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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4 ⅜, 229 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: Claypool enters his final season.
Depth chart: Claypool will move from the field (wide) position to the boundary, where he will presumably be Notre Dame’s most-utilized passing option, a transition Irish head coach Brian Kelly expects to be “seamless.”
Recruiting: The Canadian chose Notre Dame over offers from Michigan, Oregon and Arizona, among others, as a consensus four-star prospect.

CAREER TO DATE
Claypool’s career may map out as close to a prototypical success as conceivable, one with linear progressions from start-to-finish. Well, at least as linear as inconsistencies can fit. After a freshman season with more success on special teams than at receiver, Claypool emerged as the second receiver in 2017, behind Equanimeous St. Brown. Even as the No. 2 receiver, in an inconsistent passing game Claypool managed more than two catches only three times.

That trend continued last season — again as the No. 2 receiver, though now behind Miles Boykin — with Claypool catching just 18 passes in the first six games. Then he matched that in the next three weeks. For the second half of the season, Claypool essentially bypassed Boykin as the lead Irish receiver, albeit not by much. Claypool caught 30 passes for 422 yards in those six games while Boykin caught 26 for 375 yards. (Boykin still held a 5-to-2 touchdown advantage.)

2016: 5 receptions for 81 yards.
2017: 29 receptions for 402 yards and two scores.
2018: 50 receptions for 639 yards and four scores.
Career: 84 receptions for 1,122 yards and six scores.

QUOTE(S)
The criticism of Claypool has never been about his athletic ability or physical possibilities. Those inconsistencies the last two seasons were often — perhaps even always — traced to his mental approach by the Notre Dame coaching staff. That supposedly began to change last spring. Similar claims were voiced once again this year.

“I really don’t talk numbers with Chase,” Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long said in early March. “Because if Chase is focused, he’s going to dominate, and that’s where he is right now.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
Expecting a player to replicate the previous season’s numbers does not usually sound like progress. When suggesting Claypool again end up with 30 catches for a few hundred yards and a couple touchdowns, the more demanding hope would be he avoid Saturday afternoons with none or only one reception, as happened four times in 2017. Some of last year’s ups-and-downs may be attributed to the inconsistent quarterback play, but Claypool was equally unreliable. Overcoming that would mean Kelly’s and Long’s spring-long messages were heard and tended to.”

2019 OUTLOOK
Claypool’s shift tangibly came in the second half of last season. When he caught five passes for 61 yards against Pittsburgh, it did not necessarily register as noteworthy. It was one week, after all, against a Panthers team yet to rise up the ACC. After the idle week, he pulled in five more for 57 yards against Navy, but that game is annually such an anomaly, only so much could be gleaned from it. Next came eight receptions for 130 yards at Northwestern, gaining seven first downs along the way.

Despite not finding the end zone, that showing against the Wildcats displayed what Claypool can do, can be. He broke tackles, he showed strong hands (only two other passes were sent his way), and he drove Notre Dame’s offense when it was most needed.

There has not been a 1,000-yard Irish receiver since Will Fuller in 2015, one of five such seasons in Kelly’s nine-year tenure. It would be bold to say Claypool should reach that mark, but it is not ambitious to say he could.

In Book’s final five regular season games last season (excluding Brandon Wimbush’s spot start against Florida State and the overall offensive struggles in the Cotton Bowl), Claypool caught 29 passes for 410 yards. Extrapolate those numbers across 13 games and they reach 75 receptions for 1,068 yards.

DOWN THE ROAD
St. Brown turned two seasons of lead receiver work, and only one of genuine quality, into a sixth-round pick. One year of such work and excellent testing results pushed Boykin into the third round. Claypool should skew toward the latter result.

If any Irish skill position player will test well in a combine setting, it will be Claypool. Combine that with a year like St. Brown’s sophomore season (58 catches for 961 yards and nine scores) or Boykin’s last season (59 catches for 872 yards and eight touchdowns), and Claypool should be in the mix as a second-day draft pick. As explained above, Claypool very well may exceed all those numbers, even bettering those draft chances.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
Introduction
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
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

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-5 ½, 255 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: A junior, Kmet has two seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019.
Depth chart: Kmet is Notre Dame’s unquestioned top option at tight end.
Recruiting: Choose your recruiting praise … Consensus four-star prospect, consensus top-five tight end in the class of 2017, rated the No. 3 tight end by rivals.com.

