Jul 3, 2013, 11:37 AM EDT
With Justin Ferguson and Davonte Neal gone, and Torii Hunter Jr. still recovering from a leg injury, Philadelphia native Will Fuller won’t just be an anonymous freshman when camp opens in August. The six-foot-one receiver could find himself in a battle for early playing time, and given the opportunity to find his way into a depth chart that’s still looking to sort itself out.
Fuller has been a low profile national recruit even while taking Philadelphia high school football by storm. The All-State performer, and the MVP of the Philadelphia Catholic League, Fuller flipped an early commitment to Penn State into an Irish pledge, thanks to the work of area recruiter Harry Hiestand.
Let’s take a closer look at what the Irish are getting in Fuller.
Fuller made a late jump in the recruiting rankings thanks to some excellent camp work, but still only appeared in Rivals Top 250, garnering four stars from them. But while that’d give you the idea he’s a lesser recruit, head coach Brian Kelly talked about the surprise player Fuller could become on Signing Day.
“He’s a young man that we believe that if there’s a guy that flew under the radar a little bit, it was William Fuller,” Kelly said in early February. “The thing that really clearly stands out is his ball skills. He can run and catch the football. Any time that we got a chance to observe him, he was running and catching, just terrific ball skills. We think as he develops physically, he also has that speed, that top‑end speed that can obviously impact football games.”
Fuller had an early offer to Penn State, but had mostly regional offers, highlighted by Boston College, Rutgers, and Temple.
EARLY PLAYING TIME OPPORTUNITIES
There just isn’t a ton of depth in front of Fuller that’s going to keep him off the field. Outside of TJ Jones and Davaris Daniels, the race to seize playing time is wide open. One thing Fuller will need to do is show that he’s up to the task physically.
There seem to be plenty of similarities between Fuller and Chris Brown, another freshman that physically wasn’t totally ready for action, but could help the team in a limited fashion. Yet Fuller has been heralded for his hands, while Brown’s are still a work in progress, so there’s a chance he could do more than just run the deep patterns.
With the ever-changing Z (slot) position now evolving into a position where Daniel Smith or a detached tight end can play, there still is a chance this could be a place for Fuller to seize an opening. He’s got the speed and athleticism needed, and while CJ Prosise looked to put his mark on that position during spring drills, the football will likely be spread around quite often this year, without an All-American first option on the roster.
PROJECTING THE FUTURE
It’s hard to jump to any conclusions before fall camp even opens, but Fuller just feels like one of those high school late-bloomers that is a perfect developmental prospect. While the depth chart doesn’t lend itself to patience, there’s reason to believe that the Philadelphia prospect will end up being a very productive football player in South Bend.
Whether that’s on the inside or outside remains to be seen right now. If Fuller sprouts and grows a few more inches while he’s in South Bend, a long and lanky speedster looks like a great fit on the outside, and something the Irish desperately could use. But he also looks like he could fit in the TJ Jones mold as a guy that starts inside and move out throughout his career.
What Fuller’s top-end speed truly is could also be a determining factor. There’s a belief that he’s a guy that can blow the top off of a defense, which is something the Irish need with Chris Brown looking like the lone true vertical threat. But if Fuller possesses great speed and elite hands? That’s a great recipe for success.