With Will Fuller and C.J. Prosise declaring early for the NFL Draft, and Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle’s college careers finished as well, Notre Dame will have to replace 70 percent of its receptions from the 2015 season this coming fall.
Fuller (62 receptions), Brown (48) and Carlisle (32) were Notre Dame’s three leading receivers last season, while Prosise (26) was fifth. Fifth-year tight end Chase Hounshell caught a pass, too, meaning 169 of the 242 receptions Notre Dame totaled will have to be replaced.
The good news, though, is Notre Dame has a talented crop of young receivers, plus a pair of veterans, who it’s confident can shoulder the load next fall.
“We look at Notre Dame at wide receiver university,” Fuller said prior to the Fiesta Bowl. ‘We have a bunch of great young talent at our school now so it’s going to be fun to see how these guys are a couple years down the road.”
Junior Corey Robinson (16 receptions, 200 yards, one TD in 2015) and freshman Miles Boykin (who redshirted last season) will likely be tasked with supplanting Brown as the team’s boundary-side receiver. Redshirt junior Torii Hunter Jr. has the flexibility to play in the slot, where freshman C.J. Sanders should push him, or on the field side, where freshman Equanimeous St. Brown will get a look as well.
Boykin, Sanders and St. Brown all were four-star members of Notre Dame’s 2015 recruiting class and impressed in various ways during their respective first years on campus. Boykin showed himself to be a physically strong member of Notre Dame’s scout team, while Sanders returned a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown and St. Brown blocked a punt on special teams. Behind the scenes, St. Brown’s straight-line speed made a positive impression on coaches and teammates, too.
Sophomore Corey Holmes, who was passed by St. Brown on Notre Dame’s depth chart behind Fuller, could be a factor if Hunter stays in the slot. And there’s also prolific incoming four-star recruit Chase Claypool, who Rivals ranked as the 100th-best member of the 2016 recruiting class.
At tight end, Alize Jones — who led his position with 13 catches and 190 yards as a freshman — should benefit from a full year of learning of the offense. Redshirt junior Durham Smythe returned for the Fiesta Bowl and should be healthy for the 2016 season, while redshirt freshman Nic Weishar could get in the mix, too.
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And out of the backfield, Tarean Folston caught 18 passes as a sophomore in 2014 and Josh Adams had seven receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown as a true freshman last season.
But the success of Notre Dame’s passing offense will lean on its receivers. And from Jeff Samardzija to Golden Tate to Michael Floyd to T.J. Jones to Fuller, there’s been a consistent succession of good-to-elite receivers at Notre Dame’s disposal over the last decade or so that those inside the Guglielmino Athletics Complex hope will continue with the veterans and/or underclassmen returning for 2016.
“You look at Notre Dame historically, we have four or five active NFL receivers that are statistically amongst the best in the game,” offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said. “There's something here from the last six years with coach (Brian) Kelly and coach (Mike) Denbrock being here with that receiver production. I think that's going to be a continuing trend as we continue to recruit those kinds of kids.”