CAREER TO DATE
Kmet looked poised to step forward as an auxiliary threat in the passing game last season, creating a package based on size when joining Alizé Mack, Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool. A sprained ankle in week two halted those hopes for all intents and purposes. Kmet missed the next two games, but even that time off did not allow for the ankle to completely heal.

It is impossible to know just how much the injury limited Kmet throughout the season, but his 15 catches for 162 yards certainly left more to be desired, though he was not targeted much more often than that (19 times total).

If there was a defining moment for Kmet, it came at Northwestern, when he pulled in two passes in the red zone, getting knocked out of bounds at the 1-yard-line on the first and tackled at the 5-yard-line on the second. One cannot help but wonder if the ankle issue diminished Kmet’s burst or agility just enough to keep him out of the end zone.

2017: Two catches for 14 yards in 13 games.
2018: 15 catches for 162 yards in 11 games, including one reception for 11 yards in the Cotton Bowl.

QUOTE(S)
Partly due to his recruiting profile, partly do his overall composure and partly due to his showings in two consecutive spring practices, much is expected of Kmet.

“He’s going to catch a lot of footballs,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in mid-March. “He’ll be a guy we’ll actually game plan (around) and certainly look at how he touches the football each week. We didn’t do that last year.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Kmet will continue to rise to prominence in Long’s system. His combination of height and hands makes him an intriguing piece for a tight end-heavy offense. However, some caution needs to be exercised. Kmet looked solid in his freshman season and certainly impressed across the board this spring, but that is all a far cry from excelling in the fall.

“Kmet should contribute this season and take the lead in 2019, with or without Mack on the Irish roster, but he may not yet become an offensive staple even then. If his progression follows an understated rate, that day may come in 2019 or 2020. Part of that inevitable outlook traces to Notre Dame’s tight end reputation. They keep becoming NFL contributors, Smythe after Koyack after Niklas after Eifert …”

2019 OUTLOOK
When Kelly says Notre Dame did not game plan around Kmet last year, he may as well be saying as much about the tight ends in general. Mack played well in his final season, but never such that the Irish focused on him for an afternoon. That should change this fall.

Kmet has good hands and an instinct for high-pointing a pass, not to mention decent speed. In other words, he has all the traits wanted from a tight end at a program with a 15-year track record of turning starting tight ends into NFL draft picks.

Mack’s final season featured 36 catches for 360 yards and three touchdowns. Kmet should top all of that, conceivably with ease. Projecting further than that requires faith in Kmet staying healthy, a leap considering he cut short his spring baseball season due to left (throwing) elbow soreness. That may seem a small injury, and it was, but it starts to hint at a longer trend when combined with 2018’s ankle troubles.

DOWN THE ROAD
If Kmet reaches his ceiling this season, he may not return in 2020. Something along the lines of 50 catches for 600 yards would be enough to warrant NFL consideration. By no means would an early departure be assured, but it would not be a shock.

If Kmet returns in 2020, especially after a solid 2019, it should set him up for a star turn. The Irish will need a playmaker to emerge in the passing game after both Chase Claypool and Chris Finke use up their eligibility this season, leaving an opening for Kmet to earn Tyler Eifert comparisons.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
Introduction
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
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

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 85 George Takacs, tight end

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-6, 255 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Takacs has all four seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019, after taking a traditional redshirt last year.
Depth chart: Notre Dame has four tight ends on the roster, and Takacs is presumably the fourth among them.
Recruiting: A rivals.com four-star recruit, U.S. Army All-American and No. 15 tight end in the class, Takacs spurned the likes of Georgia, Wisconsin and his homestate Florida to choose the Irish.

CAREER TO DATE
A meniscus tear reduced the benefits of Takacs’ early enrollment, but the injury was not the reason he spent his freshman season on the sidelines. That traced to the number of talented tight ends ahead of Takacs: current juniors Cole Kmet and Brock Wright along with Alizé Mack and Nic Weishar.

QUOTE(S)
That depth ahead of Takacs also kept him out of mind for the last year. There is nothing wrong with that, simply a reality of how conversations go.

He was discussed, obviously, when Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long pondered the 2018 recruiting class on National Signing Day in February of 2018.

“George is already here doing a great job,” Long said. “… The good thing I got to see this year with George, though, is he was split out wide and did a lot of good things in the passing game.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Long’s praise of Takacs’ ability in the passing game indicates the tight end may be more of a complete player than he was originally recruited to be. On the surface, Takacs looks to be the successor to Wright as an attached tight end, strengthening the Notre Dame running game.

