It couldn’t just be a seamless spring. We almost made it through spring ball and the offseason on only high notes. Hire the hottest defensive coordinator in football, get through spring without major injury, the quarterbacks look good, recruiting looks good, everything is on the up and up. But, that’s not the way things work in the offseason with college football. No no, there must be turmoil and controversy. And the Monday after spring practice concluded, Notre Dame found theirs with the transfer of former five star wide receiver Jordan Johnson.
There probably isn’t a single player on the roster who would have elicited the kind of reaction that occurred on social media with their departure like Jordan Johnson. Five star wideout who didn’t see the field as a freshman leaves the program. Yeah, that’s going to generate discussion.
What Does This Mean For 2021?
It could mean a lot and it could mean little. Notre Dame’s top five receivers at the moment are all seniors in Kevin Austin, Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys, Avery Davis, and Joe Wilkins. I’ve talked about the injury issues to Austin, Lenzy, and Keys before; any of them missing significant time would represent a problem since the departure of Johnson leaves just two non-freshman receivers on the roster.
The other issue is on paper Johnson was the only receiver on the roster aside from Austin who could win on any route anywhere on the field. He was recruited for that skillset and whether or not he actually possessed it, it’s not on the roster anywhere else. That in itself is a problem.
As it currently stands, the impact is minimal in 2021. From what we saw in the Blue-Gold game, Lorenzo Styles can contribute about what we’d have expected from Johnson, though they are different players.
Did Notre Dame Blow It?
On the outside, it looks like there were multiple things going on. When Brian Kelly hits a player with “traits” as early as he did with Johnson, there is something going on that doesn’t have to do with football ability. Whether it’s classroom or something else, who knows. But, the point is there is a non-football element involved. The other part of this is it seems like there was some struggles on the field as well. The big theme on the Notre Dame beat today is this was a misevaluation on the part of the services, and the staff has to be included in their too, which alludes to him not being ready to compete at the level the staff would like.
There is also the argument Notre Dame makes it too difficult for young players to see the field at receiver, that they need to master too much of the offense prior to their inclusion. And maybe Notre Dame could make it easier. But, the standard they set is the standard they set, it’s up to all the players to meet that standard. And while we’ve seen some freshmen receivers struggle to earn playing time, we’ve also seen big breakouts from them when they become sophomores, something that didn’t appear to be coming from Johnson, at least following spring. And if the argument then is “well, he wasn’t given a chance to breakout” now we’re getting into the territory of there being a few too many reasons why this isn’t happening.
But, did Notre Dame blow it? Should they have done more to keep him around? Maybe they could have and should have, we don’t know. At some point though, if you’ve got to pull a bunch of strings maybe it’s best for everyone to move on.
The Big Picture
The problem with the current situation at receiver is less about a single player and more about their process and the way they evaluate the position. The idea of having two players remaining from two straight recruiting classes, neither of whom look like they are on the verge of being contributors is simply unacceptable. Consider this, Notre Dame was without Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy last season due to injury. But, had they been fully healthy and played the way we think they are capable, especially Austin, there is a chance both would have left for the NFL following the year. Imagine a scenario where neither of them is even on the roster. That wouldn’t have made Johnson any better at football, but you’d be down to three seniors, three sophomores, and three freshmen, assuming Johnson decided to stick. That’s not a good situation.
Notre Dame chose to take just two receivers in 2019 and just three in 2020, a problem exacerbated by neither receiver in 2019 currently playing that position (Cam Hart) or being enrolled in school (Kendall Abdur Rahman). Five receivers over two years, and at the moment it appears it’s going to be five misses, with three of them guaranteed. It simply cannot happen. Better process, better evaluation, better development, Notre Dame needs all of that at wide receiver going forward.