We'll examine the flip side of that equation as well.
First in the series: Kelly's five best single-season wide receiver performances:
#1 -- TJ Jones 2013Which time frame showcased Jones' remarkable improvement more, his evolution from "Just Another Guy" status as a sophomore in 2011 to bona fide playmaker in 2012? Or his remarkable ascent to the offense's top dog from 2012 to 2013 thereafter?
Ask Jones and it's the former, but there's no doubt the latter season, his fourth as a starter and senior year in South Bend, was the best of his Irish career, and considering his performance when the Irish offense needed him most, the best of the Kelly era.
Jones posted 70 receptions, 1,108 yards, and 9 scores while adding two more rushing touchdowns -- one short of the team high.
The comparison in question isn't if Jones was a better football player or pro prospect than was Michael Floyd (listed twice below), but which player had a better individual season. Considering the circumstances around him, I side with Jones.
It's a worthwhile debate, but before you side with the obvious physical prowess possessed by Floyd, consider the following efforts by Jones vs. the nine best teams Notre Dame faced last fall:
-- 9 receptions, 94 yards, 1 TD at Michigan
-- 2 receptions, 15 yards, 1 TD, 1 pass interference drawn vs. Michigan State
-- 4 receptions, 42 yards, 1 TD vs. Oklahoma
-- 8 receptions, 135 yards, 1 TD vs. Arizona State
-- 4 receptions, 46 yards, 1 TD vs. USC
-- 4 receptions, 111 yards, 1 TD vs. Navy
-- 6 receptions, 149 yards, 1 TD plus 1 rushing TD (and a fumble) vs. Pittsburgh
-- 5 receptions, 95 yards vs. BYU
-- 6 receptions, 56 yards, 1 TD vs. Stanford
There's not a dud in the bunch among nine hard-fought contests.
#2 -- Michael Floyd 2011Three games with double digit receptions, four in excess of 100 yards with another trio topping 90, and 10 total touchdowns, Floyd's 2011 season ranks second only to Golden Tate (2009) as the most statistically impressive at Notre Dame since the dawn of the Charlie Weis era, when passing became the program's chief mode of offensive transport.
Floyd's staggering receptions total -- 100 -- is unlikely to be approached in the seasons that follow. He produced 1,147 yards and 9 TD plus a rushing score (he caught a pass just behind the line of scrimmage and ran it in) -- but it was his outstanding perimeter blocking (Jonas Gray owes his 79-yard touchdown sprint at Pittsburgh to Floyd's dominance) and consistency as a game day leader that stood out.
Floyd was the best blocking WR for the program since the Lou Holtz era
As well, Floyd's final season was the only year during his decorated career he was physically able to participate in every contest, including a 5-catch, 41-yard effort replete with a juggling touchdown catch and 41-yard punt return in the Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State.
Then why Jones over Floyd? Floyd's lone sub par outing was a major disappointment (four receptions, 28 yards vs. USC and press man coverage from 5'9" freshman Nickell Robey), and it's notable that Floyd in 2011, unlike Jones in 2013, benefitted greatly from a top-notch rushing attack -- and the presence of the indomitable Tyler Eifert as his sidekick.
And since we're forced to split hairs when comparing the two, it's likewise worthy to point out that a large portion of Floyd's numbers (27 receptions, 348 yards, and 3 TD) occurred in blowouts against Purdue, Navy, and Maryland -- teams that combined to win just nine games vs. FBS foes in 2011.
There's little question who'll be the better pro and none regarding which had the more productive college career, but Jones toiled alone in 2013. Floyd had plenty of help in his final season.
#3 -- Michael Floyd 2010As a junior, Floyd managed to play 12 of Notre Dame's 13 games in his first season under Kelly, that after missing all of five and a healthy chunk of four others during his first two years as a collegian.
