The talk all spring for Notre Dame at the wide receiver has rightfully centered around how the Irish offense can unlock the potential of potential game changing receivers in the junior and sophomore classes. And to a lesser extent, whether or not Chase Claypool will finally reach the potential he’s been scratching the surface of for years. Lost in the mix though is senior Chrs Finke – the guy who likely will lead Notre Dame in receptions this fall.
We’ve even talked about how the arrow is pointing up on Braden Lenzy and how Finke’s backup, Lawrence Keys, is quietly having himself a good spring as well. We haven’t spent much time talking about Chris Finke though and it’s time we start.
Everyone know’s Finke’s story. Came to Notre Dame as a walk-on, played his way to a scholarship, and then eventually the starting lineup. Notre Dame fans have been penciling in other receivers ahead of him on the depth chart the last two years. All Chris Finke has done is produce and improve.
Reports out of spring ball are that Finke, now a 5th year senior, is really coming into his own and causing nightmares for the Notre Dame secondary – a unit that is expected to be pretty darn good this fall.
If Finke’s 2018 season is any indication of what’s in store in 2019, Notre Dame fans can put those pencils away. After catching just 16 passes for 224 yards in 2016 and 2017 – combined – Finke exploded for 49 receptions and 571 yards with 2 touchdowns last fall. And he wants to get better.
“Playing with no fear ever,” Finke told Fighting Irish Digital Media’s Jack Nolan last week. “Going in there and being physical all the time. You saw Chase and Miles were real physical last year. I try to get in there – it’s a little more difficult being my size but I watch guys like Julian Edleman in the NFL and he’s cracking heads. That’s something I want to try to do,” he added.
Finke is firmly in the starting lineup as Notre Dame’s slot receiver right now and won’t be going anywhere. His game is tailor-made not only for the slot position but for quarterback Ian Book’s strengths. Finke is almost certainly the best route runner on the team and excels at getting open quickly. Ian Book is an extremely accurate quarterback who excels at getting the ball out early. It’s a pairing that will connect together a lot in 2019.
Adding a Vertical Element to the Notre Dame Offense
Finke’s game isn’t limited to just 5 yard in and outs and getting “scrappy” yards though. Finke showed often in 2018 that he can get open downfield. He hauled in Brandon Wimbush’s heave against Michigan over two Wolverine defenders for a touchdown. He spent an October night burning the Virginia Tech secondary deep, but hadn’t yet developed the chemistry with Book to take advantage. He turned the tide of the USC game with a 24 yard touchdown in the corner of the endzone at the end of the first half.
Part of Notre Dame’s answer for stretching defenses and getting vertical in 2019 very well could involve getting Chris Finke lined up in favorable match-ups and letting him do what we saw him do to Virginia Tech, Michigan, and USC.
Finke makes his impact felt in more than just the passing game. He spent the 2018 season as Notre Dame’s primary punt returner where the Irish staff actually let him do more than just fair catch. He averaged 9.8 yards per return with a long of 51 yards on 20 returns – the kind of production Notre Dame hasn’t really seen in the punt game in some time. That’s an area he is looking to improve on as well.
“Hopefully a big one,” Finke answered when asked what kind of impact he might have in the punt game last week by Nolan. “You never know what way the ball is going to bounce, the way the punt is coming off the foot, and if you’re gonna get chances or not. But hopefully we’ll have something schemed up to get some good returns.”
A Leadership Role for Chris Finke in 2019
When captains are announced, Chris Finke is very likely to be one of them. Finke’s been part of Notre Dame’s off-season leadership committee as a SWAT team leader. The staff already entrusted Finke with keeping a young but talented wide receiving corps focused throughout the off-season. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if they entrust him with being a captain as well.
Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool both caught more passes than Chris Finke last year, but with a full off-season to further develop a budding rapport with Book, Finke could easily end up leading Notre Dame in receptions this fall. Claypool will undoubtedly have more of the circus catches and more touchdowns because of his size in the redzone, but Finke could easily end up catching 6-7 balls a week for 75-85 yards. That would result in a 75 catch, 900+ yard season this fall.
Looking even further down the road, a strong senior season could propel Chris Finke to a NFL career. He might not put up the jaw dropping numbers at the NFL Combine like Miles Boykin did a couple months ago, but he’s is much more than just a “former walkon” at this point. He could be Notre Dame’s leading receiver in 2019 and could be catching passes in the NFL