Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2, 215 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Junior with three seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: McKinley remains a second-string receiver firmly behind senior Miles Boykin, junior Chase Claypool and sophomore Michael Young. Given his range and size but lack of top-end speed, McKinley fits best behind Boykin as a field receiver.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American.
CAREER TO DATE
McKinley appeared in six games his freshman year, largely on special teams, before a broken leg suffered in practice ended his season in mid-October. He then preserved a year of eligibility in 2017, partly to be sure of a full recovery and complete fitness. That cautionary step made further sense when he was limited throughout 2017’s spring practices thanks to that injury.
When the decision was made to keep McKinley sidelined last year, it meant he would spend the fall’s practices with the scout team. In some ways, that forced McKinley to get back up to speed this spring as much mentally as physically.
“It’s tough when you go down to scout team,” Irish receivers coach Del Alexander said in late March. “It’s tough to keep the level of competition in your mind. … We were just trying to work on the habits daily even though he’s over there. I think he tried to do that, so his transition shouldn’t be very difficult to come back over.”
Alexander and McKinley would meet as possible, go over film together and discuss what needs to be worked on during the year treading water.
Now, though McKinley remains a step back from the starting trio — and senior Chris Finke, albeit at a different position technically speaking — Alexander spoke well enough of his spring progression to distinguish the starters are no more than one step ahead of McKinley.
“I have a one group and a two group,” Alexander said. “… [McKinley is] in both groups. He can roll in with the first or the second group. His progress has been good. He’s made some plays.”
WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“That [receiver] depth chart is still not going to do McKinley any favors. [Former Notre Dame receiver Equanimeous St. Brown], Claypool and [former Irish receiver Kevin] Stepherson all showed magnificent flashes last season, and Boykin was the primary praised receiver throughout the spring.
“Nonetheless, optimism was based off McKinley’s sheer size, and it cannot be denied. It fits right alongside the likes of the presumptive starting trio, meaning McKinley should be able to fill in for either the boundary or the field receiver whenever needed. Do not look only for McKinley to match year-ago projections of 15-20 catches, but also look for some of those to come in pivotal situations, providing first downs or breaking open stagnant drives.”
In an offense designed to include multiple tight ends and, ideally, incorporate running backs into the passing game, there are not many opportunities for the fourth receiver, let alone the fifth. Notre Dame’s fourth-leading receiver in 2017 was Boykin with 12 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns, with three receptions, 102 yards and one touchdown coming in that climatic Citrus Bowl victory. To find the next productive receiver, two tight ends must first be passed before getting to Finke with 102 yards on six catches. Those precedents do not foreshadow a bevy of chances for McKinley as long as he is mired down the depth chart.
Barring injury, that appears to be the case for at least this season. McKinley’s skillset overlaps with both Boykin’s and Claypool’s, each of whom are much more experienced than the junior with only a handful of game moments two years ago.
Optimistically, a strong performance in preseason practice could install McKinley as a goal-line option, creating a jumbo receiver set with Boykin and Claypool in place of Young.
DOWN THE ROAD
At most, Boykin will be elsewhere (read: NFL) after this season, though he will have another year of eligibility available. On paper, that may mean McKinley could slot right into his starting role, but four heralded freshmen receivers (three incoming; Micah Jones early enrolled) will greatly increase the pressure on the then-senior.
Receivers do not necessarily need to spend much time getting used to collegiate competition — see Stepherson and, to a lesser extent, Young as freshmen. At least one of those four will likely threaten to move past McKinley within the next 12 months.
All that said, McKinley arrived a highly-touted recruit for a reason. In some instances, time is needed for that potential to become realized. Remember: It took until the final minutes of the bowl victory over LSU before Boykin broke out in a noticeable manner, the very end of his junior season.
NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 93 (theoretically) Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 90 (theoretically) Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore