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Last look back: Wide receivers and tight ends

Jan 28, 2014, 12:14 PM EDT

TJ Jones, Julian Wilson AP

For the first time in forever, the Irish entered the season without an All-American candidate to catch the football. Gone were Tyler Eifert, Michael Floyd, Golden Tate and Jeff Samardzija, one of the best runs of receivers in school history.

But even lacking a leading man, this season proved to be a formidable ensemble. Even as the Irish broke in a bushel of young receivers and unproven tight ends, the passing game stayed on track, with TJ Jones stepping forward with a big year while Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack providing a more than adequate 1-2 punch at tight end.

Let’s take one last look at the receivers and tight ends.

POSITIONAL OVERVIEW

Beyond Jones, it’s amazing that Irish fans weren’t more concerned about the receiving depth chart. Senior Daniel Smith was a receiver heralded for his blocking skills. Luke Massa was a converted quarterback still hobbled after a major knee injury. While DaVaris Daniels was poised for a breakout season, the depth chart behind him was all unproven players, including a slew of freshmen.

At tight end, it wasn’t much better. Niklas was expected to take a big step forward, but Koyack was coming off a brutal sophomore season and Alex Welch was still recovering from an ACL injury. Freshmen Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe weren’t expected to play.

FINAL STATS

GP-GS No. Yards Avg. TD Long
TJ Jones 13-7 70 1108 15.8 9 80
DaVaris Daniels 13-9 49 745 15.2 7 82
Troy Niklas 13-13 32 498 15.6 5 66
Chris Brown 13-4 15 209 13.9 1 40
Ben Koyack 13-5 10 171 17.1 3 38
Corey Robinson 13-3 9 157 17.4 1 35
CJ Prosise 13-2 7 72 10.3 0 16
William Fuller 13-3 6 160 26.7 1 47
James Onwualu 12-4 2 34 17.0 0 23
Daniel Smith 6-2 1 9 9.0 0 9

 

TOP THREE PERFORMANCES

Bronze: TJ Jones vs. Temple

It was clear that Jones planned on turning 2013 into a season to remember. He got off to a quick start, breaking short passes for big gains and quickly established himself as the team’s No. 1 receiving option.

While it was DaVaris Daniels who caught two touchdowns over the top of the Temple defense, Jones made six catches for 138 yards, including a 51-yarder that he turned from nothing into a big gain.

Silver: TJ Jones vs. Arizona State

I toyed with giving this the gold, just because it was such a critical victory for the Irish. Jones did a little bit of everything for the Irish in this win. He caught eight balls for 135 yards, while also chipping in a touchdown.

He got over the top of the Sun Devils defense while also contributing two clutch first down catches late in the game. He also made a big play in the punt return game, taking one back 27 yards.

Clutch performance in a win that was one of the team’s most impressive.

Gold: DaVaris Daniels vs. Purdue

This is the kind of game Daniels is capable of playing. Utilizing his top-shelf speed, Daniels got over the top of the Purdue defense for a huge 82-yard touchdown catch, fighting his way to the end zone. Daniels also caught a beauty in the corner of the end zone, making a strong play for the football when that didn’t always happen this season (see Navy).

But on this September night in West Lafayette, Daniels played the type of football Irish fans would love to see from him next season, catching eight passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

 

 

 

PLEASANT SURPRISE

Will Fuller. This could’ve just as easily gone to Corey Robinson, but Fuller’s emergence as the over-the-top threat, in addition to some skills that show he can be more than just that, give him the narrow nod.

Fuller only made six catches this year, but looking at that stat line, the 26.7 yard average certainly sticks out. It’ll be interesting to see where Fuller lines up now that TJ Jones is gone and DaVaris Daniels is out for the spring semester.

 

MILD DISAPPOINTMENT

DaVaris Daniels. His numbers took a step forward, but he left a lot of good football on the field. For a junior, there were just too many times were Daniels was in the wrong spot or making the wrong read, and too often 50-50 balls went up without Daniels coming down with them. Elite receivers make those plays. Daniels didn’t all the time this season.

Add to that the semester suspension for the spring because of academic issues. So while it’s hard to be disappointed with seven touchdowns and 745 yards, it wasn’t the true breakout season that it could have been.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

With Jones and Niklas gone, it’ll be interesting to see how Brian Kelly reformulates his offense. If the Irish had two top-shelf tight ends, like they could have with Niklas and Koyack, the strength of this team was likely playing double tight end sets, something the Irish did quite well in 2012.

Now, that strength shifts to the perimeter, where a young depth chart could begin to showcase itself. This spring will give us our first look at Torii Hunter Jr. and Justin Brent, two young players that could make an early impact.

