Jordan Johnson was the highest rated wide receiver to sign with Notre Dame since Michael Floyd when the composite 5-star receiver signed in December 2019. After a disappointing freshman campaign and a relatively quiet spring, Johnson announced his intentions to transfer by entering the transfer portal on Monday.
While the news is not totally shocking in retrospect, it does not make it any less disappointing for Notre Dame and what it means for the wide receiver room moving forward.
Johnson came to Notre Dame a year ago with some lofty expectations that it appears as though he’ll never achieve at Notre Dame, baring a change of heart. Houston Griffith did remove his name from the transfer portal earlier this year, but indications are that Johnson is set on transferring and not just exploring his options.
Brian Kelly and Tommy Rees were often criticized a year ago for not incorporating Johnson and fellow freshman Xavier Watts into the passing when the offense could have used more vertical threats, but this spring it appeared as though early enrollee Lorenzo Styles had passed Johnson on the depth chart.
On Saturday Lorenzo Styles saw more targets and was more heavily involved in the Irish passing game than Johnson who did not record a single catch. Johnson’s most notable play was actually on in which it appeared the staff was trying to get him the ball on a screen, but he was blocking instead and the play blew up.
That’s not to say that one play justifies the lack of playing time or that one play is why he transferred, rather, it’s to say that maybe it might not be totally 100% the coaching staff’s fault that Johnson’s Notre Dame career will end before ever really starting.
There are some fair criticisms for Notre Dame’s challenges incorporating young receivers into the offense that will be discussed in the wake of a transfer as large as Johnson’s. There is no denying that Notre Dame has struggled, for whatever reason, with some of its more highly rated receivers in recent years. Kevin Austin’s career started similarly to Johnson’s before injuries then derailed Austin’s 2020 campaign. For Austin, there is still time for him to play up to his potential this fall. For Johnson, he’ll be looking to revive his career elsewhere this fall.
It will now also be even more interesting to see if Styles – Deion Colzie for that matter – has a role in the Notre Dame offense this fall. It certainly looked like the Irish staff was trying to get Styles the ball often on Saturday in the Blue & Gold game.
What makes Notre Dame’s struggles with highly-rated receivers is the relative great success they’ve had turning some lower-rated ones into bonafide stars. Will Fuller was a first-round pick, Chase Claypool a second, and Miles Boykin a third all in the last five years. Until either a highly rated receiver hits for Notre Dame or until a true freshman receiver has a big impact for the Irish, questions will continue to linger as to why.