Michael Mayer

Notre Dame incoming freshman tight end Michael Mayer was named Kentucky’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2019.

MICHAEL MAYER | TIGHT END | 6-5 | 235

THE “IT” FACTOR

Even for a program that touts itself as Tight End U, Notre Dame adding Mayer brought rare recruiting pedigree to the position. No tight end to sign with the Irish under head coach Brian Kelly has finished with a higher overall ranking in his class on 247Sports (No. 23) and Rivals (No. 36) than Mayer. The Kentucky’s 2019 Gatorade Player of the Year also impressed against elite competition in camp settings and helped Park Hills (Ky.) Covington Catholic High to a 44-1 record and two state championships.

HOW HE PROJECTS LONG TERM

Starting when the Dallas Cowboys selected Anthony Fasano in 2003, nine straight season-opening tight ends for the Irish have been drafted into the NFL. Not only is Mayer expected to extend that streak, but he’s also projected by some recruiting analysts to be an eventual All-American and first-round NFL Draft pick. Seeing the field as a freshman could put Mayer on pace to have the most productive career for a Notre Dame tight end since All-American Tyler Eifert (2009-12).

WHERE HE PLUGS IN NOW

Cole Kmet departing early for the 2020 NFL Draft improved Mayer’s chances of playing early. Notre Dame also plans to continue involving multiple tight ends in its offense under new coordinator Tommy Rees. So even if Mayer does not secure a featured role, he’s still capable of receiving significant time. Mayer brings impressive athleticism with his 6-5, 235-pound frame and could emerge as a playmaker with his ability to come down with 50-50 balls.

CHRIS TYREE | RUNNING BACK | 5-10 | 190

Chris Tyree

Notre Dame incoming freshman running back Chris Tyree clocked a 4.37 40-yard dash time at The Opening Finals in July of 2019.

THE “IT” FACTOR

In helping land Tyree, Lance Taylor added much-needed speed in his first recruiting cycle as Irish running backs coach. None of Notre Dame’s other six running backs and maybe only a few players total rival Tyree’s speed. He clocked a 4.37 40-yard dash at The Opening Finals last summer. Tyree also flashes the lateral quickness and hands necessary to make plays in space and when motioning to the slot.

HOW HE PROJECTS LONG TERM

The elite speed that Tyree brings will be useful no matter what Notre Dame’s depth chart looks like. Year three and onward, though, looks promising for Tyree’s chances of becoming a featured running back. As a junior, Tyree would be set to compete for snaps against C’Bo Flemister, Jahmir Smith, Kyren Williams and potential additions via recruiting or the transfer portal. Those three running backs have not produced much in meaningful situations to date.

WHERE HE PLUGS IN NOW

How Notre Dame used speedy wide receiver Braden Lenzy last season seems like a fitting role for Tyree in 2020. Jet sweeps, operating as a decoy and keeping the defense honest are meaningful ways Tyree could contribute. At 5-10, 190 pounds, Tyree may need to add strength and grow into his body more. The durability issues Tyree experienced as senior at Chester (Va.) Thomas Dale High may return to him if he assumes a heavy workload.

JORDAN JOHNSON | WIDE RECEIVER | 6-2 | 185

Jordan Johnson

Notre Dame incoming freshman wide receiver Jordan Johnson ranked as the No. 28 overall player nationally in the 2020 recruiting class, per Rivals.

THE “IT” FACTOR

Measurables are not what makes Johnson a five-star wide receiver in his class, per Rivals. He’s not a towering receiver and does not impress with a stopwatch quite like Tyree. Johnson’s skills are more nuanced, like with blocking and route running. Not having a glaring weakness and embracing the smaller details makes the St. Louis De Smet product a potential plug-and-play option.

HOW HE PROJECTS LONG TERM

Rivals expects Johnson to turn out similar to Michael Floyd, Notre Dame’s all-time leader in career receptions (271), receiver yards (3,686) and receiving touchdowns (37). At No. 27, Floyd is the only Irish wide receiver to accrue a higher overall ranking in his class on Rivals than Johnson (No. 28). A logjam at receiver may keep Johnson from starting a game in his first couple seasons, but he seems capable of ascending the depth chart.

WHERE HE PLUGS IN NOW

That juniors Braden Lenzy, Kevin Austin Jr. and Lawrence Keys III are the expected starters for the foreseeable future may have kept Johnson from receiving the hype to match his five-star rating. Graduate transfer Ben Skowronek and graduate senior Javon McKinley are also challenging for time at outside receiver. Johnson could conceivably redshirt as a freshman, though his recruiting ranking suggests he will produce early.

XAVIER WATTS | WIDE RECEIVER | 6-0 | 195

Xavier Watts

Wide receiver Xavier Watts (21) came to Notre Dame in January as an early-enrolled freshman.

THE “IT” FACTOR

The loose hips and toughness Watts displayed as a defensive back for Omaha (Neb.) Burke (58 tackles, five interceptions, 4.5 tackles for a loss and a pick-six in 2019) played a role in Notre Dame considering him as a top wide receiver target. Those attributes should blend well with his athleticism and route-running skills. Though Watts will begin on offense, his versatility and fluidity may tempt the Irish to use him on defense and/or as a kick returner.

HOW HE PROJECTS LONG TERM

From Notre Dame’s 2020 recruiting class, Watts figures to be a popular candidate to outperform his recruiting ranking. At which position would Watts outperform his three-star ranking on Rivals is the question. The Irish have more immediate needs at corner and safety than receiver. How Notre Dame recruits those positions in the coming cycles and roster attrition could dictate Watts’ future position.

WHERE HE PLUGS IN NOW

The lack of returning experience at receiver does not mean Watts will see the field early. Junior Lawrence Keys III caught 13 passes last season, the most among returning Irish wide receivers. Yet Watts may find difficulty if he’s competing for time at outside receiver. A move to the slot or defense may translate to more immediate opportunities. Regardless, he’s expected to compete for time on special teams early.

ALEX PEITSCH | LONG SNAPPER | 6-1 | 215

Alex Peitsch

Long snapper Alex Peitsch is on target for an early opportunity at Notre Dame.

THE “IT” FACTOR

Every starting long snapper to sign under head coach Brian Kelly has been awarded a Notre Dame scholarship. Special teams coordinator Brian Polian looked to continue that tradition by offering Peitsch after evaluating him in April of 2019. Peitsch shows the accuracy and mechanics necessary to prove that value. He ranked No. 1 at the position nationally in his class, per Kohl’s Kicking Camps.

HOW HE PROJECTS LONG TERM

Notre Dame long snapper John Shannon declined a fifth-year option for 2020 to pursue a career with the Chicago Police Department. That put Peitsch in position to become a four-year starter. Shannon claimed the 2019 Patrick Mannelly Award, which recognizes the nation’s best long snapper. Starting as a true freshman places Peitsch in position to achieve similar success.

WHERE HE PLUGS IN NOW

Long snappers are hardly noticed unless they make mistakes. Peitsch starting immediately risks the possibility that he will commit the occasional error in year one. Specializing at the position in the seventh grade before emerging as a three-year starter for Washington (D.C.) St. John’s College High should help Peitsch handle the learning curve. He must establish chemistry with his holder and adjust to tracking and tackling college punt returners.