“If he can do both that and catch passes, even if only short routes in the flat or on bootlegs, Takacs will fit right into Long’s multiple tight end schemes. Those formations make it so every tight end on the Irish roster matters. Three rotate in frequently, making the fourth tight end actually within the two-deep depth chart. When fifth-year Nic Weishar runs out of eligibility and senior Alizé Mack ponders the NFL, Takacs will be that fourth tight end, at the absolute least, with classmate Tommy Tremble the third tight end, especially if he sees action this year while Takacs reaches full health.”

2019 OUTLOOK
Takacs should see action this season, but probably not much. Notre Dame will lean on Kmet and Wright in multiple tight end packages, and sophomore Tommy Tremble is ahead of Takacs in the passing game, earning more notice this spring though Takacs was the one to catch a 10-yard pass in the Blue-Gold Game (a first-quarter throw from sophomore quarterback Phil Jurkovec).

Perhaps that will not be the only chance for a Jurkovec-to-Takacs connection in 2019. The Irish should manage a blowout or two this season — just as a point of context, S&P+ rankings project five victories by 19 points or more — and those would give Jurkovec a chance to find competitive comfort, presumably with some backups flanking him.

DOWN THE ROAD
Takacs fits into more the Wright role than the Kmet aspect, the line-attached blocker rather than the downfield receiver. Tremble has more speed and is more natural in the passing game, while Takacs should be able to set the edge and present a sizable target in checkdowns for an Irish quarterback, whomever that is in 2020 or even 2021.

A significant role may have to wait until 2021, since both Kmet and Wright have two years of eligibility remaining. That is part of Notre Dame’s larger plan, given the coaching staff passed up signing any tight ends in the most-recent recruiting class.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
Introduction
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
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

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 87 Michael Young, receiver

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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-10, 190 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: A junior, Young has two seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019.
Depth chart: As senior Chase Claypool moves to the boundary receiver position from the field (wide) side in place of Miles Boykin, Young steps into a starting role at the field where his speed and strong hands should be of use.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star recruit, Young is the only remaining receiver from the class of 2017, partly due to a late de-commitment in the cycle and partly due to Jafar Armstrong moving into the backfield.

CAREER TO DATE
While appearing in all 26 games of the last two seasons, Young’s stats have not tallied at the same rate. That speaks more toward Notre Dame’s other receiving options in those seasons — a freshman was not going to supplant Equanimeous St. Brown or even Kevin Stepherson, and Miles Boykin’s ceiling last year needed to be available for the Irish offense — than it does to Young’s talent.

When given chances, Young has flashed. Of his four catches for 18 yards as a freshman, two receptions and a touchdown came in the Citrus Bowl victory against LSU. Last season’s seven catches for 138 yards and a score were highlighted by a 66-yard screen that Young turned into a scoring opportunity at Wake Forest.

QUOTE(S)
Though Young came up two yards short of the end zone on that catch-and-dash, his speed has never been what held him back. Rather, a slight receiver will typically struggle at this level. (The same reason why Braden Lenzy did not get on the field as a freshman last year.)

“Michael has put on weight, good weight, and he’s faster,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said at the start of spring practice. “He just needed that weight to get out there and cover up [defensive backs] and do his job, catch the ball in traffic and be more confident as a football player. Still have to catch it, and have to catch it consistently, but he hasn’t lost a step, he’s got that explosive speed that we recruited.”

That weight is not the only aspect of Young’s approach that has shifted with time. When his high school coaches visited Notre Dame in March as part of a coaches clinic, they apparently recognized some of the things Kelly described about Young in conversation, perhaps things they kept a bit to themselves while Young was being recruited.

“You get that unvarnished truth after he’s here for three years,” Kelly said a week later. “‘Hey, that’s the way he was as a freshman (in high school), he was a little bit worried about too many things, but then he settled into focusing on just playing football, catching it and making plays.’

“That’s what we’re starting to see.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“With the exception of the incoming freshmen, specifically Braden Lenzy, Young provides the best and arguably singular top-end speed among the Irish receivers. Senior Chris Finke is very quick and senior Miles Boykin has underrated burst, but Young’s ability to alter an opposing secondary’s coverage is unparalleled at this point. Notre Dame will need that.

“Projecting specific statistical benchmarks is difficult since they depend so much on the Irish quarterbacks’ development. More importantly than predicting a floor (perhaps 25 catches for 400 yards and five touchdowns), a consistent season would help with the passers’ progress. A year ago, Notre Dame’s receivers were just as up-and-down as quarterback Brandon Wimbush was. If Young can prove to be a productive option week-in and week-out, that safety valve could do wonders for the passing game as a whole.”

