The 2018 recruiting class for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is full of potential stars. When you take a look at the list of signees, the one thing that stands out is the overall balance of talent - not necessarily numbers at every position. In most cases with this class you have both quantity and quality.
Perhaps the most impressive group, other than the defensive backfield, is the receiving corp. In this group, there is one prospect that caught my eye early on in the process, and has the blend of tools to really impact the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team. His name is Lawrence Keys, and he is my favorite recruit out of the 2018 group. Let’s look at why.
Over the past few years in recruiting, one of the most consistently asked questions of any wide receiver recruit in an evaluation is “does he have Will Fuller speed”? There is more to any answer given to this question. Will Fuller had great timed speed. Fuller had a tremendous burst off the ball and accelerated well after the catch. Many variables go into a description of “Fuller” speed. Lawrence Keys, a 5-11 160 lb wide receiver out of New Orleans, Louisiana, is the closest thing to the Will Fuller clone that I have seen.
First off, go back to my description above regarding Fullers burst and acceleration. When you watch Keys' film, instantly you notice the quickness on the snap and how he transitions into top end speed after a few strides. Keys does this by using controlled strides to get into his routes with no wasted motion. He eases into his running motion by maintaining balance and creating a sudden burst, which often times surprises defenders who are trying to cover him. This allows Keys to get good separation and give his QB an easy target to pick up. In his film, teams played off with a large cushion to allow for his speed out of the block.
The beauty of what Keys does best is what a wide receiver coach terms as “rocking the corners” on his route. This simply means he has the ability to change his route speed quickly, thus rising past them while the corner is trying to adjust. This transition speed is so impressive with Keys that often, in his film, the corner would lose his stride in coverage trying to re-adjust to match Keys. Once Keys had reached his top end acceleration it would be classified as elite, he gained easy separation vertically and get into his stride effortlessly.
Another component in Keys' game is his route running skill. The kid looks to have been born with an innate ability to run routes correctly and with total body control. Other than the normal benefits of having a good route runner at receiver, the most important to me in the years I’ve coached is a wide-outs ability to make sharp in-breaking cuts in his routes. This pushes the defender into making early turns in coverage, thus giving Keys control of the route and a free release.
Keys also exhibited great skill in getting early leverage points against man coverage to generate a push to aid even more in his ability to separate. Keys tracks the ball well and catches it nicely with his hands. A natural motion to pull it to his body in unison with getting his speed up under him.
Another thing that really stuck out in Keys film review, is his ability and feel to know where the sideline is and use every inch of the field available to him. This is another element in his game that aids in the overall strength of Keys ability to gather himself after the catch (especially on screens), and change direction without gearing down in the move up field.
Grading Keys' film did not reveal much in terms of technical deficiencies in his game. The only thing is his route running is to improve a bit on the underneath to mid-level stuff. He has a tendency to drift a bit coming across the field, not getting good spacing from the linebackers in coverage. On the film most of his routes where definitely geared to his strong suit of getting downfield, screen or double-move hit-and go. The most prevalent thing here is just running the routes more regularly and adjust his already tremendous skill set to those intermediate routes will improve this facet of his game.
One thing that may be of concern now, but not necessarily in the future is his size. Listed at 160 pounds, he will definitely need to add some bulk and weight. If you look closely at Keys however, you’ll notice he does have a frame, especially in the shoulders, to add some mass and be able to carry it well. The key is definitely allow it to be good weight and not affect the speed that he possess. Once he is taking part in the Notre Dame weight and nutrition program I feel this issue will be handled effectively.
In my introduction I wrote that Lawrence Keys is my favorite recruit out of this class for the Fighting Irish. The reason for this euphoria is self evident. The kid is a play-maker. On any given play he has the potential to take it the distance. This big play ability adds so much to an offensive game-plan in that it “tilts” the field for you. The defense must constantly be aware of where Keys is, often exposing a weakness due to increased responsibility pushed to his side.
Keys is a perfect compliment to what Chip Long likes to do in his RPO packaging. The crisp stop and go route that Keys is a master of fits in nicely with the QB’s read to the play-side corner. Reacting to the corners coverage - be it up or off, Keys has the ability to stop and gather his route if the corner is playing off, and he has the quick burst to make a play if the corner comes up to strong and overplays the tackle. Off to the races at this point. And if the corner is pressing - that elite speed we talked about... put it to use on a go with the corner on an island. He runs a screen like your supposed to; catch the ball, find your footing, recognize the blocking and go. Keys does this without hesitation. He is a perfect fit for Long’s offensive system.
I’ll say it again. I just love this kid's route running ability. Some of it is coached, some of it from hard work, and a lot of it is just in his DNA. All of that makes him such a valuable find. You don’t find this much of a finished product out of high school who has the footwork already ingrained. I’m very excited to see what Lawrence Keys does in the future for the Notre Dame Figthing Irish.
We’ve been looking for a Will Fuller clone to show up for a while now. He’ll be here this summer.