Without Daniels, who takes advantage of the additional reps? Is it Corey Robinson, who could have a field day with Golson’s touch and ability to throw jump balls? Do Chris Brown and CJ Prosise come into their own as upperclassmen?

Expect to see more out of the slot receiver this season, with some interesting candidates for the position already at wide receiver, but also with Amir Carlisle.

So while the talent on the edge continues to improve, the question marks certainly remain.

 

  1. fnc111 - Jan 28, 2014 at 1:49 PM

    I think Koyack will do well next season but I still can’t believe Niklas left a year early. He would’ve gotten way more money by waiting. Now he could be stuck in a bad contract for sometime. I think the third round will be the highest he could go.

  2. deadman3020 - Jan 28, 2014 at 2:26 PM

    It’s going to be the year of the freshman/sophomore at WR…. TE will b a little shaky compred to years past

  3. kcoral - Jan 28, 2014 at 2:28 PM

    Fuller was better then I even thought and I predicted him to get playing time as a frosh due to the balls skills he demonstrated in HS and in the Semper Fi game. Don’t forget, if we had a QB with a normal Div. I arm, Fuller might have had as many as 3 more TD’s! He is one to watch this spring and fall…

    • onward2victory - Jan 28, 2014 at 9:53 PM

      Couldn’t agree more about Fuller. Elite speed and great ball skills. Unless Justin Brent is a freak, I think Fuller will be the starter opposite Daniels against Rice.

  4. paulhargis53 - Jan 28, 2014 at 2:52 PM

    What an atrocious depth chart of pass catchers….just terrible.

    You fans expect a banner season with that pile of crap catching balls?(getssome caught more balls last year than this roster did)

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Jan 28, 2014 at 3:22 PM

      “pass catchers?”

      I just figured it out. hargis is british. no self-respecting American football fan calls a receiver a “pass catcher.”

      just as confirmation, hargis what do you call it when you go to the john? “going to the lou” or “going to the watercloset?”

  5. paulhargis53 - Jan 28, 2014 at 3:32 PM

    paulhargis53 calls it:

    taking a grumpy
    dropping a hornets nest
    dropping a duece
    heave a Havana
    cop a squat.

    Wr’s and te’s do what? Catch passes…

    Pretty sure I can call them pass catchers and not be British.

    Pip pip cheerio and all that good rot.

    You fellas sure spend an inordinate amount of time speculating where I’m from and who I root for….

  6. notredameirish1980 - Jan 28, 2014 at 4:09 PM

    These are highly skilled and athletic receivers with a bright future and lots of potential. The only pile of crap here is haggis, which is probably redundant on my part.

  7. paulhargis53 - Jan 28, 2014 at 4:22 PM

    Come on!!! That’s all the better you can do. Oh no, someone called me a pile of crap…the horror!!

    Why can’t you people just ignore me?
    Its fascinating that you can’t.

    • notredameirish1980 - Jan 28, 2014 at 4:39 PM

      Disease should never be ignored.

      • mcirish27 - Jan 28, 2014 at 6:44 PM

        Let’s call this comment section what it has become – a discussion board. You provide fodder for us to discuss…on this discussion board. Why would that ever be ignored? It would be more exciting if you provided football fodder, but either way you provide this community a common enemy. It scares me that this is fascinating to you, but i guess simple things amuse simple people.

        Moving on, we had the 24th ranked passing attack this year – so the receiving corp seemed to be pretty talented in order to make the most of what we we’re working with this year. I’m pretty excited about the receivers coming back as well. What say you, Paul? What makes you dislike this crop of receiving talent at Notre Dame?

      • wisner74 - Jan 28, 2014 at 6:57 PM

        You guys just can’t help yourselves, can you? Hargis is more like an itch. Ignore it and it will go away. Scratch it and you’ll get more of it.

  8. yllibnosredna - Jan 28, 2014 at 5:34 PM

    Agree that D. Daniels needs to be more assertive and aggressive, but disagree that
    the interception ending the first half against Navy was on him. The throw was forced, short-armed, and put well on the inside shoulder rather than on the outside. Best he could’ve done was commit offensive pass interference.

    But yes, the guy needs to really step up next year if he wants to avoid fading into the background of the receiving corps. However, keep in mind that T.J. Jones didn’t really step up until his third year on the field (2012), and by the end of last season, he was a really solid receiver…All things considered, if Daniels continues to progress (and can sort out his academics) and shows more consistency, his physical prowess should generate a dominant presence on the perimeter that hasn’t really been seen since Michael Floyd donned the blue and gold.

    • upthera44 - Jan 28, 2014 at 7:57 PM

      Does D. Daniels (aka “Toot Daddy Fresh”) have 1 or 2 years of eligibility left?

