Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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28 APRIL 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED A s much as quarterback play matters, college football's best offense are also armed with game-breaking receivers who become first- or second- round NFL Draft picks. The disparity between the 2020 Irish receiving corps and that of Clemson and Alabama was patently clear. In that regard, perhaps it's not the worst thing the position is turning over. There's not a lack of ability in the receiver room. Get- ting it to translate into starting jobs and production, though, is Notre Dame's primary task. For Kevin Austin Jr., that means getting healthy. Same with Braden Lenzy. For Jordan Johnson, it's putting a lost freshman season behind him by work- ing through the adjustments head coach Brian Kelly referenced ad nauseam. For early enrollee freshman Lorenzo Styles Jr., a top-50 recruit, it's warding off first-year struggles. Javon McKinley, while not an All-American or surefire draft pick, provides a good script for Austin to follow — and not just statistically: A senior and for- mer top-100 recruit got healthy, put an off-field issue be- hind him and showed he still had some ability. If Austin's breakout arrives, he will have done all of those. Yes, if healthy and ready to go, the expectation for Austin would be to catch a touchdown before the 10th game (McKin- ley was scoreless until Decem- ber) and average more than 3.5 catches per outing. But lead- ing the team in receptions and posting a mid-teens yards per catch number like McKinley did would be a success. WIDE RECEIVERS 2021 SPRING FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY THE NUMBERS 8.0 Yards after catch per reception for Avery Davis, which was 19th nation- ally among receivers targeted at least 30 times. 17.1 Yards per catch for Javon McKinley, which ranks second behind Will Fuller among Irish receivers who have caught at least 30 passes in a single season since 2010. 88 Career catches for Notre Dame's eight returning receivers, with Davis record- ing 39 of them. WHO'S GONE Javon McKinley A former top-60 recruit who put a disappointing first four years behind him and became a late bloomer in 2020 with 42 receptions (tied for team lead) for 717 yards and three touchdowns. Ben Skowronek The Northwestern graduate transfer battled a hamstring issue and didn't record a catch until Notre Dame's fourth game, but he still ended the year with a team-high five receiving touchdowns among his 29 catches for 439 yards. Jafar Armstrong Moved from running back to wide re- ceiver midway through 2020, but barely played. He is now a graduate transfer at Illinois. Micah Jones The top-250 recruit is now a graduate transfer at Il- linois State after recording zero catches in three years. WHO'S BACK Fifth-Year senior Avery Davis Notre Dame's leading returning receiver caught 24 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns as the start- ing slot receiver. Senior Kevin Austin Jr. The buzz around a potential 2020 breakout was derailed with a broken foot in July and a re-break of it in October that might limit him this spring. He caught one pass for 18 yards in two games last season. Senior Lawrence Keys III An early October concussion slowed him down and allowed Davis to seize the slot role. He caught five passes for 51 yards. Senior Braden Lenzy Recurring hamstring issues derailed his chances of grasping the starting field receiver role. He had seven catches for 63 yards and played just 31 snaps in Notre Dame's final seven games. Senior Joe Wilkins Jr. After catching four passes in Skowronek's place in the season opener, he grabbed just three the rest of the way. He was the primary backup to McKinley and Skowronek. Sophomore Jay Brunelle Did not play in 2020. Sophomore Jordan Johnson The five-star recruit played only 26 snaps in two games last season, much to fans' dismay. Sophomore Xavier Watts Appeared in one game on offense last year. WIDE RECEIVERS COACH Del Alexander — Fifth Year The former USC wide receiver (1993-94) enters his 25th year as a coach. He has signed a quartet of four- or five-star receivers in the last two recruiting cycles. POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH The only spot that feels relatively secure is Avery Davis' status as the primary slot figure. Javon McKinley's vacated boundary spot and Ben Skowronek's empty field receiver position are up for grabs for, once again, an unproven but intriguing player to take. There's no graduate transfer like Skowronek in the way for the younger players (like Jordan Johnson) who just want a chance or veterans (like Braden Lenzy) who are fighting to get their career back on track. Nearly all the potential obstacles for the contestants are of the self- inflicted variety, whether they're from injury or continued inconsistency. Kevin Austin Jr. still comes with plentiful fascination, though he won't fully hop in the competition until fall camp. Joe Wilkins Jr. remains one to watch given his role last year and his blocking ability. The latter skill should aid his case to replace McKinley and Skowronek, who were two of the nation's best blocking receivers, per Pro Football Focus' grading system. AVERY DAVIS PHOTO BY JOHN QUACKENBOS/COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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