After talking about Tarean Folston, a running back hiding in plain sight, wide receiver Will Fuller could fit the same bill. Leading the 2013 Irish with a staggering 26.7 yards per catch,* Fuller is poised to break loose during his sophomore season.
*Warning sample size should apply.
The Philadelphia native burst onto the scene with a 37-yard catch against Michigan State, going up and making a key grab down the far sideline against one of the country’s best secondaries. From there, he only made six catches on the season, but he played the role of long-ball threat well during his collegiate debut.
With TJ Jones graduated and Fuller ready to take on more (including Jones’ jersey number), let’s take a look at the sophomore wide receiver.
6'0", 171 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 7
One of the late-risers on the recruiting scene, Will Fuller hardly looked the part of a receiver that would arrive on campus and play immediately. But Notre Dame’s staff saw something in the Catholic League standout in Philadelphia, and got a commitment from Fuller after he stepped away from a pledge to Penn State.
Fuller’s offer sheet is far from impressive, with Boston College and Rutgers being the only other major BCS programs to offer him. But Notre Dame had convictions behind what they saw, and it’s clear that Brian Kelly knew what the Irish were getting.
“We believe that if there’s a guy that flew under the radar a little bit, it was William Fuller,” Kelly said on Signing Day. “The thing that really clearly stands out is his ball skills. He can run and catch the football. Any time that we got a chance to observe him, he was running and catching, just terrific ball skills. We think as he develops physically, he also has that speed, that top‑end speed that can obviously impact football games.”
Freshman Season (2013): Played in all 13 games, starting against Oklahoma, USC and Air Force. Made six catches for 160 yards on the season, with a team-leading 26.7 yards per catch. Scored on a 47-yard completion against Air Force. Also chipped in eight yards on two rushing attempts.
Fuller almost defines the term, with the lanky receiver still not quite physically ready for college football. But in his freshman season, we saw what Fuller could do to stretch a defense, taking Chris Brown’s job as the human go-route and making good on a fair share of them.
The next step for Fuller is contributing in all facets of the passing game, something he looked on track to do this spring. Playing in a very versatile depth chart with starting caliber players in DaVaris Daniels, Corey Robinson and Chris Brown, Fuller has an explosiveness that not many players on the roster have, and that’s a big reason why I think he’ll break through as a sophomore.
Building a rapport with Everett Golson is key. So is earning the trust of Mike Denbrock and Kelly, who need to do more with the receiver on patterns that aren’t just vertical.
I’ve gone on the record saying that Fuller will go for 1,000 yards in 2014 and there’s no reason to back away from it now. While Fuller needs to prove he has the consistency -- and durability -- to play dominant football week in and week out, the Irish offense has too many weapons to cover. Single-coverage over the top against Fuller could end up with the sophomore putting up big numbers in a hurry.
Again, what makes these kind of predictions difficult is the fact that there are other options at receiver. DaVaris Daniels should have a monster 2014. Corey Robinson looks poised to do so as well. Add in the options at slot receiver and a veteran like Chris Brown and this is hardly like the early years of Brian Kelly’s offense, desperately searching for a No. 2 to take the pressure off of Michael Floyd.
Fuller has great hands and the ability to do more than run vertically. We should see that and expect him to sneak up on opponents, a sophomore surge that should put Fuller on the map.