You probably didn't forget, but maybe you need a quick refresher about how awesome Will Fuller is at football. I'm here to help.
I could go on for a while, but those two TDs really show Fuller's two major strengths — his speed and his elusiveness. The fact that he can catch the ball too makes him a spectacular deep threat. Last season he used those abilities to rack up 1,094 receiving yards and 15 TDs. The only returning receiver in college football that had more scores last year was Colorado State's Rashard Higgins. There's no question he will enter the season as the top target for new Irish starting quarterback Malik Zaire.
For the Irish to really hum along offensively, though, it'd be nice if someone could step up and become the clear #2 target. There's plenty of talented players there that could assume the role — there were last year, too, though, and yet it never really happened.
Who's it gonna be? The candidates:
Robinson seems the logical choice to inherit the #2 target role. He had the second-most catches for ND last year, at 40, and ranked third in receiving yards, with 539. He's shown the ability to make the occasional jaw-dropping catch, as he did in the Syracuse game, grabbing the ball while twisting in the air after being turned into a pretzel by pass interference, and the great catch in traffic (above). His reliability in the short and intermediate passing game contrasts very well with Fuller's game-breaking gifts. And while no one would be silly enough to say his career so far has been a disappointment, there is a nagging feeling that there's more ability in there that the junior hasn't quite tapped into yet. The door's wide open for the son of The Admiral to assume his role as the perfect complementary target.
Believe it or not, Brown ranked second on the Irish in receiving yardage last season, with 548, and had only one fewer catch than Robinson. The reason those yards seemed so quiet is probably because there were no real outliers — Brown had between 30 and 82 yards in each of the last 10 games of the season. More pointedly, he only caught one touchdown. It seems like Brown has been around forever — you might remember that he caught the deep bomb from Everett Golson that changed the face of ND's 2012 win at Oklahoma — but maybe this is the year he really leaps forward and becomes a factor. Brian Kelly said Brown was emerging as a key part of the ND offense in camp leading up to last season, and Brown promptly had 36 yards receiving in the first three games. Maybe he was a year early.
Durham Smythe or Tight End TBD
The fact that Smythe is even on this list shows how wide open this spot is. After Robinson and Brown, the next few names on ND's 2014 receiving list were C.J. Prosise (playing RB at least part-time and certainly full-time the first four games after Greg Bryant's suspension), Ben Koyack (gone to the pros) and Amir Carlisle (potentially valuable slot guy, but I think we can all agree is not going to be the #2 target). Smythe had just one catch last year, against Arizona State, but entered summer as the leader in the clubhouse to be ND's starting tight end. As we all know, the Irish have relied heavily on their tight ends in recent seasons when they've proven worthy of it (see Eifert, Rudolph, Carlson and Fasano), and Smythe was a highly valued talent coming into ND. Also highly valued was Aliz'e Jones, one of the most sought-after TEs in this year's recruiting class and a definite threat to play immediately. Sophomore Tyler Luatua, who chose ND over Alabama when he was recruited, got lost in the shuffle a bit admist the Smythe and Jones talk post-Signing Day, but he could certainly be a factor as well.
Torii Hunter Jr.
A long-shot candidate, given. Hunter had seven catches a year ago after finally working his way back from a broken leg he suffered prior to 2013. Not as tall and reliable as Robinson nor as quick and shifty as Brown, you might call Hunter the T word — a "tweener". Still, the Irish aren't strangers to players going from sporadic contributors in their first years on the field to a key cog in the next — Robinson is a perfect example. And ND's history with guys who have played baseball and wide receiver (Jeff Samardzija and Golden Tate), as Hunter does, is spectacular. With experience in the offense and enough talent to exploit his opportunity, Hunter could be a surprise.
Who the Irish unearth to be the key #2 target is in question. There's no guarantee anyone will separate themselves, and perhaps the Irish will end up having a de facto committee at the spot as they did last year with Robinson and Brown. However, if someone does end up stepping forward and seizing the spot, I believe the Irish offense will be better for it. Such an emergence would enable Carlisle and other slot receivers to become even more dangerous as opponents would have to gear up to stop not just Fuller, but the second big target as well. If said target isn't a tight end, that gives the Irish even more weapons to deploy at that position. We know Malik Zaire can use all the help he can get in his first season as the starter. Who's going to be the guy to give it to him?