Notre Dame Spring Preview: The New Faces at Wide Receiver

Torii Hunter - Notre Dame CB/WR
Photo: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

As winter continues to make way for spring – Daylight Savings is a few short days away for those living in sun-deprived areas like me – Notre Dame’s spring practice session is right around the corner. In preparation for the return of football UHND has begun to outline the most pressing issues facing the program, such as how Notre Dame intends to generate a pass rush in 2016. This week will preview the new faces at wide receiver after all three starting wide receivers – Will Fuller Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle – either graduated or departed for careers in the NFL.

The 2015 season was a productive one at wide receiver for the Irish. The wide receiver corps accounted for 241 receptions and 3,364 yards while chipping in 25 touchdowns, totals strong enough to make Notre Dame the No. 35 passing offense in the nation. The biggest loss will certainly be Will Fuller, who opted to forego his final season of eligibility after posting 1,258 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. Fuller possessed the kind of speed Notre Dame had been searching for since the days of Rocket Ismail, a point driven home during the recent NFL Combine when Fuller recorded the fastest 40-yard dash time at his position with 4.32 seconds.

How does Notre Dame replace a rare talent like Fuller? The simple answer is they can’t, at least not in terms of individual skill. But what Notre Dame can do is replace that individual talent with depth of talent. And below is a list of three likely candidates to fill the void left by Fuller, Brown and Carlisle.

Torii Hunter Jr.

There was a lot of buzz when Will Fuller’s recruiting class arrived to campus during the summer of 2013, and believe it or not that buzz had nothing to do with Fuller. It was Torii Hunter that had the attention of recruitniks. The talented Texan had developed a reputation as an under-the-radar gem Notre Dame had managed to steal from under the noses of the Texas schools thanks in part to Hunter’s dominant performance at The Opening, one of the premier gatherings of top high school football, where he captured MVP honors. And although he suffered a broken femur at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl practice that forced him to miss his entire freshman season, the expectation was Notre Dame landed a star in the making at wide receiver.

Three years later and Irish fans are still waiting for that star to shine. To date Hunter has amassed 35 receptions for 428 yards and 3 touchdowns and has yet to have a breakthrough season. And while injury has certainly played a role, one has to also wonder whether his status as a dual-sport athlete with Notre Dame’s baseball team has limited his development.

The former The Opening MVP will have an opportunity to lock down a starting position either in the slot or on the outside, and Irish fans should keep a close eye to see if he emerges.

Equanimeous St. Brown

Equanimeous St. Brown is a bit of a mystery at wide receiver. Standing at 6-feet-4 inches, St. Brown possessed a very similar body type to former Notre Dame great Michael Floyd coming out of high school, and managed to impress teammates in practice during his freshman season.

“He’s honestly like Corey Robinson,” cornerback Cole Luke told the media last fall. “Don’t get me wrong, Corey is fast as hell, but Equanimeous has elite speed.”

That sentiment was shared by starting safety Max Redfield.

“He has a chance to become a dynamic receiver and possibly one of the best receivers in the country. It’s all about developing that confidence and experience.”

It’s the experience component that is the unknown with St. Brown, who hauled in only one reception for 8 yards last season. But his potential has been well documented, and St. Brown will have a chance to lock down one of the starting outside wide receiver spots in Will Fuller’s absence.

Corey Robinson

Last summer UHND wrote an article debating whether Corey Robinson was ready for greatness. The thought process was as follows: Robinson had a surprisingly strong freshman season and managed to surpass Chris Brown during his sophomore campaign – Robinson had 40 receptions to Brown’s 39 – yet Robinson faded at the end of the 2014 season while Brown began to establish himself. Who would win the No. 2 spot behind Fuller? Looking back, the debate appears to have been a foolish one. Chris Brown soundly won the starting spot opposite Will Fuller while Robinson slid dramatically, dropping his production from 40 receptions to only 16.

Given his experience Robinson will likely get the first shot winning a starting position but it’s far from guaranteed, particularly with the wealth of young talent waiting to get onto the field. Miles Boykin and Corey Holmes will have a chance to make some appearances this year as well as incoming freshmen Chase Claypool, Javon McKinley and Kevin Stepherson, all prospects the Notre Dame coaching staff was extremely high on. And C.J. Saunders could potentially make some noise at the slot position, giving Notre Dame flexibility to move Torii Hunter Jr. to the outside.

The wide receiver position may be lacking in individual talent on caliber with Will Fuller but it’s an extremely deep and talented group, and it will be difficult for opposing defenses to cover them all in four and five wide receiver sets. Unlike some of the other issues Notre Dame will face this spring at safety and linebacker, the wide receiver situation will be fun to watch unfold.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at scottjanssehp@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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27 comments

  1. Subway Alum 3 years ago

    Formula to Attract 5 Star Players…WIN a NC…

    Formula to WIN a NC…ok Offense + great Defense (see Peyton Manning/Denver Broncos)

    Steps to NC (and 5 star-ers)…
    1. hire Asst DC (someone with game time smarts)
    2. play out 2016 (avg 40 ppg but suffer 3 loses anyway)
    3. fire VanNo (way overdue)
    4. beg Zaire to stay another year (go to grad school maybe)
    5. win NC in 2017
    6. sit back and answer those phone calls from all the 5 *-ers.

