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Irish A-to-Z: Durham Smythe

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Notre Dame’s tight end depth chart is topped by Durham Smythe. And a season after suffering a hard-luck year, the senior hopes to pick up the slack Alizé Jones’ ineligibility leaves behind.

A capable blocker who also has the ability to get open down the field, Smythe’s hoping to finally put together a season where opportunity meets the senior head on. Entering his fourth year in the program, Smythe’s trajectory is similar to Torii Hunter’s, talent ahead of production thus far.

 

DURHAM SMYTHE
6’4.5″, 245 lbs.
Senior, TE, No. 80

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

An early commitment to in-state Texas, Smythe flipped to Notre Dame after getting to campus in January. He was a four-star prospect who also kicked the tires on a Stanford offer before choosing the Irish.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Did not see action, preserving a year of eligibility.

Sophomore Season (2014): Played in all 13 games for the Irish. Made one catch, a seven-yarder against Arizona State.

Junior Season (2015): Started three games, the season-opener against Texas and Virginia before suffering two injuries that ended his regular season. Returned for the Fiesta Bowl, finishing the year with three catches, including a touchdown against Virginia.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

He never had a chance to live up to these modest expectations.

If Koyack caught 30 balls last season, I think we should put the ceiling around 20 for Smythe, especially considering the variety the Irish have at the position, not to mention the other weapons that exist in the passing game.

But maybe calibrating Smythe’s season by catches isn’t exactly the fairest way to look at things. Especially when he’ll need to prove he can be a competent blocker at the point-of-attack if he’s going to be the starter at the position.

Everything we’ve heard through spring ball and the early days of fall camp have the staff believing Smythe can handle that role. But with so many new variables in the Irish offensive attack, it’ll be up to Smythe to prove he can stay on the field, and then anything else that comes of it should be gravy.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Some believe that Smythe is capable of being the type of frontline tight end the Irish seem to turn out year after year. I’m more a see-it-to-believe-it type, but there’s certainly a very productive football player here if Smythe can make it through a season.

The loss of Jones might impact Nic Weishar more than it does Smythe, who was always the odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 guy as a traditional tight end even before Jones shifted outside to wide receiver in the spring. But even if this position will be an ensemble, Smythe will lead the team in snaps played.

More do-everything tight end than dynamic matchup challenge like a Tyler Eifert or Troy Niklas, it’s no slam on Smythe to not be held to the same freakish standard of that duo. He’s got a chance to be a very good player on a very capable offense.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I’m sticking with similar projections to 2015 for Smythe, who may be asked to help out more in the running game, but is a rare veteran pass catcher on an offense counting on experience to keep things productive. That’ll likely mean more targets for Smythe as there are plenty of opportunities to go around. Even if he shares the load, it’ll lead to his breakout season, even if it’s a year later than expected.

If Smythe gets to 25 catches and scores a few times, it’ll be a nice year—with a fifth-year all but guaranteed. And if the Irish ground game continues to roll, it’ll be because Smythe did a great job as a versatile tight end, perhaps the most traditional of talents Scott Booker has had at the position since he took over.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Deon McIntosh
Javon McKinley
Pete Mokwuqh
John Montelus
D.J. Morgan
Nyles Morgan
Sam Mustipher
Quenton Nelson
Tyler Newsome
Adetokunbo Ogundeji
Julian Okwara
James Onwualu
Spencer Perry
Troy Pride Jr.
Max Redfield
Isaac Rochell
Trevor Ruhland
CJ Sanders
Avery Sebastian
John Shannon

 

Irish A-Z: Alizé Jones

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Notre Dame’s next great tight end might be their next starting boundary wide receiver. With the retirement of Corey Robinson and a lack of outside receivers ready to contribute, Alizé Jones spent spring transitioning to receiver, a position he was probably built to play in the first place.

Jones came to Notre Dame as a blue-chip tight end prospect, but his skill-set was custom-built for catching passes not throwing blocks. With the goal of getting the team’s best 11 on the field, finding a role for Jones on the outside allows the depth at tight end to pick up the slack in the trenches, with the hope that Jones will thrive as he matches up against cornerbacks.

 

ALIZÉ JONES
6’4.5″, 240 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 10, TE/WR

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A U.S. Army All-American, a first-team USA Today All-American and the No. 1 tight end in the country, per 247 Sports. Jones picked Notre Dame over UCLA—where he was long committed, and had offers from USC, Georgia, Auburn and plenty of other top programs.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2015): Played in all 13 games, starting five. Jones led all tight ends with 13 catches for 190 yards. His 14.6 yards per catch was the most of any receiver not named Will Fuller.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

I feel pretty spot on about this one, even with Durham Smythe‘s season ending after the Virginia game.

All the glowing praise above doesn’t necessarily mean I think Jones is a breakout star. He’ll likely be used situationally, capable of being a jumbo slot receiver (like Troy Niklas and Tyler Eifert were used on occasion), and potentially as a red zone mismatch. (Though we’re still waiting for jump balls to Corey Robinson, so why would Jones hop the line?)

