Notre Dame Football Predictions: Who will lead the Irish in receiving yards in 2020?

ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 28: Braden Lenzy #25 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs with the ball after catching a pass against Braxton Lewis #33 of the Iowa State Cyclones in the first half of the Camping World Bowl at Camping World Stadium on December 28, 2019 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 28: Braden Lenzy #25 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs with the ball after catching a pass against Braxton Lewis #33 of the Iowa State Cyclones in the first half of the Camping World Bowl at Camping World Stadium on December 28, 2019 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

With the loss of Notre Dame football’s top pass-catcher of 2019 in Chase Claypool, who will emerge in 2020 as the team’s receiving yards leader?

Through the ups and downs of 2019 for Notre Dame football, one constant was the play and domination of wideout Chase Claypool. With a combined 1,122 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns through his first three seasons, Claypool exploded during his senior campaign, hauling in 1,037 yards and a eye-popping 13 touchdowns.

His breakout season combined with his stellar, elite-like numbers posted at the NFL Combine made it no surprise he was taken in the 2nd round of this year’s draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

While it’s nice to add another name to the growing and somewhat overlooked list of NFL receivers produced in South Bend under Brian Kelly, losing Claypool is obviously a blow to the offense in 2020. Add in the loss of Chris Finke and you lose another 41 receptions, 400 receiving yards, and 4 touchdowns of production.

The return of quarterback Ian Book (depending on who you ask) and the entire offensive line of 2019 is reason for optimism surrounding this year’s offense under first year offensive coordinator Tommy Rees.

On the flip side, the relative uncertainty at the running back and wide receiver positions have been the question marks for the offense going into the 2020 season.

Specifically at the wide-out position, there is a lot of potential with the returning group, especially with the addition of graduate transfer Ben Skowronek from Northwestern. He joins the Irish with 110 receptions, 1,417 yards, and 8 touchdowns over his career.

Outside of Skowrenek, the rest of the receiving corps has a combined 55 receptions, 900 yards, and 8 touchdowns in their careers.

The returning wide-outs for 2020 have an extremely high ceiling with the potential to be one of the deepest, most well-rounded groups Kelly has had while at Notre Dame. We’ve seen flashes of this potential from guys like Javon McKinley and Braden Lenzy, who performed well when healthy and given the opportunities.

Questions still remain for a majority of the other contributors from last year: Avery Davis, Kevin Austin, and Lawrence Keys III. The incoming freshman duo of Jordan Johnson and Xavier Watts might find themselves getting meaningful snaps at some point throughout the year, as well.

So, we have a productive grad-transfer, high-ceiling underclassmen, and the unknown of the incoming freshman. For the first time in a few years, there is no clear-cut, unquestioned WR1 going into the season.

Losing Chase Claypool’s production will be a huge hole going forward, and unless someone has an unexpectedly incredible season it is hard to imagine anyone on the roster surpassing 1,000 yards. Claypool’s 1,037 yards last year were the most by a Notre Dame player since Will Fuller put up 1,258 in 2015.

The return of quarterback Ian Book will obviously soften the blow. A fifth-year senior on the verge of breaking into the Top-3 for most program passing records will be one of the biggest factors in the success of the passing game.

Even with one of the best quarterbacks in college football behind center, the question still remains on who will take the reigns of the wide receivers this year.

The three names that stand out most to have a huge year and lead the team in receiving yards are Ben Skowronek, Javon McKinley, and Braden Lenzy.

Skowronek is one of the biggest wide outs on the roster standing at 6-3 and weighing 224 pounds. His career resume far surpasses those of anyone else that will rock a golden helmet in 2020, surpassing 560 receiving yards in two of his four seasons at Northwestern.

His ball skills and ideal size will make him a favorite for Book.

Javon McKinley is my dark horse to have a breakout season. We saw a glimpse of his abilities last season, most noticeably his breakout game vs New Mexico and his SportsCenter Top-10 touchdown.

That success was short-lived, as injuries sidelined him for most of the remainder of the season, which lead McKinley to finish 2019 with 11 receptions, 268 yards, and 4 touchdowns.

McKinley has ideal size, 6-2, 215 pounds, and athleticism to be that #1 guy. He is arguably the best all-around receiver on the roster when he stays healthy and will put up career highs if he finds a way to stay on the field.

Last, but not least, you have Braden Lenzy. Possibly the team’s ultimate X-factor, we saw the speed and big-play ability of Lenzy last season as he put up 254 receiving yards, 200 rushing yards, and 4 total touchdowns.

Lenzy is another semi-mystery going into 2020. He put up those numbers last year despite only seeing 259 snaps all year. Growing into a larger role in the offense would undoubtedly see more big plays and big numbers.

When it comes to who will emerge as the team’s leading receiver this year, the answer really is a toss up (or a jump ball in this case). The potential, ability, size, speed, athleticism, and quarterback are all there.

McKinley has the best all-around game as a receiver compared to the other two players, but his history of staying healthy and on the field raises some concerns.

Lenzy gives some Irish fans flashbacks of the Will Fuller days of simply burning by the secondary. When it comes to emerging as the team’s receiving yards leader, what ironically hurts Lenzy will be his versatility.

A handful of his touches will be on sweeps, reverses, and possibly special teams. There’s no denying that his speed is a weapon that will be utilized in any way possible, not just in the passing game.

With Skowronek, although not as athletic as the other two, his complete game and great hands will make him a large target for Book. Barring any complications with him fitting into the offense, he will be a consistent security blanket and red-zone target.

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Based on what Skowronek has done and his body of work, he should be the front runner to lead the team in receiving yards this season, finishing between 700-800 yards.