Recruiting Reset: With size in hand, Notre Dame left looking for speed at wide receiver

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

The numbers might not add up, but don’t expect Notre Dame to stop recruiting wide receivers in the 2018 class anytime soon.

No position on the Irish roster may be more logjammed than wide receiver. The current team includes 12 players on scholarship with only one wide receiver, graduate transfer Cameron Smith, in his last year of eligibility.

Even if Equanimeous St. Brown forgoes his senior season to enter the NFL Draft, the Irish will still have 10 scholarship players returning. Add in the two commitments in the 2018 class, and Notre Dame’s back up to 12 scholarship wide receivers.

But follow head coach Brian Kelly’s tenure at Notre Dame and you'll see an insistence on bringing in multiple wide receivers annually. In the eight recruiting classes that have signed with the Irish since Kelly came to Notre Dame, only one class (2010) included just one wide receiver (DaVaris Daniels). Two other classes (2014 and 2017) consisted of two wide receivers and the rest have included three or more.

The need comes hand-in-hand with regular attrition at the position. Of the 21 wide receivers to sign during Brian Kelly’s tenure, six didn’t finish their careers playing football at Notre Dame.

A year after the Irish signed just two wide receivers, the coaching staff will continue to push for a third commitment to join Micah Jones and Kevin Austin in the 2018 class.

Jones and Austin will bring size and strength to South Bend. Finding some speed to add to the rotation remains the biggest need left for Notre Dame to address.

Commitments

• Micah Jones, 6-5, 202; Gurnee (Ill.) Warren Township: Jones has been a frequent visitor at Notre Dame since his sophomore year. The following summer, the Irish sized up Jones at the Irish Invasion and extended the tall receiver a scholarship offer. Eight months later, he committed to that offer.

Jones became the first wide receiver to commit to Notre Dame’s 2018 class during a February flurry of additions to the class. Jones chose the Irish over offers from Nebraska, Michigan State, Ole Miss, Iowa and others, but he always seemed destined for Notre Dame.

Jones brings a tantalizing frame to the wide receiver position. With Equanimeous St. Brown (6-5), Chase Claypool (6-4) and Miles Boykin (6-4) on Notre Dame’s current roster, the preference for tall receivers has been made known. Yet size will only get a wide receiver so far.

What has separated St. Brown from his other tall teammates to date is his ability to create space between himself and defenders. That will be the toughest challenge for Jones.

Working with inaccurate quarterbacks, Jones caught only 22 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns as a junior. Creating more separation will allow even shaky quarterbacks to have confidence in delivering Jones the ball.

The recruiting rankings industry hasn’t come anywhere close to a consensus on Jones. Rivals ranks him as a four-star recruit and the No. 35 wide receiver in the 2018 class. 247Sports slates him as a three-star recruit and No. 128 at wide receiver.

The wide gap only adds to the question of what exactly Notre Dame will be getting from Jones when he arrives on campus.

• Kevin Austin, 6-3, 185; Coconut Creek (Fla.) North Broward Prep: Recognizing talent early paid off in a big way for Notre Dame with Austin. When the Irish extended the Florida product an offer last August, he was a borderline four-star recruit heading into his junior year. He’s practically been on the rise ever since then.

Following a junior season with 41 receptions for 1,021 yards and 13 touchdowns, Austin continued to climb in recruiting rankings. His performance at The Opening Finals and the Rivals Five-Star Challenge in recent months continued his ascent. He hit his peak earlier this week when Rivals named Austin the No. 13 wide receiver in the 2018 class. 247Sports has slated Austin slightly lower as the No. 20 wide receiver, but he’s solidified himself as a talented four-star recruit.

While Austin was impressing national analysts, Notre Dame was securing his commitment. Austin shared his decision Aug. 11 with the Irish beating out Miami, Tennessee and Duke.

Austin doesn’t have blazing speed, but he has shown the ability to beat defenders in one-on-one coverage regularly. He’s explosive in his routes and with the ball in his hands. He has the potential to be both a possession receiver and big-play threat.

New Irish wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander made his first big recruiting splash at Notre Dame in pushing for Austin. Alexander made it clear to Austin how much of a priority he was to the Irish class.

But Notre Dame will want to keep a close eye on Austin. He’s previously stated a desire to make all five of his official visits. The Irish will have to make sure they keep impressing him.

