Notre Dame’s Freshmen WR Can Force Way on Field in ’16

Photo: Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports
Photo: Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports

The Notre Dame wide receiving corps will be completely overhauled the next time Irish fans get a glimpse of Brian Kelly’s offense.  Notre Dame is replacing a trio of starters this fall and while the depth chart looks fairly settled, the talented freshmen wide receivers could force their way onto the field.

As Notre Dame’s fall camp starts to heat up, Torii Hunter is firmly entrenched as the X-wide receiver and will be doing his best to fill the void of Will Fuller who is busy impressing in camp with the Houston Texans.  Equanimeous St. Brown is working on consistency with his route running according to Brian Kelly, but it would still be a shock if he didn’t start at the W-receiver position at this point.

The slot position appears to be a wide open race between the dynamic but diminutive CJ Sanders and 2016 spring football’s Lazarus – Corey Holmes.  Sanders has been running with the ones and at times Holmes has even been lining up at the X behind Hunter for cross training purposes but this race isn’t over.

Behind those four, the only other scholarship wide receiver is Miles Boykin.  Then there’s Chris Finke.  The walkon is one of the hottest names in fall camp so far and if you haven’t heard of him, you soon will.

Still, that is not a lot of depth ahead of a talent trio of wide receivers who could force their way onto the field sooner rather than later.  Notre Dame landed perhaps its most complimentary sets of wide receivers in the Brian Kelly era in February with Kevin Stepherson, Javon McKinley, and Chase Claypool.

Kevin Stepherson Will Have a Role

Kevin Stepherson was one of the spring sensations earlier this year.  Stepherson enrolled early and used the jump start to his collegiate career to get a jump on his fellow classmates in jockeying for position on the Irish depth chart.  Stepherson was praised throughout spring for his ball skills and despite a big drop in the Blue Gold Game, he lived up to the hype.

Stepherson is an interesting prospect because he has the look of a young Will Fuller.  Before you roll your eyes remember, no one was hyping Will Fuller heading into his freshman season.  Like Stepherson, Fuller was by and large a 3-star recruit with high upside.

Brian Kelly praised Stepherson’s ball skills again on Friday, “(He) has certainly got great skills,” before cautioning, “But we don’t want to put too much on his plate.”  Kelly later admitted that Stepherson will have a role in the Irish this fall. “KJ is going to play a role, we know that. But we’re not going to put him in (where) he’s got to go save the game for us. He’s going to be a role, but it’s not going to be “the” guy in this offense.”

Javon McKinley - Notre Dame WR
Photo: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t Sleep on Javon McKinley

Classmate Jacon McKlinley was by far the most highly rated of the trio as a consensus 4-star recruit and US Army All-American.  He also comes in as perhaps the most well rounded and ready to play of the three.  McKinley is listed at 6-1.5 and 210 lbs on the 2016 Notre Dame roster and so far in camp he is looking pretty good.  Check out McKinley below one on one with sophomore Nick Coleman.

Chase Claypool, The Most Interesting Man in the Notre Dame WR Corps

The most intriguing of the group comes to Notre Dame from north of border.  Chase Claypool is a rare Canadian recruit for Notre Dame and reported to camp as a rare prospect as well.  Listed at 6’4″, 220 lbs, Claypool is a massive wide receiver but if you watch him, he doesn’t run like he’s 220 lbs.  Check out Claypool at the end of the Day 2 practice video to see Claypool fly downfield and adjust to the ball in the air.

Claypool’s long term projection is still up in the air.  He’ll start on offense and early returns are that is where he’ll stick, but some have hypothesized he could grow into a tight end on offense or even potentially a rush end on defense.  “He’s an intriguing player obviously,” Kelly said of Claypool Friday.  “We’re committed to giving him a look on offense. We want to see what he can do (there).”

Given Notre Dame’s red-zone struggles in the past, a 6’4″, 220 lbs target will certainly be enticing this fall.  Claypool is still raw, but perhaps that is a niche he works out for himself.

Maybe This Trio is a Quartet

I’ve said trio quite a bit in this article because everyone thought that Notre Dame signed three wide receivers this February.  They might have signed a 4th.  Deon McIntosh was considered a running back out of high school but is listed as a RB/WR on the roster and he has been lining up as a receiver so far in camp.

McIntosh isn’t just filling out a depth chart at wide receiver either.  McIntosh made perhaps one of the best plays of camp so far on Saturday with an impressive sprawling, one-handed catch over classmate Troy Pride, Jr. (Check the 1:13 mark).

It will be interesting to see if McIntosh sticks at wide receiver or moves back to running back.  Perhaps the Florida native eventually fills the role that Brian Kelly and his offensive staff originally had in mind for CJ Prosise in 2015 before injuries and suspensions pushed Prosise into a full time running back role.  Time will tell.

One thing we know is that this freshman wide receiver class is LOADED.  Stepherson can fly and has excellent ball skills making him an exciting prospect who could become the next deep threat in this offense.  McKinley is an all-around wide receiver who can move the chains and make big plays.  Claypool is a massive target who can create mismatches.  McIntosh is a wild card who can be a Swiss Army Knife.

We know Stepherson will play this fall, but one or more of his classmates could see the field this year as well.  McKinley specifically could force his way onto the field of the young and inexperienced Notre Dame wide receivers don’t seize the opportunity in front of them.


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One Comment

  1. liked your freshman wideouts story. McKinley is under the radar until He returns a punt, kickoff, pass catch and run. He will be the RedZone for the Irish. I remember seeing Him in SoCal, no one could cover. He just has to watch to not get ball slapped out of His hand as He trots to the end zone! Glad We have Him for 3 years! I’m qualifed to make this prediction. Markese Steppe will be The Fighting Irish next Heisman Trophy Winner!

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