Lawrence Keys adds finishing touch to Notre Dame's WR class

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

It was a crooked path to get there, but Notre Dame appears to have concocted one of its best wide receiver classes of the Brian Kelly Era.

On Wednesday, the last piece fell into place, with New Orleans burner Lawrence Keys committing to and signing with the Irish football program on the traditional National Signing Day.

Three other wide receivers standouts were among the 21 players ND inked during the new early signing period in December: 6-foot-3, 185-pound Kevin Austin of Coconut Creek, Fla.; 6-0, 175-pound Braden Lenzy from Tigard, Ore.; and 6-5. 205-pound Micah Jones from Gurnee, Ill.

Austin is the highest-rated among the four — No. 15 at his position nationally per and No. 88 overall, but the 5-11, 165-pound Keys and aspiring two-sport star Lenzy may have the least-impeded avenues among the four receivers to early playing time.

Elite speed is in demand in the 2018 offense, with sophomore-to-be Michael Young the returning wide receiver who matches that skill set, as do Keys and Lenzy. Lenzy, in fact, plans to run track at ND as well.

"Keys is an exciting ball player on offense and returning kicks,” CBS Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said of the McDonogh 35 High School standout.

“He's a four-plus stars guy. He's that talented. Keys could play slot back, running back, wide receiver, wing back and return kicks. He's one of the better athletes in Louisiana. That's a major catch for Notre Dame."

Not everyone is as high on Keys as Lemming. 247Sports slates him as the No. 79 wide receiver in the class. Rivals didn't include Keys on its list of the top 100 wide receivers.

The Irish had to fend off late recruiting pitches from Texas and SMU, schools to which Keys took official visits late in the recruiting cycle. Homestate LSU, Michigan, Miami (Fla.), Georgia, Ole Miss, Oklahoma and Texas A&M were among the other schools on Keys’ impressive offer list.

Four wide receivers left the Irish roster after the 2017 season, though only one — oft-injured Arizona State grad transfer Cam Smith — exhausted his eligibility.

Junior Equanimeous St. Brown, the team’s leading receiver, opted to be an early entry in the 2018 NFL Draft. Fellow junior C.J. Sanders, diminished in his offensive role but ND’s top kickoff return man, will transfer.

Sophomore Kevin Stepherson, ND’s third-leading receiver and top deep threat, was dismissed last month. He had been Notre Dame’s stretch-the-field receiver the past couple of seasons after Will Fuller was an NFL Draft early entry and first-round pick following the 2015 season.

When he arrives in June, Keys will get his first shot to show how his speed may translate to the college level.

ND Insider Premium subscribers can read a full recap, including quotes from Notre Dame's coaches, of National Signing Day here.

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Below are senior highlights of Keys via Hudl.

We got the ...LK3 that is.

The Louisiana native was born on the Bayou but @LawrenceKeys_ is destined for the Bend...South Bend that

— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) February 7, 2018

He can make people miss tackles in a phone booth.@Lawrencekeys_ is different.

A rare breed who embraces being outside of his comfort zone and takes on challenges both academically and athletically like few

— Del alexander (@dalex3333) February 7, 2018

Three-star wide receiver Lawrence Keys announced his commitment on National Signing Day. (Photo courtesy of Student Sports)