Javon McKinley Returning for 5th Year Would be Great Notre Dame Story

After Notre Dame accepted a graduate transfer from Northwestern wide receiver Bennett Skowronek, it didn’t look like Javon McKinley would be returning for a 5th year whether it was his choice or coaching staff’s seemed irrelevant at the time.  Skowronek is a very similar player and likely didn’t transfer to Notre Dame to be backup.  On Friday, however, Tyler James of NDInsider reported that McKinley does indeed want to return for a 5th year. Should he ultimately return, it would be a great Notre Dame story.

Javon McKinley came to Notre Dame with sky-high expectations.  He was a 4-star, top-100 caliber receiver out of California. He didn’t play for a traditional California prep powerhouse, but he played against high-level competition.  And he dominated.  Some thought he would challenge for playing time as a true freshman.  That didn’t happen.

A broken leg in 2016 cut McKinley’s freshman campaign short after appearing in just six games.  He didn’t play at all in 2017 while recovering from the injury.  In 2018, he played in only four games and didn’t record a single reception.  He entered 2019 as a fourth-year senior, former 4-star recruit who didn’t have a single career reception to his name.

To compound matters, McKinley was involved in an off-the-field incident that involved an altercation with police officers that resulted in three misdemeanor charges last February.  McKinley entered a pretrial diversion program that allowed him to avoid any jail time and worked his way back into the good graces of the Notre Dame coaching staff.  Had he not, his career at Notre Dame could easily have ended last spring.

This past season, McKinley finally started to flash that potential that made him a national recruit in 2016.  In the route of New Mexico, McKinley hauled in two passes for 85 yards – both resulting in touchdowns.  The one, a 65-yard insane highlight-reel play, stands as the best play of his career and perhaps the best play by a Notre Dame wide receiver in 2019.

Add up all the injuries, the off-field issues, and the work that McKinley had to put in just to still be a member of the 2019 Fighting Irish and the idea of him overcoming all of that and finishing his career with a 5th season at Notre Dame in 2020 would be a great story of redemption.

On the field, McKinley would have no guaranteed role in 2020.  He will have to earn every rep he gets if he is a member of the team this fall.  Notre Dame is replacing both Chase Claypool and Chris Finke, but McKinley is in no way built to play the slot, so his best chance for playing time is on the outside where he will fight against Skowronek and hopefully, a reinstated Kevin Austin to replace Claypool.

New Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees could experiment with speedster Braden Lenzy in the the slot if Kevin Austin is as good as advertised to open up a role in the offense for a bigger, chain moving target like McKinley or Skowronek.  Or perhaps for incoming freshman Jordan Johnson – the highest-rated receiver to enroll at Notre Dame since Michael Floyd.

All this is to say that even if McKinley returns in 2020, it probably won’t be to start.  It would take a monumental effort this spring and summer for that to happen.  Just coming back in 2020 after all he has gone through at Notre Dame, however, would be a huge win for the former heralded recruit.  Often times we all get consumed by stats and production when it comes to evaluating players, but there is also a human element to college football (more so than the NFL), and in that regard, it’s hard not to route for a kid like McKinley to come back.

Regardless of playing time, Notre Dame could use McKinley’s veteran presence on a wide receiving corps high on potential and short on experience.  With Michael Young transferring in addition to the losses of Claypool and Finke, most of Notre Dame’s depth at the position is in the freshman and sophomore classes.

According to James’s report, though, McKinley still has some work to do to earn a spot on the 2020 squad, but if there’s one thing that we shouldn’t doubt about McKinley at this point, is his willingness to put in that work.

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  1. Not to nitpick, but McKinley indeed came from a prep powerhouse. I saw him play in the state championship game against De La Salle. Corona Centennial has been the best public school team in the state and a national top-10 caliber team for well over a decade. His senior year they finished as the #2 team in the entire country.

  2. Hopefully McGinley returns. These days you never know when there will be an injury or suspension, and just plain depth in the wide receivers in whatever role he has would be an asset.

    Perhaps an early test for Rees as the new OC. Does he find a place where McGinley can contribute if he’s able to return? Time will tell.

  3. Yeah we have a real good group of receivers coming up right now. This would bring some experience and leadership back to the group if he was to return. I’d love to see some 5 wide on the field next year. Mismatches galore!!!

    1. Sam, I like your spirit of “5 wide” next year, especially since most of them would be speed burners…more so than I can remember at ND in a long time, but there is also merit in keeping Tyree in the backfield and sending out four. No reduction in speed there: just one more thing for the linebackers to think about, especially since IAN can also run. Remember that wild Colorado offense from back in the day? Two wides, two tight ends split out about 3 yards each, with a run-pass capable QB and a Heisman Trophy candidate running back in the backfield? Great tape to watch for a plan “B”, but I’d rather see a BK version of it live. We could do it, and about anything else we want to do, with the talent and speed we have coming back. Not to mention a boatload of two and three year starters on the O-line (backed up by four 4 star O-line sophomores about ready to contribute any time some fresh legs are needed). My forecast: More offensive records will fall, and BK will become the first ND coach to have three 12 win regular seasons…a record that will probably NEVER fall. I’m also putting $200 on ND to make the playoffs, and $20 on ND to win the National Championship. That’s a lot of money for me to bet (unlike my brothers Dave and Frank, I’m not much of a gambler). But I love these odds.

      BGC ’77 ’82

  4. McKinley’s TDs to reception ratio 4/11 (and one vs. Michigan) remains an impressive albeit limited measure of what he can do.
    That he’s willing to try to return without any assurance of playing minutes speaks volumes for his love for ND. I agree, Frank!
    His return has the potential of being a great story come Senior Day when he jogs onto the field for his last time vs. Louisville come November.

    1. I’d try him as a replacement for Finke. Get the ball in his hands in space…he seems to be a really dangerous open field runner…he might break some Finke-like patterns that are designed to get first downs for touchdowns.

      BGC ’77 ’82

      1. Tall guy running the slant (not the “down and in”) the true slant, is super hard to stop, and since our QB is a little short, height for the receiver makes it easier to hit it. And I don’t know what they are called today, but drags and waggles (which used to be with the TE) are like what Long ran, and sometimes they were caught shallow, as designed, but turned into a scores. I think JM could up the percentage of those that resulted in scores.

        BGC ’77 ’82

    2. Yeah , I think Mckinely will be an asset to the passing game. He’ll fit in somewhere — the right play , the right game–he’s a big target and runs well after a catch

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