Class Impact: Thomas Gives Notre Dame Gap-Closing Wide Receiver Haul

With Notre Dame’s latest commitment Friday from Jayden Thomas, Brian Kelly and his coaching staff added to what is now a talent gap-closing type of haul at the wide receiver position. The Irish added Jayden Thomas on Friday, giving them the best trio of the Brian Kelly era – and easily since the days of Notre Dame’s recruiting machine of the late ’80s/early ’90s.

With Jayden Thomas in this class, Notre Dame has three top-250 caliber wide receivers in a single class. Thomas joined the two top-100 caliber receivers the Irish already had onboard – Lorenzo Styles and Deion Colzie.

This is the kind of wide receiver class that can close the gap with the Clemsons and Alabamas of the college football world. Every position might not be there yet, but it is significant that the Irish have a class like this at wide receiver given its importance in the modern game – and the issues we’ve seen at times at the position.

Notre Dame has had some tremendous wide receivers over the last few years. Chase Claypool, Miles Boykin, Will Fuller, and even Equanimeous St. Brown have all had their times as dominant players. What the Irish haven’t had, though, is two of those receivers playing at a high level at the same time. Claypool and Boykin were both on the 2018 Playoff team, but Claypool hadn’t reached the levels we saw him reach last year at that point, and the two played the same position.

The great thing about the trio of Thomas, Styles, and Colzie is that not only are they an elite trio, but they are complimentary. Colzie is perfect for the boundary, Thomas for the field, and Styles in the slot. Even this year, Notre Dame’s had to move some players around and force them into positions they weren’t ideally suited for because of some injuries. Javon McKinley played the field position in the opener because Kevin Austin wasn’t available and Northwestern transfer Bennett Skowronek, who also got hurt, is most definitely a boundary player.

Think back to Clemson’s comfortable victory over Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl in the 2018 Playoffs. Yeah, Trevor Lawerence dropped a few dimes, but he was also throwing the ball up to a group of elite receivers who made some ridiculous catches. Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross on the outside and Hunter Renfrow in the slot. That is the kind of wide receiver room that Notre Dame will have moving forward – especially after adding Jordan Johnson, Xavier Watts, and Jay Brunelle in the class of 2020.

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When Notre Dame has had big, hulking receivers like Boykin, they haven’t had deep threats. When they’ve had speed demons like Will Fuller, they haven’t had the big-bodied receivers. They should not be an issue in the future with the wide receiver class the Irish have lined up to sign in December.

If the Irish can get healthy, and it looks like they are close to it, they could have a complimentary trio but what 2020 has already shown us is that the depth isn’t there yet. Back to back classes with complementary receivers, however, should change that.

We probably won’t know for a few weeks what the wide receiver trio of Austin, Lenzy, and Lawrence Keys is capable of in Notre Dame’s offense as Austin eases back into action starting next week after being sidelined for two months following foot surgery. We now know that having a group of receivers like that should be the norm, not the exception shortly.

Notre Dame still needs the talent at quarterback to improve to close the gap anymore, but there is a chance that Tyler Buchner is the kind of talent to do just that. However, the top 100 talent could have really used his senior season for further development given he has only one season of high school football at a low competition level. Still, we know the talent and potential is there.

If Buchner does have the goods, he will have an arsenal of weapons with this wide receiving class adding to an already strong wide receiver room. We’ve also seen how much talent the Irish have at tight end in the younger classes with Michael Mayer flashing elite skills already.

Combine all of this with the development of the running back position in the early parts of 2020 with sophomore Kyren Williams, freshman Chris Tyree, and junior C’bo Flemister (who has two years of eligibility left); and the future of the Irish offense looks very, very bright.

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7 Comments

  1. I agree, the real issue is Book at QB. He seems scared of making mistakes so he rarely takes a chance or throws downfield(unless he manages to see somebody come WIDE open). Plus, against the tougher defenses he faces, he looks lost. I think he’s serviceable for sure, but I completely disagree with the idea Kelly put out there that Book is always confident. He will drop back and instantly react to pressure that isn’t even there. How can he be focused on his reads and getting the ball out when he’s obviously not in any position to. He’s going to have to make a huge leap in confidence and in learning how to lead receivers or throw them open for Notre Dame to be able to compete with the big boys. Clark looks much more capable so if Book is not up to the task I hope he gets a shot before Book’s lack of progress over the past 3 years costs ND a shot at the playoffs. Having said that, I will be rooting for Book to figure this thing out, and I hope getting Austin and Lenzy back at 100% will help him feel more comfortable throwing downfield. Go Irish!

