Notre Dame has to replace a ton of production and snaps this year, to say nothing of the impact of losing an All-American like Will Fuller. Most everyone loves the talent coming up at receiver but not all of it will be here for the spring.
Returning Snaps from 2015: Hunter (329), Robinson (253), St. Brown (41), Sanders (29)
No Snaps Last Year: Holmes, Boykin
Lost Snaps: Fuller (822), Brown (560), Carlisle (412)
Early Enrollee: Stepherson
Summer Arrival: McKinley, Claypool
Rebuild or Re-load?
We're talking about spring so we're kind of contractually obligated to steer towards the positive but that's 73% of last year's snaps no longer on the team. Not since the loss of Michael Floyd has it felt like the Irish had to move on to such a different receiver corps heading into a new season. Plus, Fuller was in the ballpark of Floyd as a dominant college player AND Notre Dame is losing Brown and Carlisle's production too.
This spring will be a good time to take stock on where this unit is going to be headed into the summer. Do the four remaining who received snaps last year step up and be the next line in playmakers? Or will we be coming out of spring with a lot of questions at several positions and more of a focus on the talent at running back?
Many eyes will be on Hunter and Robinson as the elder statesmen of the receivers. My biggest questions for these two are whether Hunter can blossom into a legit number one receiver and if Robinson can take over the Chris Brown role of quality second receiver with exceptional leadership skills.
Corey Holmes was able to redshirt in 2015 after playing sparingly in 2014 so he still has 3 years of eligibility left. Outside of Hunter and Robinson the Irish are looking to use a redshirt sophomore, two sophomores, a redshirt freshman, and three true freshmen. Robinson and Hunter have to put their (one) foot down as the unquestionable leaders and best players this spring or else Notre Dame will be asking a lot from athletes who have played very little or not at all yet.
Another interesting dynamic for the spring will be the absence of Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool as incoming freshmen. We'll get to see where Kevin Stepherson stands as an early enrollee but McKinley and Claypool might have, pound for pound, the most talent on the roster for this position.
This has me wondering if receiver will be a big question mark that changes considerably once fall camp begins and these two highly rated freshmen add their mark.
Stuck in the Middle
Can we talk about the size at this position? Robinson, St. Brown, Boykin, McKinley, and Claypool are all differing versions of big receivers. Hunter and Holmes are more average size, while Stepherson is on the smaller side and Sanders is really small.
With so much size that should allow Hunter to play in the slot but who knows how permanent that would ever be. We do know that Kelly & Co. love to move him around so it'll be interesting to see how many reps he's eating up in the slot versus playing on the outside.
The spring will also be a good audition for C.J. Sanders who made his mark as a freshman in the return game, has shown excellent burst and speed, but is still an unknown quantity as a receiver. Does he have good hands? Can he run good routes out of the slot? Will he be a difference maker that forces Hunter outside?