His final numbers in 2010 -- 79, 1,025, 12 TD -- were accrued with the benefit of just one blowout victory against a sub par team (9-157-3 TD vs. Western Michigan) with Floyd producing vs. the best the Irish schedule had to offer: 6-81-2 TD vs. Michigan State; 8-110 yards vs. Stanford; 11-104-2 TD vs. Tulsa; 11-86-1 TD at USC; and finally, 6-109-2 TD against Miami in the Sun Bowl.
It's reasonable to argue Floyd's junior season was better than his senior year listed No. 1 above, but a missed game against Navy in 2010 left the Irish hamstrung offensively in a 35-17 defeat, and his always solid blocking improved to an elite level by 2011.
It's relevant to point out that 25 percent of his touchdowns scored for the season occurred against Western Michigan.
Regardless of his single-season rankings, Floyd ranks as the most destructive offensive force of the Kelly era.
Jones' game-winner vs. Stanford ranks among the biggest plays of Kelly's tenure
#4 -- TJ Jones 2012As a junior, Jones led the 12-1 Irish in chain-moving receptions and finished tied with Mackey Award Winner Tyler Eifert for the team lead in both catches (50, and receiving scores (4), while accruing 649 yards to Eifert's 685.
Jones played a crucial role in two of Notre Dame's most difficult victories, catching four passes for 52 yards and the game-winning overtime score (pictured above) vs. Stanford while securing five receptions for 53 yards and a score in a triple overtime win over Pittsburgh. He likewise led the squad in receptions and receiving yards in an epic upset win at Oklahoma (5-55) and added seven receptions for 90 yards in the BCS Championship loss to Alabama, though as with the rest of his teammates, most of those numbers were cosmetic.
Jones might have been just fourth-best skill position player (Eifert, Theo Riddick, Everett Golson) on the 2012 Irish, but his crunch-time contributions allowed the Irish to finish the regular season 12-0.
#5 -- DaVaris Daniels 2013Daniels served as the second option to TJ Jones throughout the season, starring in a close win (and what would have been a crippling loss) at Purdue (8 receptions, 167 yards, 2 TD), and in a Senior Day win over a quality Brigham Young team (6 receptions, 107 yards, 1 TD).
A two-game stretch vs. quality defenses (and cornerbacks) from Michigan State (3 receptions, 6 yards, one holding, one pass interference drawn) and Oklahoma (1 reception, 14 yards) showed the junior target had room to improve against the best of the best. Daniels was thrown to 16 times vs. the Spartans, 11 were incomplete and two others gained zero or negative yards.
Daniels came to play at Stanford in the regular season finale (5 receptions, 79 yards, a crucial TD) and made a major contribution in a 37-34 win against Arizona State as well, with three of his four receptions (67 yards) moving the chains on third down.
Final totals: 49 receptions, 745 yards, 7 touchdowns, though Daniels did not hit pay dirt following Game Three at Purdue until Game 10 at Pittsburgh.
Honorable Mention-- Daniels 2012: 31 receptions, 490 yards, no TD. Quality efforts vs. Oklahoma (two clutch third down grabs to move the chains) and Pittsburgh (7-86) in back-to-back victories that cemented the Irish as a title contender. He added four receptions for 70 yards in a 20-17 nail-biter over Pittsburgh and concluded the season with 6 receptions for 115 yards in the BCS Championship game.
-- Riddick 2010: Caught 37 passes for 395 yards and three scores in his first six games before missing most of the remainder of the regular season with a sprained ankle. In a four-game stretch between Game Three (Michigan State) and Game Six (Pittsburgh) Riddick collected 33 receptions for 343 yards and three touchdowns.
-- Riddick 2011: 38 receptions, 436 yards, three touchdowns with the highlight a six-catch, 62-yard, two touchdown performance that should have beaten Michigan in the Big House.
Likelihood of a 2014 receiver breeching the top 5: High. DaVaris Daniels should produce the fourth-best single season effort by a wide receiver in the Kelly era next fall.
Can another receiver join Daniels and place his name among the honorable mentions?
Next in our Best of the Best series: The Kelly era running backs.
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