John Goodman, Tyler Eifert

Breaking down 4-0: The receiving corps

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Part three in our bye week feature on Notre Dame’s 4-0 start. For more, check out our introduction, the secondary and the running backs.

OFF-SEASON PERSPECTIVE

All-American Tyler Eifert was a proven commodity. Everybody else? Well… After a run of highly productive receivers started almost a decade ago, the Irish said goodbye to Michael Floyd and hoped to possibly replacement him with a tight end. That’s no knock on Eifert’s ability, but a realistic appraisal of the options Notre Dame had with the cupboard filled with mostly unproven talent or journeymen headed into the season.

With the team’s leading returning wide receiver now playing running back, it was up to unheralded veterans like TJ Jones, Robby Toma, and John Goodman to team with talented youngsters like Chris Brown, Davonte Neal, and Justin Ferguson to replace Floyd and support an undecided quarterback if the Irish were going to get their offense on track.

PERSONNEL CHANGES

The pass catchers lost Theo Riddick to the offensive backfield, but welcomed linebacker Troy Niklas to the tight ends collection. That unit in particular held some promise, with sophomore Ben Koyack expected to do big things after a solid freshman season and Alex Welch looking more than capable as well. Those hopes would be muted when Welch went down for the season with a knee injury, as the Irish lost some versatility at the position.

Notre Dame would welcome Davaris Daniels to action after sitting out his freshman season. They’d lose another young receiver with Matthias Farley moving into the secondary and have Luke Massa slow to return after a knee injury in the spring.

John Goodman, Sr.
Robby Toma, Sr.
Daniel Smith, Jr.
Luke Massa, Jr. (A knee injury this spring likely limits Massa this fall.)
TJ Jones, Jr.
Davaris Daniels, Soph.
Matthias Farley, Soph. (Now starting at safety.)
Chris Brown, Fr.
Davonte Neal, Fr.
Justin Ferguson, Fr.

Tyler Eifert, Sr.
Jake Golic, Sr.
Alex Welch, Jr. (An ACL injury erases Welch’s 2012.)
Ben Koyack, Soph.
Troy Niklas, Soph.

There isn’t anybody in this group that can replace Michael Floyd’s production, but heading into the season the plan was to replace the Irish’s all-time leader with different players in different roles. With speedster Chris Brown looking like a deep threat, Davaris Daniels with great athleticism and ball skills, and Tyler Eifert looking pretty solid on the fade and screen game, the plan hasn’t necessarily come into fruition, but the pieces look to be there.

STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN

You probably wouldn’t have expected it, but through four games the Irish are actually averaging more yards per catch than they did last season. You can credit that to some big plays by Davaris Daniels, who is averaging 17.7 yards a catch and healthy early numbers put up by Eifert, Niklas, Goodman and Cam McDaniel.

With sophomore quarterback Everett Golson learning on the fly and Tommy Rees coming in to spell him in relief, offensive coordinator Chuck Martin has been candid about the need to jump start the passing game. Here’s what the Irish aerial attack looks like through four games, compared to last season’s stats.

Yards Per Game:
2011: 252.6 (40th)
2012: 211.o (86th)

Yards Per Catch:
2011: 10.9
2012: 13.0

Receptions Per Game:
2011: 23.2
2012: 16.25

OVERALL

It’s clearly been a step back in the passing game, which has been expected. With a bye week to get some things straightened out, and the nation’s No. 100 defense waiting for them in Soldier Field, the Irish hope to get on track with some better execution at the quarterback position.

Even with Eifert being held mostly in check this season, the unproven Irish receivers are playing better than expected, with solid contributions from veterans while the youngsters get accustomed to life in college football.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.