As Chase Claypool and Cole Kmet head to the NFL Draft, the Irish will be tasked with developing the next breakout receivers. Ian Book must quickly develop chemistry with a new group of starters. Luckily, with the addition of a few key players and maturing returnees, Tommy Rees has the personnel he needs to take the Irish passing attack to the next level. For Brian Kelly, this development will be critical to making it back to the College Football Playoffs.
The wide receivers were headlined by Chase Claypool and Chris Finke in 2019. Claypool wreaked havoc on opposing defenses with 66 receptions for 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns. While Finke tallied 41 receptions for 456 yards with 4 touchdowns.
Tight End Cole Kmet was poised to make a run at the John Mackey Award in 2020, but choose the NFL and who can blame him? Kmet had 43 receptions for 515 yards with 6 touchdowns. The Irish tight end also had a spectacular performance against the Georgia Bulldogs and solid outing at the NFL Combine. The ex-pitcher and current football star is destined to go in the early rounds.
Wide Receivers Javon McKinley, Braden Lenzy, and Lawrence Keys III spotlight the returnees for the Irish. However, the three wideouts only had a combined 35 receptions for a total of six touchdowns. They will have to step up this fall if Notre Dame wants to continue their recent success.
Braden Lenzy is a projected starter heading into the 2020 season. His speed can change a game and it, in fact, did last fall. Tommy Rees must employ Lenzy’s athleticism in order to transcend the offense. While Lawrence Keys III was behind veteran receiver Chris Finke last fall, he is expected to make a bigger impact in the slot for Notre Dame.
Tommy Tremble headlines Tight Ends. His contributions are expected to increase with quarterback Ian Book this year. In 2019, Tremble totaled 16 receptions for 183 yards with 4 touchdowns. Conversely, Brock Wright the former #2 tight end in the country, has turned out to be more of an impact in the running game as a blocker.
After a highly anticipated future for the tight end, he may be surpassed by incoming freshman Michael Mayer.
Notre Dame added Northwestern Transfer Bennett Skowronek. The former Wildcat brings much-needed leadership to the Notre Dame receiving core. It is certain that Skowronek was taught leadership and vital traits under coach Pat Fitzgerald. Although injured most of 2019, the wide receiver has 110 receptions for 1,417 yards with 8 touchdowns in his career.
Kevin Austin Jr. returns. Perhaps the biggest addition to the Irish roster was not a recruit or transfer at all. Kevin Austin Jr. has received praise from fellow players and members of the media for his performances at practice. The former 4-star WR from Florida is ready to make an impact. If the rumors are true, Notre Dame fans are in for a surprise this fall.
Freshman Michael Mayer joins the roster. If any freshman can make an impact this year, it is 5-Star Tight End Michael Mayer. For those fortunate enough to come across his film on social media, he could become the next great “Notre Dame Tight End”. Expect Mayer to see playing time this fall.
How will this affect Ian Book?
Ian Book lost his favorite targets from the past two seasons. During the second half of the schedule, Book and Claypool were unstoppable. Chemistry is a major part of the Irish passing game and Book will have to connect with this new receiving core fast if he wants to make it back to the College Football Playoffs.
Unfortunately, the Notre Dame spring practice schedule has been put on hold, but that will likely be the case for every program across the country. So, the lack of practice will be the same across the board.
Speed will define the 2020 season. With Braden Lenzy, Kevin Austin Jr., and Lawrence Keys III, to name a few, this Notre Dame Offense needs to rely more on the deep ball. Remember how effective the Irish were in the second half of last season when they opened up the passing attack?
After Ian Book led the Irish on a game-winning drive against Virginia Tech, the Notre Dame Offense was relentless. Perhaps, the weight of the College Football Playoffs attributed to this, but additionally, the play calling developed. It will be interesting to see just how Tommy Rees utilizes the Irish receivers.
New OC Tommy Rees faces a challenge. Yes, the entire Notre Dame Offensive Line returns in 2020, but there is no guarantee they will take the next step as expected. Notre Dame’s biggest strength last season was the passing attack. If Brian Kelly and the Irish want to continue their offensive dominance that they displayed at the end of last season, this talented group of inexperienced receivers will have to step up.