Getty Images

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 10 Chris Finke, fifth-year receiver, second-year starter

6 Comments

Listed Measurements: 5-foot-9 ½, 182 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: A fifth-year, Finke has only one season of eligibility remaining.
Depth chart: After starting seven games last year, Finke will start again at slot receiver. That will not necessarily equate to 13 starts, given how often Notre Dame likes to trot out two tight ends rather than a slot receiver. Sophomore Lawrence Keys may provide Finke breathers this season, something unseen last year.
Recruiting: A preferred walk-on years ago, Finke earned himself a scholarship heading into his sophomore season. He first garnered Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s attention when Kelly was at his high school pursuing eventual Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire. The prep football coach suggested Kelly look in on basketball scrimmage because of a “really good competitor” who might earn a scholarship to Miami of Ohio.

“He was fearless,” Kelly said this March, recalling the scene. “Going in against 6-foot-5, 6-6 guys, just slapping the ball away from guys, just tenacious. It just caught my eye as a guy that was not going to back down from any challenge when it came to competing. We continued to follow him his senior year and he was lights out as a punt returner. So we thought, at a minimum, if we took a preferred walk-on who had great ball skills and who could be a punt returner and was fearless … we thought it would be a good bet.”

CAREER TO DATE
Irish passing game struggles limited Finke’s numbers in 2016 and 2017 before he emerged as a genuine threat last year. Always reliable, he developed a sense for big moments, as well, pulling in pivotal and dramatic touchdowns against both Michigan and USC.

2016: 10 games; 10 catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
2017: 13 games, one start; 6 catches for 102 yards.
2018: 13 games, seven starts; 49 catches for 571 yards and two touchdowns.

Also the punt returner, Finke finally started to avoid risky situations last season, something Notre Dame had fretted about for years.

2016: 9 punt returns for 70 yards; 5 kick returns for 85 yards.
2017: 24 punt returns for 156 yards.
2018: 20 punt returns for 190 yards, a 9.8 yards per return average.

QUOTE(S)
Is Finke still underappreciated? Perhaps, but if so, not by Kelly.

“He probably doesn’t get enough recognition for what he can do as a receiver,” Kelly said in early April. “He’s a top-notch BCS college receiver in the slot. He can do virtually everything for you. He can catch the screen passes, drive routes, option routes. He’s a real weapon for us and he’s showed that he’s as consistent as I can remember having a slot receiver.”

Notre Dame needed Chris Finke to soar over a Michigan defender and pull in a 43-yard touchdown. Without the dramatic score, the 24-17 Irish victory probably goes the Wolverines’ way. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Finke’s consistency and unique playmaking ability puts him in position to contribute for Notre Dame, no matter how diminutive his frame may be. The presumed emergence of (Michael) Young, though, will likely limit the opportunities. Some situations may call for multiple 5-foot-10, sub-200-pound receivers, but those moments are few and far between, especially when the offensive coordinator prefers targets with size and has the luxury of two upperclassmen receivers taller than 6-foot-4 and a trio of pass-catching tight ends even taller.

“Finke will still see a non-negligible amount of playing time; it is just hard to project him as one of senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s primary targets, odd considering how much Wimbush relied on Finke in trying to mount a comeback against the Bulldogs.

“As for punt returns, Finke’s desire to make a play has put his role there in jeopardy in the past. Recklessly hauling in punts inside the 10-yard-line is a surefire way to aggravate any coach. If Irish head coach Brian Kelly and special teams coordinator Brian Polian have drilled rules into Finke’s head by now, then the job should remain his. He has shown the needed flashes to shift field position, most-recently in the third quarter at Stanford when he returned a punt 41 yards to set up a lead-taking field goal, also known as Notre Dame’s last points of the regular-season finale. Finke returned the Cardinal’s next punt 20 yards to position the Irish for a last-ditch effort, which stalled.

“If, however, Finke continues to take unnecessary risks unfit a senior, then a change will need to be made to preserve future possessions.”

2019 OUTLOOK
Suggesting a former walk-on should improve upon a season with 49 catches for 571 yards may seem a bold thought, but it seems likely for Finke. Last year he was clearly the No. 3 receiving option. He may now be No. 2, as one of two returning starting receivers, and will only fall to No. 3 if junior tight end Cole Kmet stars.

Furthermore, the Irish offense should produce more this season, bettering individual stats across the board. Notre Dame has all the faith in the world in Finke, and that may lead to a year with a handful of touchdowns.

As such a crucial piece of the offense, Finke may not handle punt returns anymore. That would be more a workload concern than anything else, so if Keys becomes a rotational receiver, Finke’s workload may remain manageable enough he continues to field punts, but otherwise, sparing him those snaps would prove beneficial in November.

DOWN THE ROAD
Finke may seem undersized for the NFL, but if any position can get away with that, it is at receiver if a player runs crisp enough routes and has solid enough hands. Finke just might. At the least, he will get a few tryouts. Not bad for what was once merely “a good bet.”

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
Introduction
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
No. 13: Lawrence Keys, sophomore receiver
No. 13: Paul Moala, sophomore safety-turned-linebacker
No. 12: DJ Brown, sophomore cornerback-turned-safety
No. 12: Ian Book, starting quarterback
No. 11: Alohi Gilman, senior safety