Playing at Bishop Gorman, arguably the top high school program in the country, will work both ways for Jones. He’s played national competition, but he’s also played in an offense that scored points by the bushel. So while he was used mostly as a jumbo receiver during a 41 catch, 900+ yard senior season, that’s not what’ll be needed to be successful at the next level.

Jones will play. But as we’ve seen with Kelly, he wants to trust his tight ends to hold the point of attack, making Smythe the candidate for most snaps. But behind that, I think Jones finds a way to impact the Irish offense, especially if Mike Sanford is as creative as we’re told.

This is a very, very exciting prospect, and perhaps the most readymade offensive player in the freshman class. But before he can be a star, he needs to be able to do everything that makes the tight end position the most versatile in the Irish offense.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Jones maybe isn’t the freak that the Irish had in Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas. But at 6-foot-4.5 and 240 pounds, he’s certainly a load. While his freshman season may not have been the breakout some expected, he did average a hefty 14.6 yards per catch, a number that lets you know that he’s capable of wreaking havoc when he gets his chance.

Opportunity plays a big part in projecting a future, and there’s no more open window than the one Jones now looks through. Jones very well may have switched to boundary receiver even if Robinson decided to play, but there will certainly be more reps available without Robinson.

Is Jones primed to be a star? He could be. I don’t necessarily think it’s fair to compare him to three tight ends that came off the board in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, but nothing Jones did last year should deter you from thinking he could be that type of impact player.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Jones could turn into Notre Dame’s No. 2 receiver in 2016 if he takes this opportunity and runs with it. That could mean a huge uptick in numbers, with 40 to 50 catches not out of the realm of possibility.

While size and match-up issues haven’t necessarily turned Irish receivers into targets, Jones could also pick up some of the slack in the red zone, knowing that the Irish offense desperately needs to improve their efficiency in the scoring zones, especially without quick-strike scorers Will Fuller and C.J. Prosise. Matching Chris Brown’s four touchdown catches seems like a logical next step for Jones.

In many ways, Jones is one of several unknown quantities that’ll help determine whether or not the Irish are a playoff contender or just a team with some nice young talent. While much of his productivity will likely be determined by the team’s offensive identity and philosophy, he’s another key piece to an offensive puzzle that doesn’t have a lot of experience but has plenty going for it.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.

 

Irish A-to-Z: Chase Claypool

Rivals / Blue & Gold
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Very early in the recruiting cycle it became clear that Chase Claypool was one of the most intriguing prospects in the country. And when Notre Dame landed him, they signed one of the biggest wildcard athletes in the recruiting cycle.

What that means? We’ll find out when he hits the field in August.

Notre Dame’s Canadian import is a dynamic prospect, likely to start his career as a wide receiver. But the lanky and raw athlete could end up anywhere, a Swiss Army Knife of a football player who is just figuring out a game that could lead him to the secondary, tight end, outside linebacker or defensive end.

 

CHASE CLAYPOOL
6’4.5″, 218 lbs.
Freshman, WR

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A consensus four-star prospect, Canada’s top prospect. Chose Notre Dame over Michigan, Oregon, Tennessee and more. A Blue-Grey All-American Bowl participant. Invited to The Opening.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

When it comes to potential, it’s hard for me to be more excited for a prospect than I am Claypool. He’s got all the tools necessary. He’s a raw athlete who hasn’t come up playing football. And he’s been used in a number of positions and played a ton of sports coming up—keeping specialization out of the equation… until now.

That’s what has me so excited. And also, his new head football coach.

“He’s so raw that we’re going to be able to create a player that can play so many different positions for us,” Brian Kelly said on Signing Day. “So we’re really excited about him.”

Claypool ran in the low-4.6s in Oregon when he was at The Opening, a more-than-solid number that matched up well with other elite big receivers. Assuming he can hold on to—or (more likely) improve—that speed, all while adding weight during his time in Paul Longo’s strength program, he could be a freaky, freaky football player.

Regardless of position.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Maybe I’m crazy, but I’d love Claypool to spend the summer cross-training on both sides of the ball. It’s not unheard of for a long and lean guy like Claypool to gain 15 pounds over three months, and if he does that he’ll be close to 235 pounds, enough weight to come off the edge and chase the passer.

Of course, I did watch his highlight video. This is a kid who averaged more than 49 points a game on the basketball court and comes to South Bend a very moldable piece of clay. (No pun intended.)

Getting on the field as a freshman shouldn’t be the most important piece of the development puzzle here. But if there’s a chance to make an impact early, it shouldn’t stop him.

It’s hard not to think about what the Irish staff did with Troy Niklas as a freshman, filling a hole at outside linebacker while utilizing a guy who just looked and played differently. Then he switched to tight end as a sophomore. Maybe they can do the same with Claypool.

Then again, wide receiver isn’t the deep spot on the roster that it was last season. And contributing as a freshman isn’t necessarily as far-fetched as it was the past few years. It won’t take long to see how Claypool’s talent translates to the next level. If he’s ready to take the leap forward, this coaching staff will find a way to maximize his abilities—at any position.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage

 

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

22 Comments

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.