2019 OUTLOOK
Those numbers were clearly overzealous. They should not be any longer.

Young exited spring an unquestioned starter. Lenzy has not yet shown the same ability to fight through coverage or equally strong hands to challenge Young, despite Lenzy’s top-end speed. Furthermore, Young has some degree of chemistry with Book, as seen back in that Citrus Bowl and in last month’s Blue-Gold Game.

Young may yet be the third Irish receiver in nearly every regard, perhaps even fourth if junior tight end Cole Kmet emerges as expected, but in an offense as high-powered as this one is expected to be, the third receiver can grab two dozen catches for 350-400 yards. Frankly, such a stat line would not be outlandish for a No. 4 receiver.

In 2018, tight end Alizé Mack was the fourth target, at least statistically-speaking, and he finished with 36 catches for 360 yards and three touchdowns. In 2015’s explosive offense, receiver Torii Hunter finished fourth in receptions, pulling in 28 passes for 363 yards and a pair of scores.

DOWN THE ROAD
As the only receiver in the junior class, Young’s experience this season will serve as a bit of a transitional key heading into 2020. Both Claypool and fifth-year Chris Finke will be gone at that point, leaving Young as the elder statesman in the room.

Notre Dame will need to develop a receiver rotation; offensive coordinator Chip Long would undoubtedly prefer that occur in 2019, but it will be even more necessary in 2020 with so little experience on hand. Young as the leader in that rotation should show itself not only in playing time, but also in targets and thus yards, giving him one season’s chance to star.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
Introduction
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
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

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver

rivals.com
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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2, 215 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: A senior, McKinley has two seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019.
Depth chart: It is difficult to ascertain exactly what receiver position McKinley works at, the field or the boundary, but it hardly matters; he is no higher than third, if not fourth, at either position, behind both established starters and promising sophomores.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American.

CAREER TO DATE
McKinley’s struggles to make an impact were originally excusable. After appearing in six games as a freshman, largely on special teams, a broken leg suffered in practice ended his sophomore season in mid-October before taking the field in a single game.

Then he appeared in only four games in 2018, recording no further stats, and it is not as if the Irish had a deep receiver rotation. Notre Dame was desperate for a fourth receiver to relieve the weary legs of Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool and Chris Finke, but none was trusted enough to do so, including McKinley.

A February arrest and three misdemeanor charges have presumably not helped that trust.

QUOTE(S)
McKinley was initially suspended after that arrest, eventually being allowed to practice and partake in the Blue-Gold Game. On the surface, that looked like McKinley being back in the fold. When asked if such was the case, Irish head coach Brian Kelly answered as if the question pertained to on-field wonderings.

“We targeted him on purpose,” Kelly said after the spring finale in which McKinley caught one pass for 13 yards on three targets, all from Phil Jurkovec. “We’re clearly trying to figure out what he can do. He’s been here too long for us to have a question mark about him. We’re going through our exit interviews and we’ll evaluate his performance and make some decisions.”

A follow-up asked Kelly if McKinley is fully reinstated.

“Oh, no, we’re going to re-evaluate his status at the end of spring here.”

The week after the Blue-Gold Game, McKinley struck a plea agreement in which the misdemeanor charges should end up dropped. Given Notre Dame has not dismissed McKinley to this point, Kelly’s words may not be as ominous as they initially seemed.

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“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 (Kevin) Stepherson and, to a lesser extent, (Michael) 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.”

2019 OUTLOOK
Those freshmen, now sophomores, have indeed passed by McKinley. In theory, his physical tools rival any of theirs, but Kevin Austin’s size and speed are similar to McKinley’s, and he can already claim five more receptions and 90 more yards than McKinley can, not to mention playing in 10 games last season. Furthermore, Lawrence Keys brings a dynamic far different than McKinley’s, one based on speed and shiftiness, and one that had him in the Cotton Bowl gameplan, albeit an unused portion of that failed gameplan.

Without injury to Claypool or Young creating turmoil in the receiving corps, it is hard to envision a breakthrough from McKinley after so many years spinning his wheels.

DOWN THE ROAD
There is yet reason to wonder if McKinley will even be on the roster in 2019 — a transfer or two should be expected within the next month, a usual occurrence. If he is, though, it would still take quite the breakthrough for him to be around in 2020. A graduate transfer seems the presumptive conclusion to McKinley’s Irish career.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
Introduction
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
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