Back in May, we had a guest post from forum user tyy21 that talked about 2021 being the last chance for Notre Dame’s senior receivers – a group that returns this year with one of the lowest combined career production of any group in recent Notre Dame history. Talent has never been a problem for the group though – availability has been for the most part. Based on the reports out of fall camp, however, the stars might be aligning for the group at the right time.
Between Kevin Austin, Braden Lenzy, Joe Wilkins, and Lawrence Keys, Notre Dame’s senior receivers have the talent to put fear into every single secondary on the 2021 Notre Dame schedule. Add in graduate student Avery Davis, and the Irish receiving corps has the potential to be great.
The group has always had potential, though. Kevin Austin saw the field early in his career in 2018, but we’ve barely seen him since, thanks to an undisclosed suspension in 2019 and injuries in 2020. Lenzy flashed at the end of 2019 with a few long touchdowns, but injuries derailed his 2020 campaign as well. Keys was poised to be the beneficiary of Lenzy and Austin’s unavailability last year, but then protocols and nagging injuries slowed him as well.
Everything that could go wrong for the group a year ago went wrong. Fast forward a year, and the group is trending in the right direction.
By all accounts this summer, Kevin Austin has been THAT dude throughout camp. Those on the beat have used words like unstoppable and uncoverable to describe the same wide receiver that the Notre Dame defenders in 2019 raved about. Last year he rushed back from a foot injury just to aggravate the same injury upon his return. Notre Dame took a slower and more cautious approach with him this offseason, and Austin looks primed for the monster season we all envisioned he’d have in 2020.
Lenzy played in more games than Austin last year, but he never looked right. A hamstring injury lingered and sapped him of the explosiveness that was the hallmark of his game. Fully healed and rested, Lenzy put in more time in the weight room than he had in years past, according to Brian Kelly, and the results are evident just from looking at him. Lenzy was always the skinny, fast receiver, but he’s looked noticeably more chiseled this summer than years past.
Lenzy has also reportedly worked hard to become more than just a one-trick pony. Just a deep threat in the past, Lenzy has improved in the contested catch department. To be fair, Lenzy’s one trick was pretty good, to begin with – just ask Clay Helton and USC.
Keys was one of the Blue & Gold game stars this spring and has carried that over to fall camp. With Lenzy and Austin appearing locked in as starters on the outside and Davis, Notre Dame’s leading returning receiver, manning the slot position, Keys might be just the 4th receiver. However, he still figured to get plenty of reps.
The forgotten man in the group – Joe Wilkins – just catches everything thrown his way when given the opportunity. After making a pair of big catches against Duke in the 2020 opener, I still don’t know why we didn’t see more of Wilkins in 2020. Javon McKinley and Bennett Skowronek were great in their own right, but it seemed like Wilkins could have a bigger role a year ago.
If history is any indicator with this group, Keys could see a large role should there be any availability issues with any of the starters.
History is the only reason for there to be any sort of pessimism with this group, though. All reports out of South Bend indicate that Notre Dame’s receivers in 2021 will be much more dynamic than 2020’s, even though all of the perceived starters were on the roster a year ago.