  2. I disagree with a lot of this article from a wide receiver perspective. “When Notre Dame has had big bulking receivers like Myles Boykin, they haven’t had deep threats.” This is nonsense. Boykin and Claypool were both deep threats. Both run a 4.4 or lower at 6’4″ and 230 lbs. We simply didn’t have a QB in Ian Book to push the ball downfield to them. Claypool was just as good as Boykin in 2018. Their stats are very close and the only reason it may have seemed like Claypool wasn’t as productive is because Boykin was targeted more than Claypool that year. I still think Claypool was better than Boykin in 2018. We just didn’t feature him as the go to receiver. But the point is in 2018 we had Boykin, Claypool, and Finke. Two are in the NFL now as they were elite receivers with size, speed, and ball skills. Finke was reliable but nothing spectacular. That’s a pretty damn good trio of receivers that I would put up with virtually any trio in the country. But we had Ian Book.

    That’s where we get to the part of the article I agree with it stating “Notre Dame still needs the talent at quarterback to close the gap.” I’m not sure if any of you have been following Jurkovec’s games over at BC but he looks real good so far with much less talent around him than Ian Book has. I can’t believe we let this kid go. Receivers haven’t been the problem at ND, QB has. I will say though that there are no Claypools, Boykins, or Fullers on our roster now. That is why I feel like Tremble should move outside and start at receiver and let Mayer be our TE. Tremble can be a Claypool/Boykin type player which we need outside desperately.

    1. Wait till next season when ND has a zero experience QB running the team. I’ve mentioned that Kelly has shit the bed with the quarterbacks his entire tenure at ND. Jurko should’ve been the starting QB this year. Book should’ve been given the option of transferring. Book is a good QB but his ceiling has been reached. Clemson made that tough decision and has never looked back. Georgia and ND should’ve done the same and will regret that choice.

    2. Claypool and Boykin played the same position. When Boykin left for the NFL, Claypool took it over. And that is the point. They are the same kind of receiver and weren’t necessarily complementary players. Yes, both can get open but neither is anything close to a Fuller or Lenzy in terms of a speed receiver. Both are great players but imagine what either would have done if paired with Fuller. Hell, look at what Claypool did down the stretch once Lenzy emerged as a legit deep threat.

      As for Jurkovec, he’s been OK so far for BC if you ignore his 53.5 QB rating against powerhouse Texas State. What would the reaction be of Notre Dame fans if Book posted a 53.5 against Texas State? On the season Jurkovec has 5 TDs to 2 INTs. Over the course of 13 games, that would be 22 TDs 9 INTs. Oh and on one of those TDs for Jurkovec, a Duke DB turned a WR loose and there wasn’t anyone within 20 yards of the WR. So let’s stop pretending like he’s lighting the world on fire already. He could turn out to be great still, but the narrative that he’s lighting the world on fire for BC is very overblown.

      1. You’re right that Jurkovec is not lighting it up. He was Never given much of a chance to develop at ND. Even when he got into games BK kept him in handcuffs. Should of let Jurko run the offense instead of worrying about the feelings of the other teams coaching staff. Book’s ceiling was reached 2 years ago. Jurkovecs still tbd.

    3. I agree about Book. He’s not terrible, I’d even say he’s a good QB. But until I see him take down an elite defense I’m not crowning him an elite level QB.

      Ultimately this year may end up being a wash so ultimately it might not matter in the grand scheme of things. Will there even be a NC, and if so it certainly won’t be a NC without a giant * next to it since nobody was able to play any kind of normal schedule.

      But I have yet to see BK turn out an excellent QB. Many came in with a lot of promise, elite level promise in some cases, and go bust, or at the very least fall well short of potential. At what point to you point the finger at the HC? One or two, I can see. Not every highly rated prospect pans out. But it seems under BK every QB falls short. And we always seem to get dismantled by truly elite programs.

      Until that changes I’ll be a BK doubter (for whatever that’s worth since I think ND is completely satisfied with where the program is, despite what they say about winning NCs). He’s not a terrible coach, but he’s not elite.

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