Mostly lost in the middle of Notre Dame’s late-season swoon was Will Fuller‘s sophomore campaign. When the spindly receiver crossed the goal line against LSU, he scored his 15th receiving touchdown of the season, tying the school record held by Jeff Samardzija and Golden Tate. Quite an explosion after a freshman season with just ten catches.
Fuller will enter 2015 as a bonafide All-American candidate. He’ll also be a marked man, no longer capable of sneaking up on opponents.
During coaches availability, CSN Chicago’s JJ Stankevitz caught up with Mike Denbrock, talking with Notre Dame’s associate head coach about Fuller’s 2014 season and what to expect in the future.
While the staff expected Fuller to emerge as a playmaker, they didn’t necessarily see a 15 touchdown campaign on the horizon. But moving forward, it’s clear that the expectations for Notre Dame’s star receiver won’t be diminished.
“I don’t think there’s anything that can hold Will Fuller back from being great at what he does,” Denbrock said. “The only person that can do that is Will Fuller, and I don’t see Will standing in his way. I think he’s a hard-working kid that wants to be the best at what he does.”
As we look towards 2015, I caught up with JJ and talked Fuller, his expectations for next season and what the future in South Bend looks like for the next great Irish receiver.
KA: After scoring 15 touchdowns and nearly 1100 yards, what are fair projections for Fuller next year?
JJ: I’m not sure we’ll see a huge increase in his numbers — maybe a few more catches if he can eliminate his drop issues — but I also don’t expect a major drop-off. Maybe 80-85 catches for 1,100-1,200 yards and 10-12 TDs?
KA: That’s what’s crazy to me. Can you imagine what his numbers would’ve been last year if he just made a few of the ordinary catches? A drop on a deep post against USC was a sure touchdown. He had another like that earlier in the season. We could’ve been looking at something like 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Another variable in all of this is Mike Sanford. How does he use Fuller?
JJ: I think that ties into which quarterback Notre Dame goes with.
KA: Good point.
JJ: Fuller and Everett Golson had an excellent rapport, but if Malik Zaire is the guy, ND won’t be throwing it as much as they did last year, which obviously means fewer targets for Fuller.
KA: Can we just get to the point where we kind of acknowledge that both these guys are going to play? And what does that do to a wide receiver’s productivity?
JJ: I’d be surprised if both don’t play in some capacity within the offense next year. To what extent? ND’s still figuring that out.
Look at what Fuller did in the Music City Bowl — 5 catches, 57 yards, 1 TD. That’s a good line, but it’s not the 7 catches, 133 yards, 2 TDs he had vs. North Carolina, for example.
KA: True — And the TD was on a screen that Fuller turned into a TD.
JJ: Which is one of his biggest strengths.
KA: I also noticed that in your conversation with Mike Denbrock, he basically said the sky is the limit for Fuller. You could notice BK’s comments last year changing, too. Early in the season he was still challenging Fuller to be “the man.” By the end, he was basically announcing that he was uncoverable.
JJ: Yeah — that was in relation to my question about whether Fuller could become that No. 1 receiver along the lines of a Mike Floyd or Golden Tate.
KA: I think he’s more of a Golden than Floyd, though he’s probably a better deep threat than both. And that’s coming from the guy who had been waving the Mr Mike Floyd flag since the kid was 15.
JJ: You Cretin-Derham kids stick together.
KA: Amen to that.
JJ: With Fuller, though — I’m not sure he has to be that No. 1 guy. Corey Robinson and Chris Brown are back, and Robinson is his year.
KA: Who’s No. 1? Does it matter? I know we want Robinson and Brown to be great. But they had comparable numbers to Boise State running back Jay Ajayi — no great shakes. And Prosise should have a monster season, I tend to think he’s the guy who takes “the leap.”
JJ: Right, but they did combine for 79 receptions opposite Fuller on the boundary.
KA: Dang it, JJ. Throwing stats like that out really kills my theories.
JJ: I did get a C+ in high school stats, so take that, Mr. Weisman.
KA: Stats. Ouch. Still have nightmares from that class in college.
JJ: Don’t we all.
KA: Maybe we should just get someone to do a YouTube of Will Fuller’s 2014 season for us. As I think we all might have just kinda missed one of the most dominant receiving seasons in ND history. Or maybe not missed it, just spent too much of it complaining about something else.
KA: To close this up, let’s play with some over/unders:
O/U on Fuller at 75 catches
JJ: Under, but not by much.
KA: I’m going over.
O/U on 1150 yards
JJ: I’m hedging based on the QBs, like we touched on earlier.
KA: O/U on TDs at 12.5
JJ: Under, but again, not by much, and that’s because I think Robinson becomes a more dependable red zone threat in Year 3.
KA: One thing that’s really throwing all this projecting off is that Fuller’s going into his junior season. That was the breakout for Samardzija, Tate and Floyd, though he was great whenever he could stay on the field as a sophomore.
JJ: Yeah, and Fuller didn’t have a gradual build-up to his junior year, either. It was six catches in 2013 and then 76 in 2014. Went from a minimal role to a huge one almost overnight thanks to DaVaris Daniels’ two suspensions.
KA: Final bet: If you had to put $$ on it, does Will Fuller spend four seasons in South Bend?
JJ: He’s 6-foot, 180 pounds right now. He doesn’t have the height or the physicality to be a first-round pick after his junior season, just basing that off the top receivers in this year’s draft. He very well could wind up being a solid player in the NFL, but he’d be best served to have three full seasons (so, sophomore-senior) proving his talent in a college offense.
KA: ND fans should hope you are right. And the Irish record books might be rewritten again.