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Help Wanted: Without Floyd, wide receivers in demand

Dec 13, 2011, 7:30 PM EDT

Floyd Riddick

With Michael Floyd set to play his final game in an Irish uniform, Brian Kelly is in a position not many people saw coming: He’s out of play-making wide receivers.

In what has been the golden age of aerial offense in South Bend, the Irish’s head coach has a problem — he’s got an offense that relies on dynamic pass catchers, and a roster that’s devoid of them. The Irish currently have the commitment of three wide receivers, with Deontay Greenberry the most capable to fill Mr. Floyd’s shoes. But Kelly and his coaching staff’s continued chase after blue-chippers like Nelson Agholor and Davonte Neal all but tell you that they know this offense needs an upgrade at a position most never saw coming.

Sizing up the Irish’s pass catching options will be much easier once Tyler Eifert‘s fate is known. If Eifert returns to South Bend for his senior season, he’ll add a much needed weapon to the fold, complemented by Alex Welch and Ben Koyack at a rather deep tight end position. But in Kelly’s spread attack, the Irish need dynamic playmakers, and the jury is still out on whether the current roster has any.

The Champs Sports Bowl might be the last game for senior John Goodman, who is eligible for a fifth year, but hasn’t shown himself to be an integral part of the offense. Theo Riddick, who was expected to be one of Kelly’s best players this season, struggled again this year with both production and injuries, and is playing the bowl game as a running back. Whether that means he’ll suit up next season in the backfield is still up for discussion. What isn’t up for discussion is that Riddick has seemed to plateau, not stepping into the role of game-breaker like Kelly and just about every Irish fan expected.

Systemically, production from a few key players has masked a disappointing crop of recruits at the wide receiver position. Simply put, there have been too many four and five star recruits that have failed to make an impact for the Irish. Let’s take a quick look back at the recruiting classes inked by Weis and Kelly, and see how the Irish got to where they are.

2005
D.J. Hord
David Grimes

2006
George West
Barry Gallup
Richard Jackson
Robby Parris

2007
Golden Tate
Duval Kamara

2008
Michael Floyd
John Goodman
Deion Walker

2009
Shaquelle Evans
Robby Toma

2010
Bennett Jackson
TJ Jones
Daniel Smith

2011
Matthias Farley
Davaris Daniels

Put quite simply, there are a lot of swings and misses here. The 2005 recruiting class was headlined by David Grimes, who never had 400 yards in a season. The 2006 class was highlighted by Robby Paris, who scored two touchdowns in his entire career. The 2007 class was the banner year of Irish recruiting, with Golden Tate doing tremendous things in two of his three seasons and Duval Kamara showing glimpses of strong play, but never quite putting it together.

Again, Floyd became the best receiver in Irish history, but John Goodman and Deion Walker combined for one career touchdown. We’ll never know what Shaq Evans could’ve done at Notre Dame, with the receiver asking out of South Bend when Brian Kelly took charge of the program. Robby Toma, an alleged throw-in with Manti Te’o, has turned into the Irish’s best slot receiver. The 2010 class will be entering its junior season next year, with TJ Jones doing more to excite the coaching staff in his first spring practice than anything he’s done on the field since. With Bennett Jackson in the secondary and Daniel Smith bogged down by injuries, the Irish are in dire need of a receivers that can make plays in space, be a deep threat, and balance out a running game that should be strong next season.

(Updated with Matthias Farley and Davaris Daniels. Neither has played yet, with Farley profiling more as a slot type receiver and Daniels seemingly athletic enough to play outside.)

For as much grief as Tommy Rees received throughout the year for locking on Floyd as a primary target, his secondary options (other than Eifert) have struggled to balance an offense that depended on two solid running options and Floyd and Eifert. Two running backs, a solid wide receiver and tight end sound an awful lot like a pro-style offense. That the Irish were able to put up more 500 yard games than they had since the 2005 offensive explosion says a lot for the work Kelly did with what he has.

There will be no Floyd next season, and there might not be an Eifert either. And without options in a spread offense, the Irish will always be limited in Kelly’s offense, whether or not the quarterback can run.

For Kelly and his staff, the sales pitch should be simple. Playmakers wanted. Opportunities available immediately. That message should be to recruiting targets like Algohor and Neal, as well as players like Riddick, Jones and Smith — all three of whom should feel like their best football is in front of them.

Kelly’s tackled recruiting as a way to rebuild a roster with obvious deficiencies. First, reloading the front seven of the defense. Next, finding new players for a secondary that’ll need to replace three starters next year. Now, the key will be finding players that not only can replace Michael Floyd, but give the Irish offense the ability to play as a true spread offense.

