The biggest glaring differences between Notre Dame and Clemson a week ago wasn’t in the trenches – it was on the edges where Clemson used a variety of young, fast wide receivers to exploit the Irish secondary once Julian Love was injured. Notre Dame countered with their towering duo of Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool. Clemson’s speed at the position was beyond noticeable. On Sunday, Notre Dame was forced to reshape their wide receiving corps for 2019 when Miles Boykin announced he would not be using a 5th year and instead declare for the 2019 NFL Draft.
A year ago at this time, most of the college football world had just learned who Miles Boykin was after his theatrical game winning touchdown against LSU in the Citrus Bowl. Hell, a good portion of the Notre Dame fan base was probably just learning who he was. Since then, Boykin transformed himself into Notre Dame’s go to wide receiver. He hauled in 52 passes for 859 with 8 touchdowns. And that was with a slow start to the season.
Even with being Notre Dame’s leading receiving this year, on the surface, the decision by Boykin to leave for the NFL is a bit curious given he enters the draft without a 1,000 yard or 10 TD season and with some holes remaining in his game. Much like Darius Walker back in 2007 though, there is one thing that will hold back Boykin in the draft regardless of when he left and it’s something that he won’t be able to improve on much with another year – his speed.
Boykin showed this year that he can use his body and be a big, massive target. Even in the Cotton Bowl, he was the one Notre Dame wide receiver who had success against the Clemson defense. He could have had an even bigger game too if Book had hit him in a couple instances when he was wide open or just trusted him more with more jump balls.
For Notre Dame, the Irish staff was going to be faced with some difficult decisions this off-season at wide receiver already. Specifically, how could get more speed and athleticism at the position in 2019 when it looked like all three starting receivers were expected back. Well, Boykin just forced Notre Dame’s hand.
Offensive Coordinator Chip Long and Wide Receivers Coach DelVaughn Alexander will not be short on options if they are just looking to replace Boykin, but the most obvious answer might be already in the starting lineup. It felt throughout much of the year like Boykin and Chase Claypool were two similar receivers playing at the same time. Both are massive receivers who aren’t stretching many defenses even if they can occasionally get open downfield. Claypool is believed to have requested a NFL evaluation as well though.
Assuming Claypool returns and moves over to Boykin’s spot, that still leaves an opening in the lineup though.
Here are the main candidates who could fill out the receiving corps.
- Kevin Austin – There isn’t a receiver on the roster who has the look of a future #1 wide receiver more than Austin. He took some time to adjust to college this year, but with a full off-season to focus, he could be unleashed next fall.
- Michael Young – I thought we would see a breakout from Young this year and it didn’t happen. He would give Notre Dame much needed speed on the outside.
- Braden Lenzy – Speaking of speed, no receiver might be as fast as Lenzy. If he is ready for a starting role, he would give Notre Dame a massive upgrade in the speed department at the position.
- Lawrence Keys – Like Lenzy, Keys has speed to burn and reportedly he was ahead of Lenzy throughout the year and throughout bowl prep.
- Javon McKinley – The senior to be is still on the roster but it’s safe to wonder if his window has passed at Notre Dame. He arrived as an accomplished player in a tough division in California, but has yet to make any impact.
- Joe Wilkins – The converted cornerback was a surprise in camp by moving ahead of some of the other freshmen and even saw the field this year while maintaining a redshirt.
- Micah Jones – The most similar to Boykin in terms of profile, Jones used a redshirt this year. Like Boykin, he will likely take a little more time before he is ready for a major role.
Notre Dame clearly has some great options here to replace Boykin and most will add a dose of more speed onto the field for the Irish. If Austin has a good off-season, he could be ready to become Notre Dame’s #1 wide receiver this fall. He has all of the tools and could be a game changer for this offense. Between Young, Keys, Lenzy, and Wilkins; they all would infuse more speed on the field as well. Even if they don’t win a starting role, Notre Dame has to find a way to get at least a couple of them more involved next fall.
What Notre Dame will have a hard time replacing is Boykin’s ball skills in the endzone. No one else on the Irish roster has shown they have the same kind of ability to win one on one battles for contested balls in the endzone like Boykin to date. With the talent Notre Dame has at tight end with the Cole Kmet and sophomore to be Tommy Tremble, the Irish have some candidates there as well. Claypool has the height, but hasn’t shown he can win those battles with consistency like Boykin to date. That is something that he could focus on this off-season.
For Boykin, his NFL prospects are still a bit murky. His NFL evaluation came back better than expected reportedly so it will be interesting to see where he gets picked. A year ago Equanimeous St. Brown left Notre Dame early and didn’t get picked until the 6th round. His resume had better credentials and his measurables at the combine were great. Boykin won’t have either of that going for him, but he will give some NFL team, a tight end’s body with wide receiver skills.
Notre Dame is now two for four in NFL decisions with Boykin joining Julian Love in leaving Notre Dame with eligibility remaining. Defensive ends Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem on the other hand both announced they will be returning. The fifth player believed to have asked for a NFL evaluation is Claypool but to date there have been no indications he plans on leaving. Most felt Boykin would return too though so we’ll have to wait and see there.