• Stats: Stepherson was credited with 33 receptions for 756 yards (22.9 per grab) and 11 touchdowns as a junior for the Buccaneers.
• Assets: A loping, long-striding athlete with take-the-top-off, deep-ball ability. Plays longer than his 6-foot-1 ½ listing. Outstanding burst off the line of scrimmage with good body lean, but really accelerates beyond intermediate depth.
Shows high-pointing ability with the hands to reach above his head and snatch the football with authority. A graceful, bounding athlete who makes leaping grabs look effortless. Offers the agility to make twisting, turning grabs while showing intuitive timing as to when to leave the ground. Also can turn underneath throws into big plays because of his escapability.
Has made his bones by getting deep, but also shows a very nice, consistent, effective out-cut route. Has had some success cutting it against the grain on underneath routes. Accustomed to playing in three- and four-wideout sets, including trips to one side.
• Room for improvement: As one accustomed to getting “deeper than the deepest” defensive back, Stepherson likely needs extensive route-running work, particularly on crossing routes. Not always consistent with his speed.
• Top offers: Notre Dame. ACC: Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia, Wake Forest; Pac 12: Colorado; SEC: Florida, LSU; Big 12: Iowa State, West Virginia; Big Ten: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Rutgers; AAC: South Florida; Interest: Cincinnati, Louisville, Missouri, Purdue, Central Florida.
• Why Notre Dame: Shortly after Friday’s Irish Invasion workout in Notre Dame Stadium and at the LaBar Practice Complex, Stepherson tweeted: “I’m officially committed to the University of Notre Dame.”
In April, Stepherson spoke with Scout.com regarding Notre Dame.
“I know they get great exposure,” Stepherson said. “I learned about their recent deal with Under Armour and I know they have a great academic program.”
Stepherson also is a logical fit in Notre Dame’s offense as he transitions from First Coast High School’s multiple wide-receiver sets.
“I love their style of offense and they let their receivers make plays,” said Stepherson of Notre Dame’s/Brian Kelly’s approach. “I love the coaching staff and head coach as well.”
• ND’s 2016 wide receiver recruiting: The Master List at receiver underwent some editing during the May recruiting period with four-star Austin Mack (Fort Wayne, Ind.) choosing Ohio State in June and Ahmir Mitchell (Egg Harbor City, N.J.) still trending away from the Irish. Four-star Donnie Corley (Detroit, Mich.) appears to be a lean toward Michigan State while three-star Joshua Hammond (Hallandale, Fla.) seems to be favoring Florida.
That prompted additional offers, including Damian Alloway (Fontana, Calif.) and Stepherson. The Irish remain in solid shape with four-star Javon McKinley (Corona, Calif.) while hoping for a fall official visit from Tre Nixon (Viera, Fla.).
• ND’s 2016 wide receiver depth chart: By 2016, Will Fuller could be in his last year, or an early departure for the NFL after ’15. Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle will be gone, and Corey Robinson likely will be in his fourth and final year in the program. Torii Hunter, Jr., will be down to two years. Justin Brent and Corey Holmes will be juniors with two years of eligibility remaining while sophomores Equanimeous St. Brown, Miles Boykin, Jalen Guyton and C.J. Sanders will have three or four years left.
• Summary: I have this image in my head from childhood, and it’s that of Lance Alworth bounding through NFL secondaries as a member of the San Diego Chargers. The aesthetic nature of his running/pass-catching form earned him the nickname Bambi.
As receiver styles go, Stepherson is a taller version of that player, although unlikely to evolve into the Hall-of-Fame player Alworth did. Suffice it to say that Stepherson has a graceful beauty to his pass-catching technique, which makes him an ideal W receiver with some X receiver traits as well.
He’ll need to refine his route running because he’s accustomed to simply out-running people on the deep route. By the same token, he’ll enter Notre Dame with a very specific, important asset, which is one coaches through the years have been able to take advantage of from the outset of a player’s career.
There are other benefits to Stepherson’s Irish Invasion commitment as well, namely, a recruiting victory in Jacksonville, even if Florida State was not an active participant in the pursuit of this in-state talent. With the loss of Tony Alford recruiting Florida terrain, it’s important that the Irish re-establish their Sunshine State connections, and this is a notable victory, albeit one far from the fertile south Florida territory.
No real argument on the three-star designation for Stepherson. The wide receiver position nationally is very competitive, and you can’t throw a four-star out there for everybody.
By the same token, if/when Stepherson develops into a quality wide receiver on the next level, it should be noted that he arrived at Notre Dame in the summer of 2016 with four-star traits, such as deep-ball skills with outstanding athleticism/agility to make the difficult downfield catch with a defensive back in his grill.
I’d call him an underrated three-star and put him in the early lead in the signing Class of 2016 as the three-star prospect with the highest upside. He is the first of probably three wide receivers to fall Notre Dame’s way in this recruiting cycle.