Does Kelly need to find All-Americans like Floyd and Tate, two of the best to ever come through the school? It’d be great if he did. But more important than hitting home runs, the Irish need to find players that can fit the system. After five years of missing more than hitting the mark, it’ll be imperative for this recruiting class to reload a position suddenly in dire need of reinforcements.

  1. gracehall1980 - Dec 13, 2011 at 9:49 PM

    Keith: I remember Marty Gilyard (?) being a crazy playmaker at Cincy for BK. but who was his supporting cast and do they compare to ND’s current roster of receivers?

    • trbowman - Dec 14, 2011 at 12:06 AM

      Mardy*

  2. leftcoastirishfan - Dec 13, 2011 at 10:12 PM

    Greenberry put up some serious #’s this weekend. Double coverage all game. Over 200 yards receiving, 5 TDs. This was for the CIF championship which they won 55 to 12.(?) He was also second on team for tackles and had 6 picks.(season) SC is really after this kid. I hope Kelly stays on him. Greenberry isn’t as big as Floyd, but he definitely is a big play maker.

  3. jimbasil - Dec 13, 2011 at 10:45 PM

    Keith, I’d agree with you that Kelly needs to work on getting playmakers. I don’t agree with you that ND doesn’t have some decent receivers on the roster now.

    Rees locked onto his two favorite receivers when it looked like others were open. I don’t think either Kelly or Rees felt confident with those other receivers to a fault. They’re on the team, use them. They can’t get better if they’re decoys game in and game out. When they can’t handle the load, then you lock onto the others.

    Toma is a perfect example. Many knew he was there yet Kelly had to wait to have Riddick mess up too many times before he’d look around or even make the change. Even Mayock (who is just plain terrible) called for Toma long ago.

    I just don’t think the picture is a bleak or as grim as you make it out to be. Kelly needs to get his other receivers involved more often instead of going to the Floyd/Eifert well.

    My worry for ND is RB and secondary.

  4. notredamegrad - Dec 13, 2011 at 11:38 PM

    I wonder whether the seemingly tepid play of our receiving corps isn’t made to look that way by the propensity of our passing plays to go to Floyd and Eifert (or, for the first half of 2010, Rudolph). In almost 70% of the games played in Kelly’s two seasons at ND (17/25), Floyd and Eifert (or Rudolph, in the games he played) snagged 50% or more of the receptions in a game. In fact, in 8 of 25 games (32%), more than 60% of receptions went to Floyd and Eifert or Rudolph. That’s significant.

    It looks like the ball’s being distributed well when you just list receivers: in the last 2 seasons, never have fewer than 5 guys received the ball in a game (there were 5 receivers in 5 games), and in 19 of the 25, six or seven receivers caught the ball (8 did in 1 game).

    However, in no games in the past two years have more than 2 guys other than Floyd and Eifert or Rudolph caught the ball more than twice in a game (I’m excluding RBs catching laterals here). Think about that.

    In fact, in 11 of 25 games, outside of Floyd and Eifert or Rudolph, just one guy had more than 2 receptions; in another 5 games, nobody besides them caught the ball more than twice.

    There were 6 games in 2010 when guys other than Floyd and Eifert or Rudolph made a significant number of receptions: Riddick had 7-10 receptions against each of MSU, Stanford, BC, and Pitt before getting hurt; Kamara and Jones took 6 and 5 against Navy when Floyd was injured; then Toma had 4 against Army. In 2011, Jones had 6 against USF and 5 against Purdue, and also 3 against Wake and 5 against BC when receptions were scarce; Riddick had 6 against UM and Pitt, and 8 against AFA; Toma had 7 against MD and 5 against BC.

    What all this suggests to me is that beyond the two playmakers – the super-stud Floyd and the stud TE – our receivers really haven’t had the opportunity to do much. Now, maybe the ball is being thrown around much more than these numbers suggest, and the other guys just aren’t making catches, but with Floyd’s and Eifert’s (and Rudolph’s) drops factored in, I don’t think the reception data actually skews it that much. It seems like the limited performance from our receivers hinges more on the QB’s and the coach’s decisions of who to get the ball to than on the receivers. What QB or coach would make an effort to get the ball to Floyd and a stud TE less frequently? Without Floyd, necessity will, I think, give our receivers the experience and opportunity they need to make plays and shift the Irish towards the spread.

    • notredamegrad - Dec 14, 2011 at 10:29 AM

      If anyone’s interested, I can add to this that the percentage of receptions going to Floyd and Eifert or Rudolph per game has not shifted in a very meaningful way over the last two seasons, suggesting that there hasn’t been a concerted effort to systematically distribute the ball more to other receivers outside of individual games. Floyd and Eifert or Rudolph tended to receive the ball more in the later part of 2010 and in the earlier part of 2011.

