others with similar size and skill sets.

McKinley was healthy and looked the best he has been since coming to Notre Dame during the spring. He’s likely going to have Austin breathing down his neck to be the next big receiver after Claypool, though. Austin may be too good to keep off the field this fall.

Jones didn’t look like he was heavily in the mix as an early enrollee this spring so it will be interesting to see if he can turn some heads in August. Even if he does, he has to jump a couple of players on the depth chart and unlike someone like Claypool or Austin, he looks like he is strictly a boundary receiver.

Slot Competition

Michael Young is a breakout candidate this year and I would not be surprised to see him play some at X and at Z (the slot). While the big receivers are capable of producing big plays, Young might be the best on the roster at bringing an explosive element to the receiver group. A strong camp is going to be important for him.

With Notre Dame potentially playing with two tight ends on the field often, Young needs to distinguish himself as a valuable piece that needs to touch the football as much as possible.

Chris Finke is still going to be pushing in the slot as well. The big issue with Finke is that he has not proven that he can block effectively in the running game. The edge would go to Young in that department and if Finke can’t close that gap, he’s going to have a similar limited role to the one he has had the last couple of years.

True freshman Lawrence Keys is going to have to have the kind of camp Young had last summer to get on the field this fall. If he’s torching safeties and does some damage in the perimeter run/screen game, then he could end up traveling with the team this season.

The X factor in all of this is Avery Davis. Long spoke of getting him touches this fall, but if that happens, that probably means less for Young and Finke. Whoever makes the most plays is going to be the one to rise above the others heading into Michigan.

Explosive Plays

I know that the Irish want to have more of a vertical passing game this season so it would be a surprise if they didn’t take more 50/50 shots down the field with Boykin and Claypool. Whether they have a quarterback throwing it 40 yards down the field or behind the line of scrimmage, they need more big plays than they had. That’s why true freshman Braden Lenzy could be an intriguing piece for them this fall.

For all the headaches Kevin Stepherson brought off the field, he clearly gave Notre Dame a different dimension with his ability to threaten with his speed on the field. Lenzy is probably the closest to Stepherson in that sense.

Even if it’s just in small doses, the Irish need someone like Lenzy, Young, or Keys to be able to take a slant for a 40 yard gain. If they have that, it could change the dynamic of the offense.

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