In order for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to continue to close the gap with the nation’s elite, the Fighting Irish must improve their offensive output. The Oklahoma Sooners, Alabama Crimson Tide, and Clemson Tigers ranked 1st, 3rd, and 4th, respectively in points per game last season. Meanwhile, Notre Dame came in at 31st in the country in that department, about two touchdowns per game less than the other three College Football Playoff teams from 2018. An explosive offense does not guarantee a national championship. However, when the Irish have played against elite teams in recent years, it is painfully evident that they are still lacking game breaking talent on the offensive side.
Chase Claypool and Jafar Armstrong both have the potential to become the big threat playmakers this offense lacked the previous season. Let’s take a look at who is more valuable to the 2019 team.
Perhaps one of the more startling statistics for the Notre Dame offense is that they have not had a 1,000 yard receiver since Will Fuller in 2015. Chase Claypool hopes to be the guy to put an end to this streak during the 2019 season. Claypool enters his senior season with a ton of hype but very little production to show for it. He has tallied 84 receptions for 1,122 yards and six touchdowns total the past three seasons.
Claypool’s biggest hurdle to success appears to be his mentality and attention to detail. Chip Long stated, “I really don’t talk numbers with Chase. Because, if Chase is focused, he’s going to dominate, and that’s where he is right now.” This season Claypool will move from the field wide receiver to the boundary, the position occupied by Miles Boykin last season.
Claypool possesses elite physical characteristics, standing 6’ 4’’ and weighing 229 pounds. Despite his build, he moves like a fleet-footed slot receiver. Breaking down the numbers from last season, Claypool actually outperformed Boykin in the second half of the season. Claypool tallied 30 catches for 422 yards, whereas Boykin caught 26 passes for 375 yards. However, Boykin did catch 5 touchdowns compared to Claypool’s 2 touchdowns.
Outside of Claypool and 5th year senior Chris Finke, there are numerous question marks. Kevin Austin appears to be on the Kevin Stepherson and Dexter Williams route of opening the year on a 4 game suspension. Others that figure to see playing time include: Michael Young, Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys, and Javon McKinley. Although there is plenty of talent in that group, they contributed virtually nothing on offense last season. Claypool will be expected to carry the load throughout the season as the other receivers continue to gain experience.
If Claypool can continue to mentally dial in on a consistent basis, he has the ability to have the most productive season for an Irish wide receiver since Will Fuller.
Jafar Armstrong was hardly a household name heading into the season opener with the Michigan Wolverines last season. Armstrong switched positions in the spring from wide receiver to running back and was making his first start against the vaunted Wolverine defense. He scored two touchdowns that evening and appeared to be headed for a huge season.
Unfortunately, injuries derailed most of his 2018 campaign. A knee infection cost him three games in the middle of the season and sustained an ankle injury which limited his explosiveness down the stretch. Dexter Williams became the unquestioned starter after returning from his suspension, and Armstrong became an afterthought. Armstrong finished the season with 72 carries, totaling 383 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns, and 151 yards receiving.
Heading into the 2019 season, Brian Kelly is hoping to replicate the success Theo Riddick and C.J. Prosise enjoyed at the running back position following a position switch from wide receiver. Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr. look to be the 1-2 punch that the Irish are planning on heading into the season with. Jones Jr. has been a dependable back during his time in South Bend but lacks the elite athleticism that Armstrong possesses. Other options in the backfield include sophomores Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister and freshman Kyren Williams.
Thanks to his background, Jafar Armstrong should provide Chip Long a potential weapon out of the backfield as a receiving option. Although Armstrong will be splitting carries with Jones Jr., he will be counted upon to provide big plays and help carry the load for the Irish Offense.
In my opinion, Claypool is hands down more important to the offense this season. A true number one receiver is hard to come by in college football. Claypool possesses all the physical tools needed to evolve into that type of wide receiver this year. With Cole Kmet’s injury, Claypool will be depended on as Ian Book’s primary target. Armstrong will be an important cog, no doubt. However, with a veteran offensive line, an injury or underachievement from Armstrong would not be as catastrophic to the Irish offense.