      In 2010, from Purdue through Navy (games 1-8), Floyd and Rudolph (and Eifert v. WMU and Navy) had on average 45% of the receptions (if you take out Navy, which was an outlier because Floyd didn’t play, that increases to 49%). From Tulsa to Miami (games 9-13), on average 57% of the receptions went to Floyd and Eifert.

      In 2011, from USF to Purdue (games 1-5), on average 57% of the receptions went to Floyd and Eifert. From AFA to BC (games 6-11), on average 49% of receptions went to Floyd and Eifert, and then v. Stanford, a remarkably high 71% of receptions went to the same pair. (These averages are taken by averaging per-game percentages, rather than total percentages of all receptions.)

      The 3 games with the lowest percentage of receptions going to Floyd and Rudolph or Eifert in the last two seasons came with Crist at QB in 2010: Floyd and Rudy brought down 35% v. Stanford and 21% v. BC; Eifert took 16% against Navy in 2010, when Floyd was out with an injury. The next lowest came against Navy in 2011, when Floyd and Eifert took 37% of the receptions. (They never received less than 41% of receptions in a game outside of these.)

      Vs. only Michigan (61%) and WMU (65%) in 2010, Crist sent over 60% of receptions to Floyd and Rudolph or Eifert. Rees/Hendrix sent the highest percentages of receptions to Floyd and Eifert against USC in 2010 (70%) and Stanford in 2011 (71%). Rees sent over 60% of receptions to Floyd and Eifert against USC (70%) and Miami (67%) in 2010, and in 2011, to USF (64%, w/ Crist), Michigan (63%), Purdue (64%), and Stanford (71%).

      • logjammin22 - Dec 14, 2011 at 3:16 PM

        They have definitely put an onus on getting the ball to Eifert and Floyd, but that’s because they know what to do with their opportunities. The other receivers, when given the ball and an opportunity, have really failed to capitalize on those chances. Riddick also didn’t seem to comfortable running routes and finding openings, nuances of the position seem to escape him (Riddick is capable of being a game breaker, they just need to find a way to get him the ball in a situation were he is comfortable and capable). The type of spread that Notre Dame is attempting to evolve into, involves having multiple receiving threats on the field, receiving threats that can run routes properly, find openings, develop timing with their quarterback, and can take advantage of the few opportunities they will get a game.

    • 1historian - Dec 16, 2011 at 8:44 PM

      Just thought I’d throw this in – Tom n Brady was once asked “who is your favorite receiver?” His response – “The one who’s open.”

  5. bernhtp - Dec 14, 2011 at 9:06 AM

    Keith, I think you focus a bit too much on the misses, but we’ve also had a number of high-profile breakouts that were completely unexpected. Jeff Samardzija was obviously one who came from nowhere – three star, no national rating – to break school records. Currently, Tyler Eifert was also only a Rivals three-star recruit, without a national ranking, plagued by injury his freshman year, and who suddenly broke out to be the nation’s top tight end.

    With good development and a bit of luck, a diamond might again emerge from our rough. It would be great to get one or two of the top recruits left on the board, but premature to despair otherwise.

    • nudeman - Dec 14, 2011 at 10:11 AM

      bern
      You could be right; maybe someone like Davaris Daniels or one of the incoming kids will be a breakout stud. But until I read this excellent article by Keith, I didn’t realize how little attention WR for 2012 has been given. Most of the discussion about 2012 has been about the QB. But Michael Floyd leaves a HUGE void.

      TJ Jones is talented but isn’t big enough to carry the load like Floyd did.
      Toma is an overachiever who everyone likes, but isn’t a “franchise” type guy like Floyd.
      Goodman will probably be gone.
      Unsure what Riddick’s future is – slot or back to RB.

      I’m probably forgetting someone, but that just means he/they is/are forgettable.

      This is a potential problem in 2012.
      Fatal? Maybe not. One of the knocks on Stanford was they had mediocre receivers, and they lost exactly one game. Then again, they had a Heisman caliber QB.

    • nudeman - Dec 14, 2011 at 10:37 AM

      Your point about the “star” ratings deserves more attention. At some point closer to signing day it would be interesting if Keith did a column just on 4 and 5 star busts; and 2 and 3 star guys who have come out of the woodwork and excelled.

      We all fixate on big recruiting “gets”, and it’s great offseason reading for sure. But I read an article a couple weeks back – can’t remember where – and it was about the top 20 recruits in the country from about 6-7 years ago, or something like that.

