Braden Lenzy was an absolute weapon for the Notre Dame offense during the second half of the 2019 season. He was the deep threat the team had been missing. He was a nightmare for defenses when the ball was in his hands. It looked like he was primed to be Notre Dame’s next Will Fuller heading into the 2020. Things haven’t gone to plan since then, however, for Lenzy.
After a redshirt season in 2018, as he adjusted to college life and the college game, Braden Lenzy started to show glimpses of the big-time playmaker he had the reputation of being coming out of high school. He showed he could run past a defense and be a vertical threat in the passing game.
He was a big play waiting to happen on reverses and jet sweeps, displaying the speed to outrun the entire USC defense like Will Fuller had done, but so few others in gold helmets had in recent years.
And he made plays in the running game like that more than once in the second half of the season.
Braden Lenzy was a big play waiting to happen in 2019. Since then, however, the big plays haven’t been there. In 2019, Lenzy had touchdown runs of 61 and 51 yards. In addition, he had catches of 43, 70, and 52 yards – and he only had 11 receptions on the season. Since then, he’s had just one catch over 30 yards and one rush over 30 yards throughout two seasons.
The 2020 season was a lost campaign for Braden Lenzy. A hamstring injury in camp lingered into the season only to be reaggravated when the old coaching staff had him running needless go routes in a blowout of Pitt. Lenzy finished that season with just seven receptions on a team that was desperate for help at wide receiver.
The 2021 season wasn’t much better for Lenzy, even though injuries weren’t to blame this time. From the start of the season, Notre Dame wanted to deploy Lenzy as the deep threat we saw against Navy in 2019. Notre Dame dialed Lenzy’s number numerous times on deep routes over the first few weeks, but Jack Coan couldn’t connect with him, underthrowing him often. When Then, when did place a perfect deep bomb for Lenzy against Purdue, Lenzy lost it in the sun.
Notre Dame changed their offensive approach midway through the 2021 season after they found their offensive line, and that approach didn’t feature Lenzy very prominently. Still, Lenzy finished the season with career highs of 32 receptions for 350 yards and 3 touchdowns.
After four years at Notre Dame, Lenzy had just 50 receptions, 667 yards, and six touchdowns. With unfinished business remaining, Lenzy decided to return for a 5th season in 2022.
Notre Dame’s depth at wide receiver is well-documented at this point, and Lenzy suddenly finds himself the elder statement in a thin, inexperienced wide receiver room following the injury to Avery Davis. Might things finally be coming together for the speedy wideout?
All reports are that Lenzy is in great shape this summer and now has a quarterback with more than enough arm to take advantage of his elite speed. In addition, as a graduate student, Lenzy can focus on football and recovery more than in the past as well.
Shades of 2020?
Notre Dame was in a bad spot at wide receiver in 2020 – even worse than the situation they are facing right now. In the summer, Notre Dame lost Kevin Austin and Lenzy to injuries when they were planning on the two being the top two receivers. Instead, Javon McKinley and Bennett Skowronek seized the opportunity with Lenzy and Austin on the shelf. McKinley had 11 career receptions before the 2020 season but led Notre Dame with 42 receptions for 717 yards. Skowronkey had 29 catches for 439 yards and a team-high five touchdowns.
McKinley’s 2020 season is interesting to look at with regards to Lenzy because, like Lenzy, he entered his 5th year after falling short of lofty expectations over the first four years of his career at Notre Dame. McKinley ended up having the best year, by far, of his career and was a leading receiver on a Notre Dame that went to the College Football Playoffs.
Notre Dame could have an offense in 2022 that looks similar to the one they ran in 2020, given the depth concerns at receiver and the talent Notre Dame has at tight end and running back. Notre Dame ran a “boring” yet very effective offense focused on running the ball. With Tyler Buchner’s threat on the ground, it would be foolish not to lean into the run again this year. However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be plays for Lenzy and the other receivers.
Lorenzo Styles is Notre Dame’s top receiver heading into the season, but there is a role for Lenzy to fill that is much more prominent than the one he served in 2021. The jet sweeps that we saw from 2019 should be there for Lenzy again, and with Buchner and Chris Tyree‘s speed in the backfield, Notre Dame should be able to create even more misdirection than they did in 2019.
Is Braden Lenzy going to pop off for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns this fall? Probably not, but I think we’re about to see the Lenzy from 2019 again in a few weeks. What that would mean from a production standpoint, though, is hard to say. But, if he were to end the season with 500 yards through the air and 250+ yards on the ground, it would be huge for Notre Dame.
We know Michael Mayer will get a ton of targets, and Styles will get his as well. We know there will be many yards on the ground between Buchner, Audric Estime, Tyree, and Logan Diggs. If Lenzy reaches those levels, which may seem modest, it would be a great year for Lenzy and one that will get him NFL looks. Skowronek had less than 30 receptions and 500 yards in 2020 but was drafted by the Rams and is already the proud owner of a Super Bowl ring after contributing for the Rams as a rookie last year.
Everything we’re hearing coming out of camp is positive, that he’s running routes better and his hands have improved. With the dearth of other WR options, I could see him having a 1,000+ yard season.
Against good defenses that stock the box, ND should establish the pass to set up the run. No doubt, Ohio State will commit to shopping the run, and ND’s best chance is to come out throwing!