Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated

Kelly’s Best Recruits: Wide Receiver

Some of ND’s most productive pass-catchers under Kelly have been the least heralded coming out of high school, including Corey Robinson, Chris Brown and Kevin Stepherson.

SCOUT WIDE RECEIVER RANKINGS

1. 4* Javon McKinley (2016) – No. 55 overall; No. 9 WR
2. 4* Justin Brent (2014) – No. 64 overall; No. 11 WR
3. 4* TJ Jones (2010) – No. 138 overall; No. 21 WR
4. 4* Miles Boykin (2015) – No. 161 overall; No. 20 WR
5. 4* DaVaris Daniels (2011) – No. 161 overall; No. 23 WR
6. 4* Will Fuller (2013) – No. 179 overall; No. 22 WR
7. 4* Corey Holmes (2014) – No. 200 overall; No. 38 WR
8. 4* Equanimeous St. Brown (2015) – No. 207 overall; No. 29 WR
9. 4* C.J. Sanders (2015) – No. 268 overall; No. 39 WR
10. 4* Chase Claypool (2016) – No. 280 overall; No. 12 TE
11. 4* James Onwualu (2013) – No. 296 overall; No. 39 WR
12. 4* Torii Hunter Jr. (2013) – NR; No. 41 WR
13. 4* Jalen Guyton (2015) – NR; No. 53 WR
14. 3* Corey Robinson (2013) – NR; No. 43 WR
15. 3* Justin Ferguson (2012) – NR; No. 61 WR
16. 3* Michael Young (2017) – NR; No. 75 WR
17. 3* Chris Brown (2012) – NR; No. 87 WR
18. 3* Jafar Armstrong (2017) – NR; No. 107 WR
19. 3* Kevin Stepherson (2016) – NR; No. 123 WR

BEST OF THE BUNCH
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Will Fuller – Razor thin as a high school player, Fuller showed the ability to take the top off a defense, which earned him a four-star rating. He played early for the Irish as a deep threat, catching six passes for 160 yards (26.7-yard average) as a freshman.

Fuller became one of college football’s most dominant threats in 2014-15. He caught 138 passes for 2,352 yards (17.0 average) and 29 touchdowns during his sophomore and junior seasons. Fifteen of his 76 receptions in ’14 went for touchdowns. His average-per-catch shot up to 20.3 per his 62 receptions in ’15 with 14 touchdowns.

Fuller became the first-round draft pick (No. 21 overall) of the Houston Texas in 2016.

THE QUIET ONE

TJ Jones – Jones, in addition to his productivity on the field, will always be remembered for the tirade he prompted from Brian Kelly in the 2011 season-opener against South Florida. Jones took the verbal explosion in stride, and eventually became a standout for the Irish during his senior season in ’13 when he caught 70 passes for 1,108 yards and nine touchdowns. His finished with 181 receptions for 2,429 yards and 19 scores from 2010-13.

Jones was a sixth-round draft choice of the Detroit Lions in 2014.

ALL-UNDERRATED TEAM
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Chris Brown – A spindly three-star prospect, “Breezy” emerged as an early deep threat for the Irish, catching a key 50-yard pass in Notre Dame’s 30-13 victory at Oklahoma during his rookie season in 2012.

Brown never became a featured receiver for the Irish with Will Fuller on hand, but he finished with 104 receptions for 1,410 yards (13.6 average) and six touchdowns, including numerous chain-moving grabs his senior season in ’15 when he caught 48 passes for 597 yards (12.4 average) and four touchdowns.

Corey Robinson – A blip on the radar in recruiting circles, despite notable size as the son of basketball great David “The Admiral” Robinson, he maximized his skillset with 65 receptions for 896 yards (13.8 average) and seven touchdowns before a series of concussions brought his career to an end after his junior season in ‘15.

Robinson, who would go on to become Notre Dame’s student body president, will always be remembered for his eight-catch, 99-yard, two-touchdown performance at Florida State in 2014 with a controversial offensive interference penalty negating his third score that would have been the game-winner over the No. 2-ranked Seminoles.

Robinson made his first mark in the fourth game of his freshman season against Michigan State when he caught three passes for 54 yards while drawing a pair of pass-interference penalties in Notre Dame’s 17-13 victory – the Spartans’ only loss of the season.

Kevin Stepherson – The lowest-rated prep receiver (No. 123 in the country) signed by Brian Kelly since 2010, Stepherson entered Notre Dame in the spring of 2016 and immediately put his name on the depth chart.

As a freshman, Stepherson finished third on the team in receptions (25 for 462 yards) and second in receiving touchdowns (five). Over the final five games, he caught 15 passes for 253 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

MOVING ON UP
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Equanimeous St. Brown – As a freshman, St. Brown caught just one pass for eight yards. But it was his blocked punt that Amir Carlisle picked up for a touchdown that sparked a 17-0 run en route to a 41-31 victory over the Trojans.

St. Brown’s pass-receiving prowess took over in 2016. He announced his arrival with a five-catch, 75-yard, two-touchdown performance in the season-opener against Texas. He finished with 56 receptions for 961 yards and nine touchdowns. He caught at least one touchdown pass in seven of 12 games and had at least three catches in each of the 12 games.

If St. Brown uses his final two years of eligibility at Notre Dame – he could be an NFL candidate after the 2017 season – he will challenge TJ Jones’ high-water mark for receptions (181) during the Kelly era.

ON THE MOVE

James Onwualu – Moved from receiver after his rookie season to defense, he finished with 75 tackles (third on the team) and a team-high 11½ tackles for loss at outside linebacker in ‘16.

CURRENT RANKING

1. Will Fuller (see above)
2. TJ Jones (see above)
3. DaVaris Daniels – Kelly’s first game-breaking wideout with the Irish caught 80 passes for 1,235 yards and seven touchdowns, most of which (49-745-7) came during the ’13 season.
4. Chris Brown (see above)
5. Corey Robinson (see above)
6. Equanimeous St. Brown (see above)
7. Torii Hunter Jr. – Caught 73 passes for 949 yards and six touchdowns after overcoming a nasty leg break prior to his arrival at Notre Dame. Hunter had 38 receptions for 521 yards and three touchdowns during an injury-plagued ’16 season.
8. Kevin Stepherson (see above)
9. C.J. Sanders – Caught 24 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore in ’16, including 17 for 254 yards and a touchdown in the first five games. Also returned a punt and kickoff for touchdowns.
10. Chase Claypool– Just scratching the surface as a receiver following a five-catch, 81-yard rookie season while excelling as a coverage guy (11 tackles) on special teams.
11. Miles Boykin – The best is yet to come for the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder who caught six passes for 81 yards as a red-shirt freshman last year, including a 25-yard score in the final home game of the season against Virginia Tech.
12. Corey Holmes – Holmes caught 11 passes for 96 yards in ’16 before announcing his transfer from Notre Dame.


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