      You’d be amazed how few panned out. Some were injured, some were overrated, some were OK but not great, and maybe 1 or 2 became genuine stars at the college level (not talking about NFL success here at all). For the most part I recognized almost no names on the list.

  6. brendanunderscoreg - Dec 14, 2011 at 10:48 AM

    When did this site become so slow to load?

    I think a question that needs answered is what kind of quality coach is Tony Alford? He’s a fantastic recruiter and needs to stay on the staff. But, he’s never coached receivers before and the development of the younger receivers (that we’ve seen play) seems to leave something to be desired. Who knows? The redshirts might turn out to be fantastic. But, a young receiver has yet to wow us while he’s been coaching that position.

    Also, comparing the development of receivers over the course of two different coaching regimes isn’t an apt comparison. What are the similarities to compare? Some of the players are the same, but, for all we know, they could be players that simply didn’t pan out. All schools have that. It’s not a problem unique to Notre Dame.

  7. mbutch6 - Dec 14, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    If Eifert comes back (and really – why wouldn’t he?) then the ND offense will be fine with both QB’s back and probably a package for Golston. Running backs will be potentially 5 deep with Wood, Riddick (I don’t see how BK can put him back at the slot – he is/was obviously just a decoy for Floyd), Cam Roberson, GA III and Mahone. Side note… my crystal ball says Cam McDaniel has a different position next year (slot or safety). TE’s will be 3 deep with Eifert, Welch and Koyack (and depending on how recruiting shakes out…Ragone for a 6th year). Toma will be more serviceable at the slot than Riddick has been, so that is an upgrade. It would be nice to see Farley push Toma for PT especially given his physicality and our need to run the ball. TJ Jones will do fine at the outside X receiver – he will just be a junior and 3 year starter. Daniels or Greenberry will need to play at the vacated “W” receiver position previously owed by Floyd. They will be able to start the year with guys that are talented and know the offense: Hendrix/Rees (QB), Wood/ Riddick (RB), Daniels (W), Eifert/Welch/Koyack (TE), Toma (slot or “Z”) and Jones (X). As the season progresses, I would not be surprised to see Greeneberry take over at the X and move TJ inside to the Z. If Algohor signs, he is the X that moves/competes with Jones. Greeneberry and Daniels battle over the W. Another receiver or 2 would absolutely be great, but I would imagine it would take more than a few games to see the field (unless enrolled early) to learn the offense. Also, if Eifert does make the jump, the McNamara kid (4 star out of San Diego) has a good chance of signing. All of this may be silver lining for all you (and me) pulling for Hendrix to be the QB next year.

    • nudeman - Dec 14, 2011 at 1:41 PM

      “and probably a package for Golston”

      Having “package” for another QB is an admission that your starter is a guy who’s sorely lacking in one or more areas.

      How about THIS: Eliminate the “package” bullshit and play a QB who can run the spread offense, read defenses, make protection calls and throw the ball with some zip.

      Lastly, it’s “Golson”, not “Golston”.

      • mbutch6 - Dec 14, 2011 at 2:09 PM

        My apologies to Everett.

        Like it or not, BK has shown that he creates “a package” that best suits a developing QB’s skill set.

        And put some clothes on, you’re scaring the kids.

      • nudeman - Dec 14, 2011 at 4:44 PM

        mbutch

        I’m all for developing guys, but the Hendrix “package” stuff this year was pure BS; a smokescreen for Kelly to take heat off himself. He KNEW he was playing the guy with the least talent and knew that we knew it.

        He played vs Stanford because Rees was awful, and aside from the game where he came in to take a couple kneel downs (was that Maryland? Can’t remember), how many snaps did Andrew get this year?

        I bet it was fewer than 10. The “package” resulted in Hendrix taking no snaps, more often than not. So I don’t get the point of it.

        Get one QB who can run the spread and do all the other things a QB is supposed to do and stick with him. There’s a saying I’m sure you’ve heard: “If you’ve got 2 QBs, you really have none”.

      • 1historian - Dec 16, 2011 at 8:51 PM

        Very good point.

        Golson is the first 100% BK recruit @ QB. Unless the excrement hits the air circulator on Dec. 29 he’ll start next year with 4 years eligibility and from all reports he is raring to go.

        And If Kiel commits we’ll REALLY have a problem. Such a deal. Such a deal.

    • bernhtp - Dec 14, 2011 at 11:00 PM

      re: Why wouldn’t Eifert want to come back?