      • mediocrebob - Jan 28, 2014 at 10:41 PM

        Two but I have a feeling he’s toast after next year if he’s given the chance. Just my educated guess. No facts behind it.

  9. NotreDan - Jan 28, 2014 at 7:22 PM

    KA

    You think MAYBE your “mild disappointment” had ANYTHING to do with the fact that tommy-turd couldn’t throw his way out of a foot chase with an obese peace officer?

    Seriously Keith, I THINK I like you even though you blame sub-par performance on weekend BBQ (at the Reesus) and having young kids, but come on… they can’t catch it if a grandma is throwin’ it!

  10. paulhargis53 - Jan 28, 2014 at 8:32 PM

    Whatever it takes to get you through guys. Its obvious one of you thinks you’re going to get that one dif in, that will “get me”. You look ignorant trying to combat me, but hey, its all up to you, it doesn’t make me no nevermind.

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Jan 29, 2014 at 9:57 AM

      are you speaking pidgeon now?

    • mcirish27 - Jan 29, 2014 at 12:11 PM

      That was uncomfortable to read.

  11. mayesdays - Jan 28, 2014 at 8:51 PM

    I think there is a ton of talent here and some good incoming freshmen as well. It will be interesting to see if Torri Hunter Jr. Can get into the mix. I believe he was voted practice squad player of the year? A honor that Golson won as a freshman.

  12. mediocrebob - Jan 28, 2014 at 8:54 PM

    Excited for Hunter Jr and a lot of people seem to be discounting Chris Brown.

    • onward2victory - Jan 28, 2014 at 9:59 PM

      I hate to say it, but I’m afraid Chris Brown is going to be the WR version George Atkinson. And by that I mean he’s got crazy straight-line speed but just isn’t a natural at his position. I hope I’m wrong, but I think CB lacks the lateral quickness needed for good route running and he’s got decent ball skills but not good enough to beat out some of these other young guys. Time will tell…

      • mediocrebob - Jan 28, 2014 at 10:44 PM

        Yessir. You could be right. Hope not. I also think that guys like CB and Fuller will be able to use their strength more next year with EG’s arm strength. Tough to use that speed if you don’t have a QB that can take advantage of it. Like you said, time will tell.

  13. mediocrebob - Jan 28, 2014 at 8:55 PM

    And I’m excited for Smythe (?) at TE. Not a lot of conversation about him until BK gave him some praise before the bowl game

  14. irish4life79 - Jan 28, 2014 at 10:23 PM

    i like fullers potential along with robinson but i expect chris brown to be big i remember the deep ball he caught. against oklah in his freshmen year he got elite speed and good hands true jr should be ready to make a impavct my choice to be most improved next year

  15. 4horsemenrideagain - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:10 AM

    i’d love to see onwualu step up and be one of those mean, physical receivers that can come across the middle and catch balls in space or, get downfield, lock-up on a corner and runblock or line up outside and deliver a wicked crackback block since he’s a moose and his special teams play shows he likes hitting people.

  16. jem5b - Jan 29, 2014 at 1:56 PM

    http://www.herloyalsons.com/blog/2014/01/16/now-pat-eilers/

  17. irishdog80 - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:27 PM

    A positional overview of WR/TE’s is incomplete without an analysis of the QB getting them the ball. Peyton Manning makes average receivers look good and good ones great. Rees, though a serviceable QB, did not make any of our receivers look good this past year. Lauded for his accuracy, he has little zip on the ball and was just good at getting the ball in the general area of the receiver. Many of the times, he hung the receivers out to dry againt aggressive DB play.

    If Golson has further refined his game, and brings his cannon of an arm to bear, the WR/TE core will take a massive leap forward this year over a solid performance this past season. Add in the pressure Golson’s legs will put on defensive backfields and his arm that can get the ball there in a hurry will lead to a lot more breakdowns and chances being taken by defenses against Golson. Or they will lay back and let him pick them apart underneath. It will be fun to watch…I hope.

    It is more fun to be an optimist.

    Go Irish!

    • viktory2013 - Jan 30, 2014 at 12:22 AM

      Absolutely. DB’s won’t be double covering all those quick wideouts for ND knowing Golson could take off at any moment. And no more of those lame fades and pathetically thrown back shoulder balls. All those kids, Robinson, Fuller, Brown, Onawalu, and Daniels are fast and athletic; Koyack improved markedly throughout the season. And this was without a threat of any kind at quarterback. It’s too bad Niklas couldn’t hang in another year. He could potentially have had a highlight reel season and finished a top 5 draft pick. Really like 2014’s offense. Party’s over, opposing D’s!

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