On National Signing Day, we gave a review of the 2016 class and our scores for each player. Yesterday, we talked about the offensive backfield; today, we're going to dive a bit deeper into the receivers. Enjoy!
The transcript of Coach Brian Kelly's press conference on national signing day can be found here.
Finally, before we get into the guys who did actually sign, obviously we're all aware that five-star Demetris Robertson is still out there, with a decision expected in the next week or two. When we put the overall sheet together we did grade him, but since he didn't sign he won't be in this breakdown.
If When we put his commitment post up, we'll include the grades in there.
|Irish Wide Receiver Signees
Official OFD Recruit Grading Scale:
95-100: Elite impact freshman with All-American potential
90-94: Multi-year starter with All-conference potential
85-89: Eventual starter with chance to play as underclassman
80-84: Raw prospect with decent potential but a couple years away from impact
75-79: Likely a backup
70-74: Reach by the coaching staff
Note: All Height/Weight times as listed on UND.com
WR Javon McKinley
OFD Average: 92.3
He's not quite at the level of Michael Floyd as a prospect, but he has drawn a lot of comparisons to #3 (#15, you say? I don't get it) and they're not entirely off-base. McKinley is not quite as strong and not quite as fast as Floyd, but he's not far behind - and his performances against some of the best teams in California, meaning some of the best teams in the country, are evidence of it. He's a polished receiver with an advanced understanding of route running, body control, and catching, plus he's a physical guy who loves to mix it up with or without the ball. Even as a freshman, at 6'2" and 205 pounds now and with his physical mentality I'd expect him to be able to take on press coverage, which will give the staff the versatility to play him at any of the three receiver positions. With who's coming in and who we already have, Denbrock and Sanford should have a lot of fun designing the passing game next year.
He's polished, productive, and a playmaker--that jumps off the screen watching him play football. There aren't many areas McKinley needs to improve in order to excel in college. Maybe not quite great speed but a deceptive burst for his size that can create separation after catching the ball. Very sharp route runner with good ball skills. Utilizes the stiff arm well and can fight for extra yards. McKinley really excels using his vision in traffic--just a natural high IQ when it comes to getting the ball in his hands and making plays. Overall, he has a skill-set that seems to translate really well to forcing his way on to the field as a freshman. Maybe not quite as big or physical but reminds me a little bit of Michael Floyd in the sense of ready to play as a freshman. He dealt with nagging injuries as a senior which appeared to be the main reason his production was cut in half from the previous season. But his junior year was one of the most prolific in California state history. I would agree he's not a 5-star can't-miss type of prospect, however, he's pretty close to that level and in most cycles he's easily the future No. 1 receiver for a top program. His stock was through the roof about 15 months ago during his junior year but with the injuries, being limited at The Opening, and those lowered stats as a senior McKinley took a little tumble. He asserted himself during all-star week and as I said he's closer to a 5-star talent than an average 4-star prospect.
Jamie U: 93
McKinley is being brought in to play the "W' position and I think it's a great fit for him. That's where Chris Brown played and to me, McKinley has a lot of Brown's tenacity to his game. He can be a dominant blocker in the run game and that is something that Mike Denbrock's wide receiver group takes a lot of pride in. That can help him compete early, but it's his strength and ability to run after the catch that can make him a better version of Brown at Notre Dame. There was a question of his production dropping off as a senior and it did with his catches. The one thing that didn't drop off was his yards per reception. It was the exact same (over 20 per reception) despite a lot more coverage rolled his way. Denbrock has done a tremendous job developing receivers while at Notre Dame and I can't wait to see what he can do with McKinley during his college career.
WR Chase Claypool
OFD Average: 90.0
I'd call him a grizzly, but that sells him short on agility (sorry, Larz). Claypool is an absurdly athletic prospect - even as raw as he is, he was a nightmare coverage assignment at The Opening. He basically played against teams full of little brothers, which makes it hard to judge his true ability, but as noted he looked pretty good against the real competition too. I'm sure VanGorder won't stop lobbying for a move to defense, but I'll lay down a prop bet here that he stays at receiver and makes us wonder why we ever thought of moving him. He might have have a bigger adjustment to this level than anyone else in this class, but he also arguably has the best physical tools, and even as raw as he is as a receiver he showed fantastic instincts - body control, catching with his hands, high pointing, you name it - that should make him very difficult to cover. Notre Dame could conceivably go four wide with all four guys 6'5" - Claypool, Corey Robinson, Equanimeous St. Brown, and Alize Jones - and two in Claypool and St. Brown who could also run by you. That's absurd, and should give opposing defensive coordinators fits.