      I think Kyle Rudolph got about a $4m package for his first year (#43 in the draft). I doubt that Eifert would walk away from that if projected first or even second round. He was recruited as a 3 star, had a bad back injury his freshmen year, came from nowhere to have chance at the NFL, just watched his TE friend Mike Ragone have a season/career-ending injury, etc. I doubt he would bypass a chance to capitalize on the opportunity if presented because it might not be there next year and it is doubtful his prospects would improve significantly with another year at ND.

      Would you advise your son to walk away from that? I desperately want him back, but can’t truthfully say I would tell my son to do so in this circumstance.

  8. don74 - Dec 14, 2011 at 1:44 PM

    Just saw a tweet from Goodman that says he is returning for a 5th year. For those that were worried about the fair catch option on punts, the future is secure.

    • notredamegrad - Dec 14, 2011 at 3:26 PM

      I think he was just retweeting Dan Fox, who tweeted that he’s decided to return next year as a joke because of the attention Manti’s gotten for announcing he’s returning.

  9. jonathanfesler - Dec 14, 2011 at 2:19 PM

    I personally don’t care for that switching QB’s during the coarse of a game unless the starter gets hurt or needs to get pulled for poor play, breaks the flow of the game!!!

  10. ndnphx - Dec 14, 2011 at 6:30 PM

    Hard to replace a Michael Floyd, but the cupboard’s not bare. Eifert will get his catches, Toma fills a role, I like Riddick coming out of the backfield and matched on linebackers instead of defensive backs. It’s time for Jones to realize his potential, while some younger guys will have to step up and handle the rest of the spots. A great opportunity for a top-flight prospect, that’s for sure. And remember, Floyd was a freshman once, too.

    That said, these guys can’t throw the ball to themselves. We’ll need the QB, whoever wins the job in the spring, to step up the efficiency and spread the rock around.

    I think taking Floyd out of the equation actually opens up the depth chart and the playbook. Instead of always trying to rely on #3 to make a play, maybe we can try using all of the offensive options available to us and give opposing defenses a lot more to prepare for. If that sounds like a commercial for inserting the run/option and utilizing the full BK offense, well, if the shoe fits…

  11. gtizzo - Dec 14, 2011 at 6:40 PM

    Keith,

    You left off Jordan Payton ND is in his top 3 and loves the graduation rate. Also don’t be surprise if Darby ends up on offense instead of defense. The tipping point well be how much secondary help the Irish can pull in this cycle. A guy with his speed out of the back field could give the Irish a home run threat they don’t have currently. He will see the field as the kick returner first, but this is an offense minded coach, Darby could easily be moved.

    • nudeman - Dec 14, 2011 at 11:21 PM

      I’m cool with Darby being moved but
      1) let’s get his ass enrolled first; and
      2) they need help in the secondary so don’t be too quick to move him to O

      • papadec - Dec 17, 2011 at 4:07 PM

        Hey nude – I’d rather get Darby enrolled than any of the livestock he owns.

  12. surly1n1nd1anapol1s - Dec 15, 2011 at 3:00 AM

    Floyd is an excellent receiver and perhaps the “best” in Irish history. But Tim Brown strikes me as owning that title.

    • bernhtp - Dec 15, 2011 at 10:07 AM

      Even in Holtz’s run-oriented offense, Brown still excelled as a receiver, but he made much of his impact on special teams – kick and punt returns. It was this combination that earned him the Heisman and made him a top pick in the NFL draft.

      Floyd is amazing, but I don’t expect him to go nearly as high in the draft as Brown. Floyd would also be extremely happy if he had anywhere near the NFL career Brown did.

  13. mbutch6 - Dec 15, 2011 at 1:40 PM

    Nudeman,
    I agree 100% that having 2 QB’s mean you really have none. My point is and remains this entire season…The only reason Rees is starting because BK belives he gives the offense the best chance to get Floyd the ball. Mike is, without a doubt, our best offensive playmaker. I would love to have ONE starting QB with no controversy of who that is and no packages for the #2. However, that person was not on the roster in 2011. I’m hoping he is or develops into that guy for 2012.

    And Bern –
    Yes, hopefully one day I am fortunate enough to have the conversation with my son that a degree from ND is worth as much if not more than NFL money RIGHT NOW. I made the same decision turning down MLB out of high school to spend the greatest 4 years of my life in college.

  14. 1historian - Dec 16, 2011 at 8:56 PM

    Just thought I’d throw this in:

    2010 – 7/8 CW, 1/8 BK.
    2011 – 5/8 CW, 3/8/ BK
    2012 – 5/8 BK, 3/8 CW
    2013 – 7/8 BK, 1/8 CW

    BK is the right guy for the job – be patient.

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