Chase Claypool

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said wide receiver Chase Claypool looks more explosive in 2019.

Chase Claypool was 150 miles away from the NFL Combine, but his name kept being mentioned.

It had nothing to do with the video Claypool shared on Twitter of the Notre Dame football locker room celebrating Miles Boykin’s 40-yard dash on Saturday.

Rather Claypool’s name was often the answer to a popular question being asked to the former Irish players at the combine: Who will have a breakout season in 2019?

A day before Boykin completed his impressive combine workout, he picked Claypool as the leading candidate for a big year.

“I think he’s ready for the challenge,” Boykin said. “He’s probably going to take over the No. 1 receiver spot now. I’m looking forward to big things coming out of him.”

Perhaps that was too easy of a choice for Boykin since Claypool will be taking over his role in Notre Dame’s offense. The 6-foot-4, 229-pound Claypool should be a natural fit to replace him.

Claypool matching Boykin’s production last season (59 catches for 872 yards and eight touchdowns) doesn’t seem unreasonable. Claypool nearly had as many catches (50) last season, but he’ll need significant bumps in yards (639) and touchdowns (4) from last season. Claypool has only caught six touchdowns in his first three seasons with the Irish.

Former Irish tight end Alizé Mack also picked Claypool as his prediction for a breakout 2019 season.

“That dude’s a beast,” Mack said. “Physical. Very physical. He goes up and attacks the ball well. Strong hands. He’s a big guy, big target. Him and Ian (Book) are going to get along very well next year.”

All of Notre Dame’s receivers should benefit from quarterback Ian Book returning as a starter with significant experience. Barring a surprise or an injury, Book will hold onto the job unlike Brandon Wimbush at the start of last season.

Claypool had flashes of brilliance with both quarterbacks at Notre Dame. His career highs in catches (9) and receiving yards (180) came with Wimbush against Wake Forest in 2017. But Claypool found a rhythm with Book at the back end of the 2018 season. He caught at least five passes in five of the last seven games, and all four of his touchdowns last season were thrown by Book.

When Claypool puts his mind to it, he’s a punishing blocker as well.

“He’s always been a dominant guy in the run game,” Mack said. “Out wide he kills corners. Corners fear that. That’s definitely something that you love to see on tape. You know he’s going to make plays for sure.”

Former Irish cornerback Julian Love knows what it’s like to have to cover Claypool in practice. When asked which players will step up for Notre Dame this season, he gave some love to his fellow secondary members returning as starters: cornerback Troy Pride Jr. and safeties Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott. But Love mentioned Claypool before anyone else.

“Chase Claypool is poised to have a great season,” Love said. “He’s a guy who’s now taking over that receiver room. Him and Chris Finke are the leaders of that group.”

It’s safe to say that expectations are high for the Canadian product out of Abbotsford, British Columbia. Those three former teammates preparing for the NFL Draft endorsed Claypool with little hesitation.

Then back in South Bend after Notre Dame’s first practice of the spring on Saturday, head coach Brian Kelly joined the praise train.

“Chase Claypool looks faster, moves faster, catches the ball with speed out of the break,” Kelly said. “So he looks more explosive.”

That’s a healthy portion of hype six months before the season opener. One thing’s for certain: Come Sept. 2, Claypool won’t be sneaking up on Louisville.

tjames@ndinsider.com 574-235-6214 Twitter: @TJamesNDI

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