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  2. George 3 years ago

    So 1s point is that ND targeting elite talent is unnecessary because there’s a chance that players who are not perceived as elite coming out of high school might overperform their rating. Yeah, you’re right. No sense making the effort.

    I never said the skill positions flop once they get to nd. I said nd usually fails in landing them to begin with.

    And Fuller was not a nobody coming out of high school, just FYI. I know people like to say that though, as it rationalizes ND’s subpar recruiting. But he was a 4 star, which is basically about as good as it gets at ND nowadays, and much was written about him.

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  3. George 3 years ago

    Well obviously anytime southside tries to chime in, the riveting factor will take a hit. But considering the entire month has been devoted to where Golson will have his pro day, I believe the current subject matter has been average to slightly above average. I mean you can only rip BJ so many times in one day.

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  4. Ron Burgundy 3 years ago

    Riveting stuff guys, keep it up!

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  5. 1 3 years ago

    I’m trying to find common ground here, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out we could always use more 5 stars. The point is why haven’t they gotten them: their defense is plain bad and they play down to opponents but the 5 star kids want to play on the best teams. The best players won’t just fall all over themselves siging up with ND when the product isn’t top tier yet.

    Your quotes:
    “Fuller is far from irreplaceable. The problem is that ND rarely targets elite talent, especially at the skilled positions. And when they do they usually fail. …Other than Robertson, ND did not have a realistic shot at any 5 stars, which goes back to my point in that Fuller WOULD BE replaceable if ND was in the running for more top tier talent.”

    You’re implying that Fuller can only be replaced by “elite” talent (but he was NOT one according to rating sites coming out of high school). You also said any elite skill position ND gets is typically a flop (Floyd to the contrary and we’re talking about wide receivers here).

    So what I’m saying is we do Not need a 5 star to replace a player that wasn’t one to begin with, and that we obviously develop elite and other talent well. That’s the debate in a nutshell I suppose.

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  6. George 3 years ago

    I don’t even know what you’re trying to debate me on here. As you said, ND is at a HUGE DISADVANTAGE against top tier teams due to the disparity in talent level. I’ve said nothing contrary to that. I would just point out that ND doesn’t target a lot of the elite talent either, due to a variety of reasons that have been discussed ad nauseam. Interesting how that correlation exists.

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  7. qb2333 3 years ago

    George,
    I agree that they can recruit better but they are developing 3-4 stars much better than most teams e.g., I would take Fuller and Procise over almost all the 5s in their class at their positions. Now am I saying let’s rejoice about being like Michigan State in terms of developing less talent but not getting the best (so that we get hammered when we play top tier talent)? Not at all. The Bamas and Ohio States etc have a huge advantage based on stockpiled talent. But I’m much more worried about the defense and inability to get D Ends to rush the QB with BVG’s system (altogether a much bigger issue than the offense IMO). I think they need to do better with what they have (specifically defensively) to impress more top tier talent and close the gap with the best teams. Bottom line, when you get your ass handed to you by Ohio State in the bowl game it hurts with 5 star recruits like Robertson. This team overcame a lot on offense last year but the D has been and continues to be a huge problem. Just my 2

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  8. George 3 years ago

    QB – I’m a big fan of Tate and it appears Floyd will have a long and productive NFL career also, but as far as ND football, just look at the big picture. #15 in recruiting is sub-par in my book. Especially considering ND had D. Robertson lined up and somehow managed to drop the ball on that one, not to mention the top recruit they did land has shredded his shoulder multiple times and is a huge question mark. Based on what I can tell, it appears ND football is now basically on par with Baylor, as far as recruiting. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to rejoice over that. Other than Robertson, ND did not have a realistic shot at any 5 stars, which goes back to my point in that Fuller WOULD BE replaceable if ND was in the running for more top tier talent. But as it stands, they’re not even in the game most of the time.

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  9. qb2333 3 years ago

    ND’s done OK with Tate and Floyd being successful receivers at the next level and Fuller will likely follow. Not exactly Wide Receiver U yet, but they’re recruiting and developing them well. Jones is also a talented piece that can spread the filed like a receiver. I think there’s room for realistic enthusiasm given the talent at the QB position. Who knows. We shall see…

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  10. southside 3 years ago

    Your’e not explaining 3/13/16 , 10:30 am comment. Re-read it for yourself. Therefore , I’m addressing that post. Do I sound vague here ? Yes , I could do better than “weird”—but i’m too polite to go beyond that.

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  11. George 3 years ago

    Hey Pollyanna, you just said ND currently has the best WR corp in school history. I consider that a moronic comment. So there, the debate has begun. Also feel free to SPECICALLY cite what you disagree with and why. I await your vague response that likely won’t address anything I’ve ever posted. You’ll have to do better than “weird” though.

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  12. southside 3 years ago

    Yo “Spot On” , refer to your 3/13/16 , 10:30 am comment. That’s the weird one I responded on. We can debate on players/talent etc, — no problem. So , you got a little weird on 3/13/16 at 10:30 am — no biggie.

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