We’ve been here before with Chase Claypool. At least I have. A little over two years ago, I declared the upcoming year to be the season of Claypool. He appeared to possess the skill set to break through opposite of Equanimeous St. Brown at receiver, and the few plays we saw him make as a freshman portended a break out year for the rising sophomore.
That of course, didn’t happen. He saw an increased role on the team, hauling in 29 passes for 402 yards and scoring two touchdowns. Good numbers, but nothing earth shattering.
He increased his production last season, finishing second in receptions (50), yards (639), and touchdowns (4). Again, modest numbers, but there has always seemed to be a level missing with him. The word on him has always been a lack of focus, both in practice and in games. This is something we saw in the Cotton Bowl when he dropped a key third down pass early in the game. Obviously, drops happen, but it was a microcosm of what’s been missing with him. It’s been fair to wonder if Claypool would ever reach his immense potential.
Dominating Spring Practice
Brian Kelly was asked at a recent press conference how Claypool has looked so far in the spring. He answered, “outstanding”. For context, Kelly has not talked this way about the Canadian receiver in the past. Kelly has always felt free to be honest about him, and if he feels like he isn’t getting the type of consistent effort, he’ll let us know.
And it hasn’t been just Brian Kelly. If you follow the beat writers who have gotten unprecedented access to the spring practices this year, Claypool has received rave reviews from them as well. They’ve been talking about him the way they spoke about Michael Floyd the last two seasons. Not so much from a skill set standpoint, but in terms of effort and dominance. Claypool hasn’t had a bad day.
In fact, Claypool was such a tough matchup for the defense that Brian Kelly had to comfort Troy Pride, who had been beaten repeatedly by Claypool all practice. Kelly let Pride know that Claypool was “possibly a first round pick” and these things happen from time to time. To be clear, Pride is the same guy who gave up close to nothing to Clemson’s receivers during the Cotton Bowl. They did the bulk of their damage against Notre Dame’s backups. Not many people got the best of Pride last season in any game. For Claypool to beat him so consistently that Pride had to be consoled by the head coach, is notable.
Spring Game Performance
Claypool looked every bit the number one receiver in the spring contest. He did a little bit of everything. He caught short crossers, curl routes, and had a beautiful leaping grab over safety DJ Brown for a 43 yard gain, the one time Ian Book decided to send one deep. He was elusive, but also tough, taking defenders with him while gaining extra yards.
As impressive as anything else was the ease by which he accomplished all of this. He didn’t fight balls, he didn’t struggle off the line, and his routes were crisp. This is what we’ve been waiting to see from this immensely talented player. Not that this is the final stage, it obviously isn’t. But he looked exactly how a number one should look, and has reportedly looked this way all spring.
What It Means For The Offense
It’s hard to predict numbers with this team; they have so many weapons in the passing game. From Finke, to Kmet, to the rising sophomore receivers, and the running backs, the ball is going to be spread around.
I wrote at the opening of spring practices how notable it was that Claypool was moved the boundary receiver position, taking over for the departed Miles Boykin. This allows an easier access point for Ian Book to get the ball to Claypool on any type of route, especially deep routes. As we all know, Book doesn’t have the strongest arm, and getting the ball all the way to the opposite hash when throwing to Claypool was a tough task. On a couple of occasions he got it out there, but it was more of a jump ball, back shoulder throw type of situation that caused Claypool to stop and haul in the pass without gaining any extra yardage. They can take full advantage of his skill set from the boundary.
This offense doesn’t need a “go-to guy” so to speak. As mentioned before, they have a ton of weapons. But, we saw how important it was for Book to have Miles Boykin available to him in big moments last season. And while it’s good that Book will have Chris Finke to rely on in the slot, Claypool provides a different kind of receiving option for him; a big body who can run, separate from defenders, and use his size and strength to muscle defenders and fight for the ball.
Notre Dame hasn’t had a 1,000 yard receiver since Will Fuller in 2015, and if Chase Claypool’s performance in the spring game is any indication, they’ll have one in 2019.