2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 59 of 163

WIDE RECEIVERS 58 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW Starters ★★½ Finding replacements for 2019 veteran starters Chase Claypool and Chris Finke was near the top of the to-do list for the Irish offense during the spring and summer months, a task left unfulfilled when campus closed in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Hope remains that some or all from a group of highly touted juniors — Lawrence Keys III, Braden Lenzy and Kevin Austin Jr. (who was suspended all of last season) — would neatly step in to fill those production voids, but aspirations for those three remain uncertain, as does much about this position group. Might fifth-year senior Javon McKinley and/or graduate transfer Ben Skowronek play their way into a starting role? Slot receiver Keys (13 career catches, 134 yards, zero touchdowns) and vertical threat Lenzy (11 career catches, 254 yards, two touchdowns) are the two front- runners to claim starting spots. Experience ★★½ Skowronek has the most college production with 110 catches (for 1,417 yards) during his four seasons and 43 games at Northwestern, which is almost triple the combined 40 catches (for 746 yards) by Notre Dame's returning wideouts. For comparison sake, Claypool alone entered last season already with 84 career catches. And Skowronek's work obviously didn't come in this offense. In terms of the Irish returners, McKinley's 19 games played and Keys' 13 catches lead the unit, emphasizing further how this position group was likely the most nega - tively impacted with no traditional offseason team workouts. Depth ★★★ Based on recruiting rankings, Notre Dame should excel in this category. Based on production, not so much, at least so far. The good news here is that up to five guys could be competing for the three starting spots, and all should get plenty of snaps, be it as a starter or a substitute. Highlighted by five-star recruit Jordan Johnson, three incoming freshmen should also provide immediate and quality depth. Overall Grade ★★★ There are plenty of options to choose from within this corps, but can any of them emerge and produce in the way Claypool did last season or Miles Boykin did in 2018, including as effective blockers? If Lenzy and Keys can stay on the field together, their speed and home-run abili - ties create a difficult matchup for opposing defenses. To this point, this duo's potential has remained essentially untapped, with health also a factor for the game-breaking Lenzy. How much production the Irish can get from Austin and McKinley — two top re- cruits who have shown flashes but underachieved so far — will be highly instrumental in whether this preseason grade rises or falls. BY THE NUMBERS 4 4 Current receivers who have had to make a transition to the position. Senior Isaiah Robertson — who could become a graduate transfer — played safety as a freshman and classmate Avery Davis was a quarterback, as was sophomore Kendall Abdur-Rahman, in high school. Junior Joe Wilkins arrived origi- nally as a defensive back prospect. Slot re- ceiver also is Davis' fourth different position at Notre Dame. 19.96 19.96 Yards averaged by Braden Lenzy on his 27 touches as a sophomore. The speedster provided explosiveness with his 11 catches averaging 23.1 yards and his 13 carries com- ing out to 15.4 yards per attempt, notably 61- and 51-yard touchdowns versus Boston College and USC, respectively. In the Camp- ing World Bowl win versus Iowa State, he also was used on kickoffs for the first time and averaged 23.7 yards on his three returns. 206 206 Catches snared the past two seasons by the graduated tandem of Chase Claypool (116) and Chris Finke (90). They also totaled 2,703 yards and 23 touchdowns in that time. The returning wideout corps from those same two years have a combined 40 receptions. PRESEASON ANALYSIS ★★★★★ National Title; ★★★★ Top 10; ★★★ Top 25; ★★ Too Unproven; ★ Major Concern Graduate transfer Ben Skowronek was medically redshirted last year, but hauled in 110 career receptions in three-plus years at Northwestern before getting hurt. PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER

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