A couple weeks ago we looked at the NFL decision facing Notre Dame’s award winning linebacker Jaylon Smith. Today we switch gears to offense where we profile Will Fuller and his own NFL decision. The star wide receiver shocked reporters in November when he said he would definitely be back in 2016, but following the Echoes Awards gala Fuller backpedalled faster than Adoree Jackson getting burned on a Fuller go route on the topic.
Will Fuller’s Current Draft Stock
Unlike Smith, Fuller is not considered to be a 1st round lock. In fact, many feel Fuller is a day two (read rounds 2-3) type player at this stage of his development. Fuller has put up some great statistics the last two seasons and will wow scouts at the combine with his speed, but consistency and hands are the two knocks on his game at this point.
Fuller had his struggles catching the football at times in 2015 with perhaps no other glaring example than against Boston College when he left at least three catchable balls hit the ground.
Fuller has also been more of a big play threat to this point in his career as opposed to a chain mover. Fuller can get behind any defense and almost any coverage, but to this point he’s been able to be taken out of a few games when he hasn’t been able to make big plays. All of that added up could equal a second round selection for Fuller although it would surprise no one if Fuller caught the eye of a team at the end of the 1st round and heard his name called on the first night of the draft. You can’t teach speed and Fuller has speed to burn.
What He Gains by Returning
Hands are one thing a receiver can work on and improve in a senior year. A player at this stage probably won’t get much bigger or taller and they won’t really get a whole lot faster either, but hands are something he can work on and improve his stock. Since he is not overly big, Fuller would need to show much more consistency catching the ball to be a lock of a first round pick and to possibly move into the top half of the first round. Both of those things he could accomplish if he came back for his senior season and made all of the plays in front of him.
Fuller also didn’t work much with Deshone Kizer throughout the off-season as Notre Dame gave the lion’s share of reps to Malik Zaire to get him ready for starting for the first time. A full off-season working with Kizer would improve their chemistry even more and result inn even more highlight producing plays for Fuller in 2016.
What His Loss Would Mean
Notre Dame has a lot of talent at wide receiver in 2016 even without Fuller but its safe to say that there isn’t a single receiver on the roster who could replace Fuller’s home run ability. The talent will be there though with Equanimeous St. Brown, Miles Boykin, Torii Hunter Jr, Corey Robinson, CJ Sanders, Corey Holmes, and a host of incoming freshman. Losing Fuller though would also mean Notre Dame would have to replace it’s entire starting wide receiving corps with Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle out of eligibility.
Should Fuller leave, Notre Dame would most likely be looking at a wide receiving trio of Torii Hunter in the slot and Equanimeous St. Brown on the outside and one of Milkes Boykin, Corey Holmes, or Corey Robinson on the other side. Lot of talent, but not a true big play, deep threat in the mold of Fuller there.
A wild card in the mix could also be Demetris Robertson. The elite athlete out of Georgia is considering one of the best receiver recruits in the country. Should Fuller announce for the NFL this month, could that sway Robertson towards Notre Dame where he could potentially compete for that big play role in the offense from day one?
Losing all three wide receivers would hurt the Irish offense in a major way though. Notre Dame would still have a potentially potent ground attack behind a stout line, but it’s hard to imagine the passing game not staking a bit of a step back even with a a more mature Kizer (or Malik Zaire) at the helm.
What His Return Would Mean
Much like Smith on defense, Fuller’s return on offense would ensure the Irish offense would be as potent, if not more so, in 2016 as they were in 2015. With another year in the offense playing with Kizer, Fuller would annihilate almost every career receiving record in the Notre Dame record books. His big play ability would also keep defenses from crowding the line to stop the Irish rushing attack that seemingly could plug and play backs this year and still carve up opposing defenses.
A return of Fuller would also make the job of wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock a lot easier this off-season as he wouldn’t have to worry about preparing three first time starters at receiver in 2016. Denbrock could focus primarily on developing an outside threat opposite Fuller given Tori Hunter’s experience should have the senior to be pretty well prepared for a starting role in 2016.
Bottom line, if Fuller returns to Notre Dame in 2016 the Irish will have an elite offense as long as they can stay relatively healthy. And I do mean only relatively as we saw this year the Notre Dame offense kept on churning even as injuries mounted.
This week we’ll be taking a look at the decisions facing CJ Prosise and Keivarae Russell as well and we’ll cap off this series with a prediction post from all of the UHND writers.