Remaining targets

• Geordon Porter, 6-2, 175; Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Etiwanda: If speed is what the Irish need, Porter should be near the top of the list. The three-star recruit has the track times to show it. In the spring, Porter was clocked in the 100-meter dash in 10.68 seconds.

Porter named a top seven of Notre Dame, California, Arizona State, UCLA, Utah, Colorado and Alabama in July. He’s already scheduled an official visit to Notre Dame for the Georgia game Sept. 9.

As a junior, Porter caught 33 passes for 512 yards and five touchdowns, rushed for one touchdown and returned a kickoff for another.

247Sports: Three stars, No. 53 WR. | Rivals: Three stars, No. 67 WR.

• Lawrence Keys III, 5-11, 160; New Orleans McDonogh 35: Notre Dame’s pursuit of speed includes the targeting of Keys. The three-star recruit is elusive with the football and projects as an ideal slot candidate.

Keys was one of several recruits to share his written scholarship offer from Notre Dame on Aug. 1. On Wednesday night, the Irish made his top six.

Notre Dame made Keys’ Twitter list alongside LSU, TCU, Houston, Auburn and Nebraska.

247Sports: Three stars, No. 60 WR. | Rivals: Three stars, No. 95 WR.

• Amon-Ra St. Brown, 5-11, 175; Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei: Any team would be happy to add the youngest St. Brown brother to their roster. Even if the Irish land a third wide receiver, they’d find room for St. Brown.

Despite having the advantage of his oldest brother on campus, Notre Dame shouldn’t be considered the favorite to land Amon-Ra St. Brown. This summer, St. Brown said he would make official visits to Notre Dame and Stanford and that Michigan and Ohio State were pushing hard to receive visits as well. USC received a big advantage when St. Brown’s quarterback, J.T. Daniels, committed to its 2019 class.

Amon-Ra doesn’t have the same height as Equanimeous, but he’s arguably the most explosive wide receiver in the country.

Rivals: Five stars, No. 1 WR. | 247Sports: Five stars, No. 2 WR.

• Chase Cota, 6-4, 195; South Medford (Ore.) High: Pulling Cota away from his father’s legacy at Oregon remains a tall task, but Cota has scheduled his second visit to Notre Dame of the year.

The four-star recruit attended the Blue-Gold Game in April, and he plans to return for the Georgia game for an official visit.

The Irish find themselves in a seven-team race for Cota that includes Oregon, USC, UCLA, Alabama, California and Georgia.

247Sports: Four stars, No. 12 WR. | Rivals: Four stars, No. 21 WR.

• Kamryn Babb, 6-2, 197; St. Louis Christian Brothers: Babb has been on campus before, and he said this summer he’d like to return. But until he schedules a follow-up visit, Babb can only be considered a longshot.

The four-star recruit included Notre Dame in a top nine alongside LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss, Ohio State, USC, Missouri, Michigan and Nebraska.

247Sports: Four stars, No. 16 WR. | Rivals: Four stars, No. 34 WR.

Missed targets

• Braden Lenzy, 6-0, 160; Tigard (Ore.) High: Lenzy was Notre Dame’s answer to its search for speed. He committed to play football and run track at Notre Dame in February, but he flipped his commitment in June to do the same at Oregon.

Both football programs were coming off of frustrating 2016 seasons, but the pull to stay home and be a part of a better track program eventually won out.

247Sports: Four stars, No. 8 ATH. | Rivals: Four stars, No. 13 ATH.

• Brian Hightower, 6-3, 195; Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy: Past recruiting success at IMG Academy allowed Notre Dame to draw Hightower’s interest early in his recruitment. The fact that Hightower’s wide receiver coach at the school was former Irish wide receiver Maurice Stovall didn’t hurt either.

Yet Hightower never followed through on a Notre Dame visit. He committed to Miami in March.

247Sports: Four stars, No. 21 WR. | Rivals: Four stars, No. 40 WR.

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Wide receiver commit Micah Jones spent his spring break at Notre Dame. (Photo courtesy of Daily Herald/Steve Lundy)

In the coming days, the ND Insider Recruiting Reset series will take a position-by-position look at Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts in the 2018 class. This is the third story of the series.

Quarterback: Early work paying off at QB

Running backs: Irish packing a powerful punch at RB