Thursday was not a good day for Notre Dame football. As a bomb cyclone was hammering the East coast with a winter blast, a bomb cyclone of its own was going off within the Notre Dame football program. Thursday afternoon we learned that after an unsuccessful run at Mike Elko in December, Texas A&M threw a bunch of money at Notre Dame’s now former defensive coordinator leaving the Irish in search of a new defensive leader. Thursday night we learned that junior wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown was leaving early for the NFL. In this case, however, the Irish aren’t left in scramble mode.
Heading into the season it was assumed that St. Brown might head to the NFL after nearly topping 1,000 yards a sophomore. Then the 2017 season unfolded and St. Brown fell off drastically in also every single receiving department as Notre Dame struggled to move the football in the air during Brandon Wimbush’s first year as a starter. Even with stats that don’t scream high NFL Draft pick though, St. Brown has decided to leave early for the NFL.
— Equanimeous (@Equanimeous) January 5, 2018
Unlike the loss of Elko which has Notre Dame back at the drawing board defensively, the good news here is Notre Dame has a lot of talent at wide receiver. And, as long as they have someone who can get those wide receivers the ball, they will be in fine shape at receiver in the fall even without St. Brown, CJ Sanders who decided to use a graduate transfer for his senior season earlier this week, and Kevin Stepherson who has almost certainly played his last game with the Irish following his latest arrest.
Here’s a quick look at who Notre Dame has on the roster heading into next year.
- Chase Claypool – By the end of the season Claypool was starting to develop as a receiver before a shoulder injury cost him the Citrus Bowl. Claypool could miss time in the spring as well, but he will be back at full strength for fall camp and is primed for a breakout junior season.
- Miles Boykin – The senior to be was the star of the Citrus Bowl with the catch of the year in college football. Was it a breakthrough performance or a blip? There have been a lot of promising reports on Boykin over the last two years in spring and fall camp but it didn’t materialize on the field until Monday. A big senior season could be in the cards.
- Chris Finke – The former walkon likely won’t challenge for a starting position, but he is a reliable target who came up with a big catch on Notre Dame’s game winning drive against LSU.
- Michael Young – The freshman scored the first touchdown of his career on Monday in an increased role thanks to Stepherson’s absence. An even bigger role as a sophomore seems likely if not certain.
- Javon McKinley – A redshirt season this fall seemed odd, but McKinley was a highly touted prospect just two years ago and will be heavily in the mix. With Claypool possibly limited in the spring, McKinley could be seeing reps with the first unit in March.
- Jafar Armstrong – Redshirted this fall as a freshman but surprised in fall camp.
- Freddy Canteen – Injuries limited him in his first season after his graduate transfer from Michigan, but he has another year left.
If I had to guess right now, I would put my money on Claypool, Boykin, and Michael Young being in the starting lineup against Michigan. That would be a lot of new faces in the starting lineup, but wouldn’t be that much different than 2014 when Notre Dame started Will Fuller, Corey Robinson, and CJ Prosise for much of the year despite none having much experience heading into the season.
On top of those receivers already on the roster, Notre Dame has hit wide receiver recruiting out of the park this year. The Irish added three high quality receivers with Kevin Austin, Micah Jones, and Braden Lenzy. Jones is a massive target in the mold of Boykin and is an early enrollee so he will get a jumpstart on his classmates. Austin could be the most complete receiver Notre Dame has landed since Michael Floyd. Lenzy is a speed demon who will almost certainly see the field as a freshman at this point as a deep threat. All are four star prospects
In addition to the trio of talent incoming frosh at receiver. Notre Dame is still holding out some slight hope that St. Brown’s younger brother Amon Ra St. Brown decides that he wants to try to take his older brother’s place in the Notre Dame lineup and picks Notre Dame over USC and Stanford at the All-American Bowl on Saturday. The more likely addition to the class, however, is Lawrence Keys from Louisiana though Notre Dame is also making a hard push for Texas 4-star receiver Tommy Bush as well.
In short, Notre Dame is not short on numbers or potential impact receivers for 2018 even though they will be without at least two and most likely three receivers from the 2017 roster when Michigan comes to town on September 1.
As for St. Brown, the move to leave early for the NFL is certainly a gamble. He is not considered to be a top o the draft prospect at this point based on his collegiate production so he will need to wow scouts with his measurables at the combine at in workouts.
Notre Dame is still waiting on decisions from Tevon Coney, Jerry Tillery, and Josh Adams on their NFL futures as well. Thursday’s other news on Elko likely makes the decisions of Tillery and Coney a bit more complicated though.