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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver

Notre Dame v Syracuse

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 17: Chase Claypool #83 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates a touchdown as against the Syracuse Orange during their game at Yankee Stadium on November 17, 2018 in New York, New York. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4 ⅜, 229 pounds.2019-20 year, eligibility: Claypool enters his final season.Depth chart: Claypool will move from the field (wide) position to the boundary, where he will presumably be Notre Dame’s most-utilized passing option, a transition Irish head coach Brian Kelly expects to be “seamless.”Recruiting: The Canadian chose Notre Dame over offers from Michigan, Oregon and Arizona, among others, as a consensus four-star prospect.

Claypool’s career may map out as close to a prototypical success as conceivable, one with linear progressions from start-to-finish. Well, at least as linear as inconsistencies can fit. After a freshman season with more success on special teams than at receiver, Claypool emerged as the second receiver in 2017, behind Equanimeous St. Brown. Even as the No. 2 receiver, in an inconsistent passing game Claypool managed more than two catches only three times.

That trend continued last season — again as the No. 2 receiver, though now behind Miles Boykin — with Claypool catching just 18 passes in the first six games. Then he matched that in the next three weeks. For the second half of the season, Claypool essentially bypassed Boykin as the lead Irish receiver, albeit not by much. Claypool caught 30 passes for 422 yards in those six games while Boykin caught 26 for 375 yards. (Boykin still held a 5-to-2 touchdown advantage.)

2016: 5 receptions for 81 yards.2017: 29 receptions for 402 yards and two scores.2018: 50 receptions for 639 yards and four scores.Career: 84 receptions for 1,122 yards and six scores.

The criticism of Claypool has never been about his athletic ability or physical possibilities. Those inconsistencies the last two seasons were often — perhaps even always — traced to his mental approach by the Notre Dame coaching staff. That supposedly began to change last spring. Similar claims were voiced once again this year.

“I really don’t talk numbers with Chase,” Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long said in early March. “Because if Chase is focused, he’s going to dominate, and that’s where he is right now.”

Expecting a player to replicate the previous season’s numbers does not usually sound like progress. When suggesting Claypool again end up with 30 catches for a few hundred yards and a couple touchdowns, the more demanding hope would be he avoid Saturday afternoons with none or only one reception, as happened four times in 2017. Some of last year’s ups-and-downs may be attributed to the inconsistent quarterback play, but Claypool was equally unreliable. Overcoming that would mean Kelly’s and Long’s spring-long messages were heard and tended to.”

Claypool’s shift tangibly came in the second half of last season. When he caught five passes for 61 yards against Pittsburgh, it did not necessarily register as noteworthy. It was one week, after all, against a Panthers team yet to rise up the ACC. After the idle week, he pulled in five more for 57 yards against Navy, but that game is annually such an anomaly, only so much could be gleaned from it. Next came eight receptions for 130 yards at Northwestern, gaining seven first downs along the way.

Despite not finding the end zone, that showing against the Wildcats displayed what Claypool can do, can be. He broke tackles, he showed strong hands (only two other passes were sent his way), and he drove Notre Dame’s offense when it was most needed.

There has not been a 1,000-yard Irish receiver since Will Fuller in 2015, one of five such seasons in Kelly’s nine-year tenure. It would be bold to say Claypool should reach that mark, but it is not ambitious to say he could.

In Book’s final five regular season games last season (excluding Brandon Wimbush’s spot start against Florida State and the overall offensive struggles in the Cotton Bowl), Claypool caught 29 passes for 410 yards. Extrapolate those numbers across 13 games and they reach 75 receptions for 1,068 yards.

St. Brown turned two seasons of lead receiver work, and only one of genuine quality, into a sixth-round pick. One year of such work and excellent testing results pushed Boykin into the third round. Claypool should skew toward the latter result.

If any Irish skill position player will test well in a combine setting, it will be Claypool. Combine that with a year like St. Brown’s sophomore season (58 catches for 961 yards and nine scores) or Boykin’s last season (59 catches for 872 yards and eight touchdowns), and Claypool should be in the mix as a second-day draft pick. As explained above, Claypool very well may exceed all those numbers, even bettering those draft chances.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90: Hunter Spears, defensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver
No. 85: George Takacs, tight end
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end