A story appeared on this site one year ago today (a coincidence, I swear) that broke down Notre Dame’s production among its wide receivers in 2014. The most promising aspect of the piece was that each of the top four overall targets, each of the top five downfield playmakers, and four of the top five third-down chain-movers were set to return for the 2015 campaign.
Heading into 2016, let’s just say the situation has changed, a reality we’ll tackle at the conclusion of the column.
A breakdown of DeShone Kizer’s (and Malik Zaire’s) pass targets in 2015:
-- Will Fuller (102) – Includes a team-high 6 pass interference penalties drawn along with a team-high 6 drops (though that’s less than half his total from last year, 13). Fuller was targeted 119 times in 2014 which means 221 of Notre Dame’s last 848 pass attempts headed in Fuller’s direction (26.6%).
?-- Chris Brown (79) – Just one drop among his 48 catches, 597 yards and four scores. His day-to-day leadership will be difficult to replace.
?-- Amir Carlisle (45) – One painful drop (a sure TD at Stanford); drew one P.I.? among his 32 receptions, 355 yards and single touchdown.
-- Torii Hunter (42) – Just one drop (Clemson) ?in a breakout season that included 28 receptions for 363 yards and two scores.
?-- Corey Robinson (35) – Down from 75 targets in 2014, a remarkable drop-off. Drew 3 P.I., dropped a pair of passes at Clemson, and finished with 16 catches for 200 yards with one crucial touchdown to help beat USC.
-- C.J. Prosise (33) – Two drops and one pass interference drawn. Prosise caught 26 passes for 308 yards with a score. If that total seems high, the backfield shuffle passes to a motioning Prosise count as receptions, not rushes.
?-- Aliz’e Jones (27) – Almost twice the total of the other four tight ends. One drop; drew two P.I.? along with 13 grabs for 190 yards. Look for Jones’ targets to double in 2016 and for his receptions total to triple.
-- Nic Weishar (8) – One drop; one P.I. with 3 receptions for 19 yards.
?-- Josh Adams (7) ?-- Also drew a pass interference penalty against the Buckeyes. Caught 7 passes for 42 yards including a (shuffle pass) score.
-- Durham Smythe (5) – Includes a fake field goal touchdown from Kizer? against Virginia.
-- Thrown into the stands (4)?
-- Tyler Luatua (2) – No completions
?-- Equanimeous St. Brown, C.J. Sanders, and Chase Hounshell with one target and one reception apiece.
THE CHAIN MOVERS
Who did Irish quarterbacks turn to on third down? C.J Prosise led the way with a combined 59 rushing/receiving first downs while DeShone Kizer added 39 and Josh Adams another 36. As for the receivers?
-- Will Fuller 44 and Chris Brown 29
-- Torii Hunter (24) Accentuating the positive: Hunter’s game-high of four first downs game occurred twice – against Clemson and Ohio State, the two best teams Notre Dame faced.
?-- Amir Carlisle (24) Includes the oddity of a whopping seven against Boston College. (And yes, Notre Dame’s two slot receivers both gained exactly 24 first downs.)
-- Corey Robinson (15) Includes a season-best three vs. the Buckeyes and on three consecutive snaps, to boot.
-- Aliz’e Jones (7) ?
-- Durham Smythe (3)?
-- Tight ends Nic Weishar, and Chase Hounshell with one apiece
With 98 of 148 passing first downs (includes pass interferences that result in first downs) lost to graduation and NFL early entry, it’s clear a new era is upon the Irish passing attack.
HITTING IT DEEP
Five words to remember Irish fans, because you won’t see another like him soon: Will Fuller, Deep Threat Extraordinaire.
40-Yard Gains – There were 21 total including 8 rushing. As for the pass-catchers in this category:
• Will Fuller 10, including 8 touchdowns.
• Torii Hunter, Jr. 1 (vs. Temple)
• Alize Jones 1 (also vs. Temple)
• C.J. Prosise 1 (a 56-yard touchdown at Clemson)
30-Yard Gains – The offense produced 16 including three via the rush. The pass-catchers finished as follows:
• Will Fuller 6, including two touchdowns
• Chris Brown 3, including two at Clemson
• Amir Carlisle 2
• Aliz’e Jones 2
20-Yard Gains – A total of 36 for the entire offense (there were actually 38 in 2014) with C.J. Prosise leading the way with eight in 2015. As for the receivers:
• Will Fuller 6
• Chris Brown 4
• Amir Carlisle 4
• Torii Hunter, Jr. 2
• Corey Robinson 2
-- Unit MVP: Will Fuller, nationally, perhaps.
-- Most Improved since 2014: Torii Hunter, Jr.
-- Most Improved since August 2015: Hunter, though Chris Brown should receive mention in one of these two categories.
-- Best Finish Compared to his Start: Corey Robinson
-- Best Start Compared to his Finish: Not fair, but probably Nic Weishar if you include his August Camp impression.
-- Best after the catch: Fuller
-- Most Versatile: Hunter
-- Most Reliable in the Red Zone: Nobody. Hunter and Fuller were the only competent red zone targets in 2015.
-- Most Reliable to Execute his Assignment: Fuller
-- Best Blocker: Brown
-- Most Improved Blocker: Koyack by a wide margin; then Brown
-- Underused: Hunter
-- Overused: I don’t think it applies this season.
-- Best on the Tunnel Screen: Fuller, though not to the degree of success as in 2014
-- Best aiding his scrambling QB: Hunter
-- Best Downfield: Come on…
-- Best in Crunch Time: Fuller
-- Best on a Contested Catch: Brown, without a doubt
-- Catch of the Year: Robinson’s lone TD on the season, USC
-- Most Room to Grow for 2015: Aliz’e Jones and Equanimeous St. Brown
-- Best Bet to Join the Ranks in 2015: Miles Boykin
2016: A FIRST LOOK
What might Notre Dame’s wide receivers rotation look like when the Irish hit the field in Austin on Sept. 3, 2016?
X (field): Sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown, backed up by…opportunity.
W (boundary): Senior Corey Robinson, redshirt-freshman Miles Boykin
Slot (Z): Senior Torii Hunter, Jr., sophomore C.J. Sanders
Inline TE: Senior Durham Smythe,
Detached TE: Sophomore Aliz’e Jones, Nic Weishar
With Hunter adept at both the Z and X positions, and with the expected maturity of Aliz’e Jones, expect the return of the “12 Package” Notre Dame’s two tight end offense, as the featured offensive set of 2016.
Mitigating the loss of talent, experience, and leadership at wide receiver is this reality: Notre Dame’s quarterback play should be among the nation’s best in 2016.