Wide Receivers, 2012-13, and Beyond...Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly landed a quartet of four-star prospects with varied skill sets, size, and backgrounds at the position:
#1 -- Still Learning, Growing: 6'5" 190-pound neophyte Corey Robinson, an early enrollee and a player Kelly noted could present matchup problems for the defense as his game grows, but one still-learning in his transition from basketball/football player, to big-time football prospect.
"We think we've got a guy early on that has not even come close to tapping his potential," said Kelly of Robinson, a prospect that earned his fourth star from FOX Sports NEXT late in the recruiting cycle. "6'5"-plus receiver, and again, I love the fact that he's a guy that will go up and get the football. Strong hands, and he runs surprisingly at 6'5", 6'6", he runs very well."
#2 -- The Natural: 6'1" 180-pound Philadelphia native Will Fuller is the most natural pass-catcher Kelly and his staff have recruited to campus in their three full cycles. He appears to possess the best hands of the group and is well-versed in some of the position's finer points and nuance.
"The thing that really clearly stands out is his ball skills. He can run and catch the football," said Kelly of Fuller. Any time that we got a chance to observe him, he was running and catching, just terrific ball skills. We think as he develops physically, he also has that speed, that top end speed that can obviously impact football games."
#3 -- Player-in-waiting: A late-rising star thanks to his MVP effort at Nike's July event, The Opening, 6'0" 180-pound slot man Torii Hunter, Jr., will likely make his first on-field impact on the 2013 practice fields late next fall, the delay due to a broken femur suffered in all-star competition January 1.
"We think he's got that burst, if you will, that ability to take it and go from anywhere on the field," said Kelly. "We think he's an inside guy that can really make a difference for us within our offensive structure…"
(Kelly noted Fuller was "up and moving around" just two weeks after surgery.)
#4 -- Ready-Made-Frame: At a solidly-built 6'1 1/2" 210-pounds, January enrollee James Onwualu will have a chance to compete for a backup role from the outset this spring. He's easily the best player among the quartet after the catch, and like Fuller, capable of moving to the defensive backfield. It'd be a major surprise if the Cretin-Durham Hall (Saint Paul, MN) prospect didn't see the field on special teams next fall.
"This is a very talented player, very talented. If you watch him work out I know Coach (Paul) Longo has got our guys in there already really love his athletic ability," said Kelly of the physically advanced early enrollee. "Versatile player, he's going to be on the offensive side of the ball, but if we ever got into a bind he certainly could play defense, as well."
2013 Grade -- B+There's no certain star in the group, but prior to Hunter's injury, no question marks, either. Robinson is the only "project" but its hard to view a 6'5" near-200 pounder that can run and contort his body as anything but a player of promise.
Best Chance to Play Early: Onwualu due to his solid build and ability to hold up blocking on the perimeter; Fuller because he possesses the most valuable trait for a wide receiver: the ability to catch the football. Fuller gets my vote as the most likely to succeed among the quartet.
Quote to Note: "It's hard to say right now. I love the fact that he's long and would be a hard match up at the wide receiver position. I don't think we go into his career here thinking that he's going to move to tight end. I think we go in thinking that he's going to be that big wide receiver that makes it real difficult to cover, particularly in a short field."
-- Kelly on the possibility of Robinson moving to tight end during his career.
2013 Grade Coupled with 2012 -- B+The 2013 haul appears a touch better than last year's group if only for the extra prospect. Still, Chris Brown's raw speed coupled Davonte' Neal's purported ability in space (we've yet to see it), likely gives that 2012 twosome a leg up on any '13 pairing. Justin Ferguson played in all 13 games last season though as a special teamer.
Before projecting greatness for the '13 quartet next fall, Its important to remember how highly touted the '12 trio was last August, and that they finished with a combined four pass receptions and were targeted just 14 times (Brown 11) through a 13-game season.
B+ seems an appropriate grade for the 7-player haul with five 4-star and two 3-star prospects included.
Necessary additions for 2014 as a result: Notre Dame graduates two of its 11 scholarship receivers at season's end, though another senior, Luke Massa, is unlikely to return for a 5th-year.
That leaves eight pass catchers for 2014, with none exhausting eligibility at the end of the 2014 campaign.
Kelly already has three-star (likely to become a four-star prospect) Justin Brent pledge for the next cycle. A second pass-catcher is mandatory with a third an option pending the rest of the class, one that will be heavy along the lines of scrimmage and at inside linebacker.
Were needs filled at WR over the last two seasons?Without a doubt. Seven prospects, all with promise, with varied skill sets including suddenness (Neal, Hunter), raw speed (Brown), size (Onwualu, Ferguson, Robinson), and rare ball skills (Fuller).
Coupled with junior-to-be DaVaris Daniels, the 2014 and 2015 Irish perimeter will be dominated by Kelly's last two recruiting cycles.