Class: Junior (Eligibility: 3)
On The Depth Chart: Finke moved around the receiver rotation during spring practice, but he's a natural slot considering the inability for defensive backs to actually tackle him. He could help at multiple positions this fall and boost the return game.
Post-Spring Status: Ascending
Chris Finke probably got more pub than his 10 catches, 122 yards and two touchdowns warranted last season. And yet, there's no denying the former walk-on from Ohio represented a storyline that Notre Dame actually wanted told after beat scholarship defensive back after scholarship defensive back after scholarship defensive back in practice last August.
That's when Finke was officially awarded his own scholarship. He kept proving that he earned it all season, eventually pulling even with C.J. Sanders in the receiver rotation and potentially passing him. Maybe it's fair to wonder why a former walk-on has been more productive than four-star recruits who played in national all-star games. Or maybe it's just a compliment to Finke's athleticism and unique skill set.
FINKE AT HIS BEST
He shared the same field with Adoree Jackson and Juju Smith-Schuster last November but wasn't overwhelmed by the Los Angeles Coliseum even though plenty of his teammates were. Against the Trojans, Finke put up a career-high four catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. He was even brought out to the media after the game for interviews. There were plenty of moments last season when Finke stopped being "former walk-on Chris Finke" and was just "Irish receiver Chris Finke". That USC performance was definitely one of them.
"We gotta grind. We gotta be obsessed with it. No one wants this to happen again. Some guys are gonna have to step up. We do have a lot of capabilities of leadership on this team. There's a lot of guys that really give it their all." Finke after USC last season
BEST CASE SCENARIO
Notre Dame might go big at wide receiver this season with Equanimeous St. Brown, Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool and Alizé Mack working in concert. And yet, that could enhance the effectiveness of Finke to get behind defenses and put defensive backs on their back foot. Finke could easily take over the punt return job from C.J. Sanders as well as the Irish rebuild on special teams. If Finke hits on all marks this season, 30-plus catches and five total touchdowns feels realistic within an offense that should be loaded with weapons. Will Finke be an every-down wide receiver like T.J. Jones? Probably not. But he could be as productive as Torii Hunter Jr. last season with 38 catches for 521 yards and three touchdowns.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
Notre Dame's new coaching staff doesn't see Finke as the weapon that he showed himself to be last season and turns instead to more traditional scholarship guys. Maybe the emphasis on size within the receiver rotation stunts Finke's development. Maybe special teams coordinator Brian Polian reboots the return games completely and doesn't go with Finke. It's hard to imagine that. But still, Finke will have to reprove himself this season after showing so many flashes last fall. Here's betting that he will considering he produces in virtually every practice viewing open to the media.
Basically, Chris Finke is Joe Schmidt with better hair and less to say. Finke did beat Schmidt to the scholarship punch, getting there before his sophomore season while Schmidt did it before his junior year. Of course, Schmidt went on to become a MVP and captain. It's hard to imagine Finke doing the same, but there's really no other comparison among walk-ons who earned scholarships. Both arrived at Notre Dame with good football pedigree, Schmidt out of Mater Dei and Finke from Archbishop Alter. Both flashed a drive early that made them hard to ignore. And both were better than some of Notre Dame's recruited scholarship players before they went on scholarship. Maybe Finke doesn't match Schmidt's final two seasons, but he should be a valuable part of the operation here.