Listed Measurements: 5-foot-10 ⅜, 172 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Keys has four seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019, after taking a traditional redshirt last year.
Depth chart: Keys should both enter and exit preseason practices as the No. 2 slot receiver behind fifth-year Chris Finke.
Recruiting: The consensus three-star prospect chose Notre Dame over Texas on National Signing Day, also pondering SMU while the likes of Georgia, LSU and Michigan all offered him a scholarship.
CAREER TO DATE
Keys did not take the field in 2018, but reportedly nearly did against Clemson in the Cotton Bowl. That may seem a hollow distinction, but if the Irish offensive line had held up long enough for plays to develop, Keys very well may have had a wrinkle of a role. Head coach Brian Kelly had that possibility in mind as soon as the College Football Playoff semifinal matchup was announced.
“There are some things we think we need against the competition that we’re playing, and we’ll see how that plays out over the next few weeks,” Kelly said in December. “We think there’s a couple guys who could help us in a few areas. … If you look at your offense, there’s some areas that I think from a speed area that I think could help us out.”
Kelly did not mention Keys by name, but that was to whom he was referring.
Notre Dame did not have receiver depth last season. Sure, all the names expected to contribute this season were on the roster then, along with Miles Boykin, now of the Baltimore Ravens, but the Irish coaching staff leaned on only Boykin, Chase Claypool and Chris Finke. By November, the exhaustion showed. Notre Dame needs to avoid that this year, and Keys plays a — look, this pun is inevitable, let’s get it out of the way early today — key role in that.
“It’s (sophomores) Kevin (Austin) and Lawrence and Braden (Lenzy),” Kelly said at the end of March. “Those three guys are certainly adding oto the depth, as well as the tight ends.”
WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“The Irish have a slim top tier of receivers, namely Claypool, Young and senior Miles Boykin. After them, opportunities are up for literal grabs. Of the reserves, only senior Chris Finke brings any collegiate receptions to the table at this point, not factoring in the tight ends. Thus, it was vitally important for Notre Dame to strike big with receivers in the recruiting class of 2018, as it did by signing four.
“Of those four, Keys and Lenzy possess real speed. It seems simplistic to say beating out Lenzy is the key to Keys’ playing time this season, but it is also true. And sorry for the pun, it had to be done somewhere here.
“There are differences to their games, such as Keys being more of a deliberate route runner at this point than the pure burner that Lenzy is. With that in mind, Keys may fit into more roles as the needed backup if he outpaces junior Javon McKinley, as well. While Lenzy’s coverage-breaking speed could be the most-obvious threat right away, crisp route-running and good hands could get Keys into action across the field.
“One way or another, expect Keys to get a chance in a few games this season. How he performs initially (and others’ health) will dictate if Keys plays in more than four games or preserves a season of eligibility.”
The fourth Irish receiver last year managed seven catches, now-presumed junior starter Michael Young. Only five receivers caught passes at all, with Austin adding five receptions. Some of that traced to four tight ends catching passes and four more running backs pulling in multiple receptions, but it mostly reflected the state of Notre Dame’s receivers.
Look back at 2017: Nine receivers caught at least one pass. The fourth had 12 receptions for 253 yards and two touchdowns. Four tight ends still caught passes, as did four running backs.
The current quality of the second-unit receivers exceeds that of either year, and that includes Keys. How much he plays will be directly impacted by Finke’s effectiveness and health, but Keys should at least match Finke’s 2017 numbers of six catches for 102 yards.
Given how explosive the Irish offense is expected to be, Keys should exceed those numbers without much trouble.
DOWN THE ROAD
Once Finke finishes up this season, Keys is expected to become the slot receiver of the future. His shiftiness, speed and precise routes are ideal for the interior position, and his current competition comes from sophomore Micah Jones, an unlikely fit there at 6-foot-4 ½, and freshman Kendall Abdur-Rahman, who may take some time to adjust to receiver after playing quarterback throughout high school.
The Notre Dame slot receiver may not put up the massive stats the other two starters might, certainly not while offensive coordinator Chip Long is around, as he enjoys bringing on a second tight end in place of the slot receiver as often as not, but Keys’ speed will give him plenty of chances to make an impact as a starter in 2020 and 2021, if not also 2022.
NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Isaiah Foskey, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90: Hunter Spears, defensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver
No. 85: George Takacs, tight end
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 80: Micah Jones, receiver
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right guard, three-year starter
No. 77: Quinn Carroll, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive guard
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive lineman
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, left tackle, two-year starter
No. 73: Andrew Kristofic, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle, three-year starter
No. 71: John Olmstead, offensive lineman, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 69: Aaron Banks, left guard
No. 60: Cole Mabry, offensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, veteran backup offensive lineman
No. 57: Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle
No. 56: John Dirksen, offensive lineman
No. 56: Howard Cross, incoming freshman defensive lineman, consensus four-star
No. 55: Jarrett Patterson, starting center
No. 55: Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle returning from injury
No. 54: Jacob Lacey, consensus four-star defensive tackle, early enrollee
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, senior defensive end
No. 52: Zeke Correll, consensus four-star center, early enrollee
No. 52: Bo Bauer, linebacker, sophomore
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, junior defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, senior inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, senior defensive end
No. 42: Julian Okwara, senior defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, junior defensive tackle
No. 40: Drew White, junior inside linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, junior kicker
No. 35: TaRiq Bracy, sophomore cornerback
No. 35: Marist Liufau, Hawaiian freshman linebacker
No. 34: Jahmir Smith, sophomore running back
No. 34: Osita Ekwonu, inside linebacker, consensus four-star
No. 33: Shayne Simon, sophomore linebacker
No. 31: Jack Lamb, sophomore linebacker
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, junior linebacker
No. 29: Ovie Oghoufo, sophomore linebacker-turned-defensive end
No. 27: J.D. Bertrand, consensus four-star linebacker
No. 25: Braden Lenzy, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 24: Tommy Tremble, sophomore tight end
No. 24: Jack Kiser, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Mr. Indiana Football
No. 23: Litchfield Ajavon, four-star safety, freshman
No. 23: Kyren Williams, early-enrolled freshman running back
No. 22: Kendall Abdur-Rahman, quarterback-turned-receiver, freshman
No. 22: Asmar Bilal, the only returning starting linebacker
No. 21: Jalen Elliott, three-year starting safety
No. 20: Shaun Crawford, defensive back returning from yet another injury
No. 20: C’Bo Flemister, sophomore running back
No. 19: Jay Bramblett, freshman punter
No. 19: Justin Ademilola, sophomore defensive end
No. 18: Joe Wilkins, sophomore receiver
No. 18: Nana Osafo-Mensah, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
No. 17: Isaiah Robertson, junior receiver
No. 16: K.J. Wallace, freshman defensive back, three-star
No. 15 Isaiah Rutherford, freshman defensive back, consensus four-star
No. 15: Phil Jurkovec, sophomore quarterback
No. 14: Kyle Hamilton, freshman safety, consensus four-star