Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 8 Jafar Armstrong, running back/receiver
Listed Measurements: 6-foot-¾, 213 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Sophomore with four seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: Before spring practice commenced, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Armstrong would split his time between receiver and running back. At receiver, he would have been one of half a dozen possibilities lacking experience looking to crack the rotation, but at running back he could quickly become the first or second backup to junior Tony Jones.
Recruiting: The rivals.com three-star recruit was committed to his homestate Missouri before he took a visit to Notre Dame the weekend before National Signing Day, sparking a quick flip to the Irish.
CAREER TO DATE
Armstrong saw no action his freshman season, preserving a year of eligibility. In April’s Blue-Gold Game, he played through a high ankle sprain to break two plays of more than 20 yards, finishing with five rushes for 48 yards and a touchdown along with one catch for 21 yards.
Spending his spring bouncing between two position groups could have left Armstrong lost in the playbook. Irish receivers coach Del Alexander saw no such confusion, only a need for a bit more time to learn everything given the influx of material on Armstrong’s figurative syllabus.
“It has slowed him down, but he has not made mistakes,” Alexander said. “… He’s just got to do it faster. He’s got to feel comfortable.
“A guy that is built with speed and power can be great in both areas. He knows what to do, [but] his reaction time is a little bit slower right now. We’re in a great place with him.”
Running backs coach Autry Denson was so pleased with the limited time he spent with Armstrong, he outright campaigned for the slash-receiver to be removed from Armstrong’s duties. Nonetheless, Denson also understands the perks of having a playmaker seamlessly motion from the backfield to the slot or vice versa.
“That fact that he can play both, you can never have too many guys that can play multiple positions,” Denson said in late March. “We run a spread offense. It’s about getting the best five guys on the field from those skill positions and just trying to threaten the defense with the best players possible. That’s the bonus to us as an offensive unit.
“… He has big strong hands. He can catch really well at receiver, natural catcher. With the ball in his hands, he’s just a very strong runner.”
WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“This fall, Alexander will have 10 receivers at his disposal (11 if counting receiver-turned-running back Deon McIntosh), not to mention the couple of tight ends who could line up in the receiver position in specific situations. It is hard to envision all of those players seeing worthwhile snaps in the Irish offense.
“With that in mind, a season preserving eligibility appears to be Armstrong’s most likely path. He and fellow incoming freshman Michael Young are obviously the most inexperienced of the grouping.
“For that matter, few — if any — of the 10 receiver options come across as placeholders. Each one brings a tangible skillset to the field. Thus, there are no candidates prime for Armstrong to move ahead of in his first few months on campus.
“Unless it is decided Armstrong is needed on special teams — a distinct possibility given how special teams coordinator Brian Polian lamented his lack of options this spring — a season learning the offense is his most likely outcome in 2017.”
Armstrong’s move to running back from receiver could prove all the difference this season. At receiver, a quartet of returning contributors will fill most of that rotation, but at running back, half of the expected 2018 depth chart was dismissed during the winter and the availability of senior Dexter Williams is murky with questions and rumors.
That leaves Armstrong as the possible primary backup to Jones. Even if Williams is available, then Armstrong falls only to third, still a needed spot among running backs as clearly illustrated last season when the fourth-string back became the second-most productive.
Armstrong will still run some routes. When Notre Dame received his national letter of intent a little less than 18 months ago, Kelly described Armstrong as a “deep threat … that can really push the field vertically for us.” That speed has not vanished, though it has been complemented by a weight gain of 30 pounds thanks to a year in a collegiate strength and conditioning program.
That combination may have made Armstrong a viable speed option out wide. It will also make him a dangerous one-cut rusher, finding a crease and gaining six yards before a defender can get a clean shot on him. If durable, that kind of running attack can be very dangerous.
DOWN THE ROAD
Whether or not Williams is around for some, all or none of this season, he will be out of eligibility in 2019, leaving Armstrong as the frontrunner to join Jones as the primary ballcarriers. The freshmen duo of C’Bo Flemister and Jahmir Smith may have something to say about that, but it seems most likely they will have to work their way past Armstrong.
Even then, three or four pertinent running backs are a necessity in all but the rarest situations. An ankle sprain to one back and a quad strain to another (sound familiar?) can quickly reduce a deep depth chart to its most basic of options. That happened in 2017 and will undoubtedly occur at some point again in the next four years.
Armstrong is part of that picture now. Moving him back to receiver full-time feels impractical, given the conflicting depth situations. Players have made livelihoods out of such a split in Kelly’s system before, namely Theo Riddick and CJ Prosise.
NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 98 Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman
No. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle, junior
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, right tackle, sophomore
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 70 Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 69 Aaron Banks, offensive tackle, sophomore
No. 68 Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 60 Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 57 Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman, senior
No. 57 (theoretically) Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 56 John Dirksen, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, defensive tackle, fifth-year senior
No. 54 John Shannon, long snapper, junior
No. 53 Khalid Kareem, defensive end, junior
No. 53 Sam Mustipher, center and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 52 Bo Bauer, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 47 Kofi Wardlow, defensive end, sophomore
No. 45 Jonathan Jones, linebacker, junior
No. 44 Jamir Jones, defensive end, junior
No. 42 Julian Okwara, defensive end, junior
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 40 Drew White, linebacker, sophomore
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, kickoff specialist, sophomore
No. 34 Jahmir Smith, running back, early-enrolled freshman
No. 33 Shayne Simon, linebacker, incoming freshman
No. 31 Jack Lamb, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 30 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, linebacker, sophomore
No. 29 Ovie Oghoufo, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 28 Nicco Fertitta, safety, senior
No. 27 Julian Love, cornerback, junior, second-team All-American
No. 25 Braden Lenzy, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 24 Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 24 Nick Coleman, defensive back, senior
No. 23 Drue Tranquill, linebacker, two-time captain, fifth-year senior
No. 22 Asmar Bilal, rover, senior
No. 21 Jalen Elliott, safety, junior
No. 20 Shaun Crawford, nickelback, senior
No. 20 C’Bo Flemister, running back, incoming freshman
No. 19 Justin Yoon, placekicker, senior
No. 19 Justin Ademilola, defensive end, incoming freshman
No. 18 Joe Wilkins, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 17 Isaiah Robertson, safety-turned-rover, sophomore
No. 16 Noah Boykin, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 15 D.J. Morgan, safety-turned-linebacker, junior
No. 15 Phil Jurkovec, quarterback, consensus four-star incoming freshman
No. 14 Devin Studstill, safety, junior
No. 13 Lawrence Keys, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 13 Paul Moala, local safety, incoming freshman
No. 12 DJ Brown, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 12 Ian Book, quarterback, junior
No. 11 Alohi Gilman, safety, Navy transfer
No. 10 Tariq Bracy, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 10 Chris Finke, receiver, senior, former walk-on
No. 9 Daelin Hayes, defensive end, junior
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore
No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer
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