Notre Dame’s next great tight end might be their next starting boundary wide receiver. With the retirement of Corey Robinson and a lack of outside receivers ready to contribute, Alizé Jones spent spring transitioning to receiver, a position he was probably built to play in the first place.
Jones came to Notre Dame as a blue-chip tight end prospect, but his skill-set was custom-built for catching passes not throwing blocks. With the goal of getting the team’s best 11 on the field, finding a role for Jones on the outside allows the depth at tight end to pick up the slack in the trenches, with the hope that Jones will thrive as he matches up against cornerbacks.
6'4.5", 240 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 10, TE/WR
A U.S. Army All-American, a first-team USA Today All-American and the No. 1 tight end in the country, per 247 Sports. Jones picked Notre Dame over UCLA—where he was long committed, and had offers from USC, Georgia, Auburn and plenty of other top programs.
Freshman Season (2015): Played in all 13 games, starting five. Jones led all tight ends with 13 catches for 190 yards. His 14.6 yards per catch was the most of any receiver not named Will Fuller.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEARI feel pretty spot on about this one, even with Durham Smythe’s season ending after the Virginia game.
All the glowing praise above doesn’t necessarily mean I think Jones is a breakout star. He’ll likely be used situationally, capable of being a jumbo slot receiver (like Troy Niklas and Tyler Eifert were used on occasion), and potentially as a red zone mismatch. (Though we’re still waiting for jump balls to Corey Robinson, so why would Jones hop the line?)
Playing at Bishop Gorman, arguably the top high school program in the country, will work both ways for Jones. He’s played national competition, but he’s also played in an offense that scored points by the bushel. So while he was used mostly as a jumbo receiver during a 41 catch, 900+ yard senior season, that’s not what’ll be needed to be successful at the next level.
Jones will play. But as we’ve seen with Kelly, he wants to trust his tight ends to hold the point of attack, making Smythe the candidate for most snaps. But behind that, I think Jones finds a way to impact the Irish offense, especially if Mike Sanford is as creative as we’re told.
This is a very, very exciting prospect, and perhaps the most readymade offensive player in the freshman class. But before he can be a star, he needs to be able to do everything that makes the tight end position the most versatile in the Irish offense.
Jones maybe isn’t the freak that the Irish had in Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas. But at 6-foot-4.5 and 240 pounds, he’s certainly a load. While his freshman season may not have been the breakout some expected, he did average a hefty 14.6 yards per catch, a number that lets you know that he’s capable of wreaking havoc when he gets his chance.
Opportunity plays a big part in projecting a future, and there’s no more open window than the one Jones now looks through. Jones very well may have switched to boundary receiver even if Robinson decided to play, but there will certainly be more reps available without Robinson.
Is Jones primed to be a star? He could be. I don’t necessarily think it’s fair to compare him to three tight ends that came off the board in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, but nothing Jones did last year should deter you from thinking he could be that type of impact player.
Jones could turn into Notre Dame’s No. 2 receiver in 2016 if he takes this opportunity and runs with it. That could mean a huge uptick in numbers, with 40 to 50 catches not out of the realm of possibility.
While size and match-up issues haven’t necessarily turned Irish receivers into targets, Jones could also pick up some of the slack in the red zone, knowing that the Irish offense desperately needs to improve their efficiency in the scoring zones, especially without quick-strike scorers Will Fuller and C.J. Prosise. Matching Chris Brown’s four touchdown catches seems like a logical next step for Jones.
In many ways, Jones is one of several unknown quantities that’ll help determine whether or not the Irish are a playoff contender or just a team with some nice young talent. While much of his productivity will likely be determined by the team’s offensive identity and philosophy, he’s another key piece to an offensive puzzle that doesn’t have a lot of experience but has plenty going for it.
2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Torii Hunter Jr.