2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 58 of 163

BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ✦ 57 WIDE RECEIVERS NOTABLE DATA Notre Dame ran 889 plays on offense in 2019, and three returning receivers played more than 200 snaps: Javon McKinley (231), Braden Lenzy (259) and Lawrence Keys III (263). Heading into 2019, Chase Claypool had played the most snaps of any wide receiver in 2018 despite be- ing No. 2 in receptions and yards. Notre Dame has eight scholarship receivers with fewer than 150 career snaps, per Pro Foot- ball Focus. Their development will be vital to determine how deep the rotation is. Spreading the ball around seems more likely this year, un- less a Claypool-like target emerges. Yet if there are only four or five wide receivers the coaching staff trusts, that's harder to do. Notre Dame also likes multiple-tight-end sets, and its leading returning pass catcher is junior tight end Tommy Tremble. DID YOU KNOW? Jordan Johnson, the No. 28 overall player in the 2020 class per Rivals, is the highest-ranked wide receiver Notre Dame has signed since Brian Kelly arrived. Michael Floyd, the No. 27 overall player in 2008, was the last five-star receiver to sign with the Fighting Irish. The school's all-time receptions leader and first-round selection caught 48 passes as a freshman, beating out some older players for a major role. The Pittsburgh Steelers taking Chase Claypool in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft helped Notre Dame tie a team record. His selection gave the Irish a wide receiver draft pick in three straight years. The program has never had four straight drafts with a receiver selected. Three- year streaks have happened three times: 2018-20, 1994-96 and 1964-66. SCHOLARSHIP PLAYERS (13) Listed after the class year is the years of eligi- bility remaining. Boundary Receiver (W) 4 Kevin Austin Jr. (6-2, 210), Jr./3 88 Javon McKinley (6-2, 215), 5th-Sr./1 80 Micah Jones (6-4½, 210), Jr./3 17 Isaiah Robertson (6-1½, 215), Sr./2 — Jordan Johnson (6-2, 180), Fr./4 Field Receiver (X) 25 Braden Lenzy (5-11½, 184), Jr./3 11 Ben Skowronek (6-3, 224), 5th-Sr./1 18 Joe Wilkins Jr. (6-1½, 190), Jr./3 21 Xavier Watts (6-0, 195), Fr./4 81 Jay Brunelle (6-1, 196), Fr./4 Slot (Z) 13 Lawrence Keys III (5-10, 173), Jr./3 4 Avery Davis (5-11, 205), Sr./2 22 Kendall Abdur-Rahman (5-11½, 195), So./4 2019 VS. 2020: STOCK UP OR DOWN? Notre Dame had two notable departures from its receiver room this offseason — the two most important ones that sent the unit's stock down heading into 2020. Team MVP Chase Claypool had the first 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown season by a Notre Dame receiver since 2015. Captain Chris Finke was once again reliable, with 41 catches. No returning wide receiver has more than 13 career catches. In response to the inexperience, Notre Dame snagged Northwestern graduate transfer Ben Skowronek, who has 1,417 yards on 110 career receptions. Whoever emerges as Notre Dame's go-to receiver, chances are he will be around for a while. Nine of the 13 scholarship figures have at least three years of eligibility left. The receiving room isn't lacking skill. Five-star recruit Jordan Johnson is walking into a favorable situ- ation for a freshman. Braden Lenzy flashed his open- field speed and yards-after-catch ability in a 24-touch sample. Speedy Lawrence Keys III is a ready-made slot replacement for Finke. X-FACTOR Kevin Austin Jr. is the likely Claypool heir at boundary receiver, but the former top-100 recruit needs to be available to achieve the breakout expected of him this year. Austin served a season-long suspen- sion in 2019, but was allowed to practice with the team through it. Claypool talked him up at the NFL Combine. Defensive teammates pointed out how difficult he is to cover. Austin has the size, ball skills and catch radius to be an effective downfield target and after-the-catch threat. He has recent history on his side on the idea of going from barely used to breakout: Neither Will Fuller, Equanimeous St. Brown nor Miles Boykin caught more than 12 passes the year before becoming Notre Dame's top target. FRESHMAN OUTLOOK Johnson is Notre Dame's highest-rated signee, but was the lone freshman receiver not to enroll early, though any advantage Xavier Watts and Jay Brunelle expected was essentially wiped out when spring practices were canceled. Johnson has the upside of a No. 1 receiver, but is lean for a boundary target at this stage. None of the freshmen will be buried behind numerous proven receivers, giving them some hope of winning a job in the rotation. But Notre Dame has a glut of players in that same space. Receiver will remain a quagmire en- tering training camp. Kevin Austin had five receptions for 90 yards as a true freshman in 2018, but did not see any game action last year. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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