 

Stay or Go? Analyzing Jaylon Smith’s NFL decision

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All-American and Butkus Award-winner Jaylon Smith‘s knee injury was a nightmare scenario for anybody who likes football. Notre Dame’s junior linebacker had roughly 50 minutes left of his college career when Ohio State tackle Taylor Decker got a final shove in at the whistle, causing Smith to step and land awkwardly on his left leg and his knee to buckle unnaturally.

The result is a “significant” knee injury, with a local Fox-affiliate reporting multiple ligament damage, likely the ACL and MCL. That type of injury threw a very large wrench into the postseason plans of Smith, who even with a reported $5 million insurance policy has to make some difficult decisions.

On Monday, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King wrote in his Monday Morning Quarterback about Smith’s dilemma, pointing to the lofty draft status Smith had in some team’s eyes before the injury:

I think this is what I heard on Jaylon Smith, the highly talented Notre Dame linebacker and prospective very high NFL draft choice who suffered that terrible left knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl: Smith, a junior, was very likely to come out in the 2016 draft, and he would have been a top three to five pick if he came out healthy.

One NFL scout who was at the Fiesta Bowl said Saturday he thought Smith was a top-three pick. Another who I spoke with Saturday said of the players he saw this fall, if Smith came out, he’d have been a strong candidate to be the top overall pick. “There is not a defense he would not fit in,” the second scout said. “This is a huge story.”

Over the weekend, Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune tackled the same question, talking to NFL Draft analyst Scott Wright about an injury that—even if Smith slides from a Top 5 pick to the 15th overall slot—could be as much as a $15 million hit.

“Let’s say it’s a torn ACL,” Wright told Hansen, “something similar to what (Georgia running back) Todd Gurley had last year. Smith is going to go in the first round anyways, because like Todd Gurley, he’s such a freak talent that there’s a limit to how far he’s going to slip.

“At some point in the first round, somebody’s going to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to take a top five talent if he falls into our lap.’ ”

Wright said it’s not inconceivable that Smith could slide from No. 5 to No. 15. And based on the inflexible rookie salary scale and last year’s signing figures, that’s the difference between a $21.2 million, four-year contract at the fifth draft position and one of $10.7 million, 10 picks later.

The signing bonus differential is also significant — $13.7 million vs. $6 million, which is included in the total contract value.

That loss of money—the lump-sum signing bonus and additional guaranteed money from the rookie contract—might give Smith reason to consider returning to Notre Dame. Play out his senior season, earn a degree, and reenter the draft completely healthy, hoping to reestablish himself as an elite pick at the top of the 2017 draft board.

Of course, that’s no sure thing either.

Smith is nine months away from opening day against Texas. That’s not a herculean ask to be back on the field and ready to play with today’s medical advancements, but Smith would still be working his way back and doing his recovering on the field, evaluated by NFL scouts who’ll see a linebacker likely wearing a large knee brace. It’ll serve as a constant reminder that he’s still less than a year removed from a major surgery that could rob Smith of his best football trait—rare athleticism and speed for a linebacker.

Those traits don’t seem to be in question. If Smith declares for the draft in the next few days—he still has two weeks to make that decision official—he’ll spend the next few months rehabilitating, not going through the cattle call that asks NFL prospects to validate their on-field performance with height and weight measurements, appropriate arm length, 40-yard dash times and short and long shuttle runs. A team that drafts Smith early likely believes that he’ll return to the numbers we assumed he’d run, a 40-yard dash in the 4.5 range and equally nimble and explosive times and scores. Smith won’t be asked to prove those numbers—one of the rare luxuries that come with an injury like this.

Todd Gurley’s run up the draft board to No. 10 last year proves that it only takes one team to believe in your ability to be a game-changer. And as King’s comments show, Smith is the type of player that has lots of teams believing in his ability to fit into their scheme and change the football game.

Ever since Willis McGahee suffered a major knee injury in his final college football game and still found his way into the first round, teams have become more and more comfortable with the recovery from a knee injury that’s now almost routine thanks to the evolution in medical treatment. Smith could receive that type of treatment in South Bend, or do it under the watchful eye of his new employers—while getting paid a hefty salary to do so. Most NFL players who make generational money don’t do it on their first contract, they do it on their second. Smith leaving for the league puts him a year closer to that second deal.

That’s a large assumption. We’ve seen recently the negative that comes with leaving Notre Dame before you’re ready, with Troy Niklas and Louis Nix cashing weekly paychecks but doing nothing to assure themselves of career longevity.

We’ve heard nothing from Smith yet, who is likely talking with his family and advisors about not just his professional future, but the decision on who’ll perform the surgery to repair his knee. From there, Smith will likely meet with Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick a final time before deciding what he’ll do moving forward.

In all likelihood, Smith’s time at Notre Dame is over and he’ll move on to the NFL. You only wish that the circumstances surrounding the decision were better.