Star power has defined the position in four of Kelly’s five seasons at the helm – and the fifth featured an All-American tight end who served as the team’s go-to receiver throughout a championship run.
The Elite: Michael Floyd, Will Fuller, T.J. Jones – Each was the focal point of Kelly’s offensive attack, Floyd for two seasons and Jones as a senior in 2013. A rare four-year starter, Jones improved greatly as a junior (50 receptions for the 2012 Irish) then dominated as a senior, scoring 12 total touchdowns and earning the Monogram Club’s Team MVP award, only the seventh receiver to do so in program history. (Floyd won twice.)
Floyd accounted for 179 receptions and 22 total touchdowns (one rushing) in two seasons under Kelly and was light years ahead of most of his Notre Dame peers as a perimeter blocker. Whether you consider him the best or merely among the program’s legends at the position, no conversation of top skill position talent to make its way through South Bend is complete Floyd’s name.
-- Fuller already as the best downfield target of the trio; his 15 touchdown receptions tied a program record shared by Jeff Samardzija, Rhema McKnight, and Golden Tate. It marks the third highest total by a Notre Dame sophomore, trailing only Jerome Bettis (23 including the Sugar Bowl in 1991) and Allen Pinkett (20 including the Liberty Bowl in 1983).
Standout/Difference Maker: DaVaris Daniels – Choose your Irish epitaph for the enigmatic target: “What might have been? Or, “Oh that pesky playbook!” Regardless, Daniels should have been better, could have been great, but when he was fully engaged, he doubtless made a difference.
Quality Starter: Corey Robinson – Seems like a notch above his peers listed below, doesn’t he? Perhaps I’m projecting forward because of Robinson’s five touchdowns as a sophomore, but statistics aside, a major step forward in Robinson’s overall game as a true junior in 2015 is expected.
Aided the Cause: Robby Toma, C.J. Prosise, Amir Carlisle, John Goodman, Duval Kamara, Chris Brown, Theo Riddick (2010-2011), Daniel Smith – Smith forged a role as a perimeter blocker during his junior season of 2012 and the first half of his senior year before it was truncated by a broken ankle…Kamara served but one year under Kelly & Co. but when the staff began to trust him more late in the season, he thrived as a blocker in the team’s revamped run-first attack and also added a pair of notable touchdowns to seal a Senior Day upset of No. 15 Utah…
Goodman emerged as a fifth-year senior to make game/momentum-changing plays in 2012 wins over Purdue, Michigan State, and USC…Likewise, Notre Dame would not have beaten Purdue early in its run to 12-0 without Toma’s third-down contributions. One week later, Toma led the charge through the air with a game high five receptions in a mid-September upset win at Michigan State…
Riddick was far better as a running back/slot in 2012 than a true slot receiver in 2010-11 though he had a fine stretch in ’10 (33 receptions and three scores over four games) prior to suffering a severe ankle sprain…Prosise, Brown, and Carlisle continue to pen chapters in Irish lore with 2015 serving as the final season for the latter pair.
Couldn’t Carve A Niche: Shaquelle Evans, Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson – Both Neal and Ferguson transferred during the spring session following their freshmen seasons but both earned monograms for extensive work on special teams as rookies – Neal as the lead punt returner and Ferguson as a blocker on the kick return unit in 2012.
Evans left prior to the outset of the 2010 season after an on-field spat with Kelly. He went on to star at UCLA as a senior and fifth-year players, 2012-13.
No Notre Dame wide receiver that completed his eligibility during the Kelly era has completely flamed out. It’s a testament to the staff’s development, and, perhaps, its reliance on the position.
On Deck for 2015: Torii Hunter, Jr. – Was the feel-good story for 2014 after coming back from gruesome leg injury suffered at the outset of the 2013 calendar year. But Hunter’s mulligan is over: it’s time to accelerate his develop and make plays or be passed over by younger players. Period.
Opportunity knocks for the junior (redshirt-sophomore) in the slot with the part-time move of Prosise to running back while an opening at X receiver behind Fuller seems there for the taking as well.
Finding a Foothold this Fall? Justin Brent, Corey Holmes – To be blunt, it’s highly likely someone from this group and/or the one listed below (six overall players) will not finish his career at Notre Dame due to a lack of playing time – dog-eat-dog, as it should be at a top tier program.
Brent is penciled in as a backup W (behind Robinson/Brown) and Holmes a backup X (behind Fuller, perhaps Hunter).
On the Horizon: C.J. Sanders, Equanimeous St. Brown, Jalen Guyton, and Miles Boykin.
Why They’re No. 6: Because Michael Floyd, T.J. Jones, and Will Fuller exist, and each is well ahead of their respective top competitors at the next pair of position groups (RB and CB) in our series.
(If you choose to include Tyler Eifert as a “receiver” the group is easily atop the list. We’ve ranked him, appropriately, at his tight end position.)
Last season’s group exceeded expectations and would have been dynamite if not for an overwhelming case of the dropsies. Blocking needs improvement, but that was to be expected from a youth-filled unit that lost its best blocker, James Onwualu, to the other side of scrimmage.
Kelly and his staff have recruited the position at an elite level and the 2014 receivers arguably ranked as the most talented, deep pool of pass-catching targets in program history.
They lost nothing and gained a quartet of promising prospects for this fall.
On Tap: The seventh-best overall position group of the Kelly era…