• Class: Sophomore (Eligibility: 3)
• On The Depth Chart: When the Irish are employing one tight end and three wideouts, Claypool is the No. 1 Z (slot) receiver.
• Post-Spring Status: Ascending
Twenty-two years after Toronto, Ontario linebacker Bill Mitoulas signed with Notre Dame (1994), the Irish resumed their distant Canadian relationship by inking Chase Claypool (2016), a standout athlete from Abbotsford, British Columbia.
Claypool helped lead Abbotsford to the British Columbia High School Football AA Championship game for the first time in 31 years as a senior in 2015. He caught 58 passes for 1,473 yards and 18 touchdowns while rushing for 567 yards and eight touchdowns. He even completed 6-of-8 passes for 103 yards and three TDs. Defensively, he totaled 74 tackles. He also returned two punts and a kickoff for touchdowns.
Claypool’s athleticism showed itself immediately with the Irish as he quickly earned a spot on Notre Dame’s coverage units. Playing in all 12 games in ’16, Claypool finished with 11 tackles (seven unassisted).
On offense, Claypool caught five passes for 81 yards – one each against Nevada, Michigan State, Stanford, Army and Virginia Tech. His diving 33-yarder against the Spartans early in the fourth quarter helped spark the second of three straight touchdown drives that pulled the Irish to within eight points after trailing by 29.
CLAYPOOL AT HIS BEST
While flashing long-term potential at wide receiver, Claypool made an early name for himself on special teams. He made at least one tackle in seven of 12 games, including three (two unassisted) against Syracuse.
“It’s been a learning experience for him (this spring). We threw him right into the fire last year and he was swimming. He’s such a great kid. Clearly, (Claypool) has definitely benefitted from being here over the year and is more consistent…He’ll continue to contribute on special teams, but we need him on offense.” -- Brian Kelly
BEST CASE SCENARIO
Listed by Scout as the No. 12-ranked tight end prospect coming out of high school, Claypool aligned with the Irish tight ends in the slot this spring as new offensive coordinator Chip Long favors bigger bodies matching up against linebackers and safeties.
Although he’ll likely continue to be listed as a wide receiver, Claypool’s 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame will be utilized like that of a tight end’s, only with the ability to turn an intermediate route into a home run. He has the tenacity to offer tight end-like blocking skills from the slot.
Claypool is a unique weapon within an offense that boasts several big bodies. One way or another, he’ll be in the mix.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
Claypool’s playing time on offense will depend upon his blocking prowess and his adaptation to coverages employed against him in the slot. If he continues to progress with a level of athleticism few on the Irish team possess, he’ll be a player Long targets to take advantage of mismatches. At the very least, he’ll continue to be a weapon for the Irish on special teams before his pass-receiving game expands during his junior and senior seasons.
Jeff Samardzija caught seven passes for 53 yards and zero touchdowns as a freshman at Notre Dame in 2003. He added 17 grabs for 274 yards and zero touchdowns as a sophomore behind Maurice Stovall and Matt Shelton on the depth chart.
With the arrival of Charlie Weis in 2005 and a season-ending injury to Rhema McKnight, Samardzija stepped into the starting lineup opposite Stovall and caught 77 passes for 1,249 yards and 15 touchdowns. With Stovall gone and a healthy McKnight back in 2006, Samardzija added another 78 receptions for 1,017 yards and 12 scores.
That’s not to say that Claypool is going to catch 155 passes for 2,266 yards and 27 touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons like Samardzija, but the length and athleticism are comparable, and the path to playing time will be clear by the 2018-19 seasons.