There's very little to be gained watching him play high school football in Canada. Too big, too strong, too fast. Just as Claypool emerged on the national scene he performed really well at The Opening which was a big test for him. I'm curious to see how he performs at the next level once the physical playing field is leveled. He should have an interesting first few months at Notre Dame--he could be a revelation or maybe a little more of a project. Due to his performance up in Oregon this past summer there will be many who want him at receiver. However, he measured in at 6'6" and ran a 4.66 in the 40-yard dash. This kid has to play defense. There may be a chance he's a NFL superstar wideout. Still, the defense needs more help and there's plenty of potential on that side of the ball, too. We're always complaining about not being able to get the big-time pass rushers. Well, here you go! We've got someone with that DNA coming aboard right now. I understand he's a safer bet at receiver and vastly more likely to be an impact player early in his career on offense. But, there are multiple 4-star receivers in this class, just like there were last year, and just like there will be next year. Can you say the same thing about athletic and long defenders on the edge for the defense?
Jamie U: 91
There isn't a player with greater upside in this class than Claypool. I would worry a lot more about him playing against weaker competition if he didn't dominate like he does. I also saw him compete twice in person at the Sound Mind Sound Body camp and The Opening and he made plays against some of the best prospects in the nation. He didn't just fit in. He stood out. I understand why some may want to move him to defense, but I don't understand why when Notre Dame is already bringing in very good players in this class at the position people want to move him to. I'd much rather see him play offense because I know he has special ball skills and has the tools to become matchup nightmare in the red zone. Imagine having him in on the field at the same time as a couple of other jumbo receivers like Myles Boykin and Equanimeous St. Brown? I don't think we'll see as many complaints about getting into the end zone if that's the case.
WR Kevin Stepherson
OFD Average: 83.7
I was really curious to see how Stepherson would do at Irish Invasion, given that we knew very little about him at that point. By the end of the event, he had established himself as clearly the best receiver there and a difficult assignment for any of the cornerbacks in attendance, who were mostly top 250 players. The story is that the staff had heard of Stepherson, and on a recruiting trip down south Booker stopped by one of his practices to see what the deal was. Booker left that practice and immediately phoned home saying we need to offer Stepherson and offer him now. We did, and the rest is history... He doesn't have the highest ceiling of any of the guys in this receiver class, but, even including McKinley, he could be the most polished receiver and has the potential to be one those guys who becomes a pain in the butt for every team we play. I could see him developing into TJ Jones Lite.
Stepherson was one of the early 'out of nowhere' commits after he got a long audition in front of the coaches back in the off-season. He's got a nice Michael Floyd-eqsue hesitation move off the line when he's pressed by a corner. When not pressed he doesn't explode off the line the way I'd like for a guy his size--he's much more of a patient receiver. Stepherson is really thin and does not look remotely ready for Notre Dame's schedule so being an EE will be important early in his career. I like his toughness for his size, though. He doesn't exhibit much wiggle for a smaller playmaker but fights hard for extra yardage and isn't afraid to put his head down when needed. Playing against a decent schedule for Florida standards he flashes good speed. Realistically, a hair on either side of 6-0 and about 165 pounds I would like to see more athleticism and big-play ability. I get the sense that with his skinny genes and very young-looking face that he'll be a late bloomer from a physical standpoint--reminds me from a physical standpoint of Everett Golson coming out of high school. I can see how he will be compared to Will Fuller as a skinny and young looking kid who didn't possess blazing speed in high school, either. He's one of the more intriguing prospects in the class for me because some people swear, based largely on watching him in a camp setting, that he's a Top 150 kind of a player. That type of talent does not come across in his high school highlights in my opinion, however, he's the type of prospect who I'm fine with adding to the class, especially since so many receivers just left South Bend and there's a real need for smaller slot-type athletes. For a ceiling, I can see comparisons to Rashad Greene from Florida State.
Jamie U: 84
He has very good speed, but is not a true burner the way a Will Fuller is. He wins more with being able to explode out of his breaks. He does a great job changing speeds and that reminds me of Fuller a bit because I think he can separate late in his route. He has great footwork and shows advanced skills as a route runner at this state in his development. Most importantly, he is a natural hands catcher. I don't see him as an above the rim who can go up and high point the football. He'll win more with short area quickness and his feet. I'm not sure how big he is going to get, but he needs to add strength in order to play every down for Notre Dame. He is a willing blocker, but I think he will struggle to block in the run game early in his career.