In a cap to what has been a terrific couple of months for Notre Dame’s 2021 recruiting class, Georgia four star wide receiver Jayden Thomas announced his commitment to play football for the Irish in 2021.
Thomas joins fellow four star receivers Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles, gives Kelly and receivers coach Del Alexander one of the best receiver hauls (on paper) of the Kelly era, and gives the Irish a trifecta in the receiver archetype category.
This commitment will give Kelly’s program 19 commitments overall and move the Irish into the top 10 in the composite rankings, something that seemed out of the realm of realistic possibilities at the start of the summer. And digging back into Brian Kelly’s “we can be a top five recruiting program” comments from last winter, it’s at least easy to see why he felt that way. With the addition of Thomas, Notre Dame is a player like Donte Thornton (who is still in play for the Irish, though they are not favored) or Will Shipley (Notre Dame finished second to Clemson) away from finishing in the top five this season. Of course, as with lots of things regarding the Notre Dame football program, being close to 5th is not actually finishing 5th; there is a point to be made there. But, at least the blueprint is there.
Jayden Thomas The Player
I said above Thomas gives Notre Dame the trifecta of receiver archetypes, here is where I will explain. Generally, we put players into categories, with Deion Colzie (6-4, 195) being the tall “jump ball” type, Lorenzo Styles (6-1, 185) the speed, slot type, and Jayden Thomas (6-1, 205) the mid-size, strength type. It’s rare to get all three types neatly into a class like this, but here we are.
When I watch Thomas play, he reminds me of David Givens. Strong, good with the ball in his hands, long speed without great top end speed, good in all areas of the field. He’s also an advanced route runner, who is sudden in his movements, the biggest thing that gives defensive backs problems.
The other area where he excels is selling routes, and it comes up a couple times on his highlight tape. He runs a stop and go (against a pretty hilariously obvious double team) that the corner bites on to the point where he becomes a non-factor in the play. Thomas then out jumps the safety for the ball and it’s a big game. In the next clip, Thomas runs a simply stop, and the corner is caught off balance at the cut, he slips, and Thomas has a big gain.
Here is an example of Thomas selling the route to a point where for a second I had no idea where he was going with it. He comes off the line hard and at about 10 yards he leaves the screen. While watching for a second I think, what route is this, and my instinct is to think it’s a straight go since he blasted off of the line. Then you see the quarterback throwing the ball, and it’s apparent he’s run an out, and then defensive back is no where near the play, because he obviously respected the go route too.
I’m currently on a kick about Notre Dame not putting their receivers into traditional positions, despite labeling them as such earlier. For example, generally you see someone like Thomas and think the X or W receiver, and someone like Styles and think the slot.
I actually like Thomas more for the slot because he’s such a good route runner (I feel the same about Jordan Johnson) and what kinds of mismatches it can provide in the middle of the field. This is something Notre Dame has not done in the past, at least on a permanent basis. We’ve seen players like Claypool and Boykin play in the slot at times, but not as their permanent position like Chris Finke or Lawrence Keys, and I see it as a missed opportunity. Especially given the size and strength of Thomas, who is comfortable moving around in all areas of the field and has the power as a blocker as well, there are mismatches to be had there.
Wherever they put him, a player of Thomas’s caliber being the third highest ranked receiver in the class makes for a hell of a haul, even if he is the last of the receivers added to the group. Should Notre Dame land Donte Thornton in January, that’d take this group, in terms of rankings, up to an all-time level for Notre Dame.