One of the biggest things to watch this season was what kind of an impact the mega-recruiting class was going to make for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. It was widely believed that a lot of first year players would make an immediate impact for the team, and that has been the case.
Top recruit Jaylon Smith has started each and every game this year, and Tarean Folston got a good look at some playing time against the Michigan State Spartans. Steve Elmer has seen time at tackle, and even Max Redfield has played some special teams.
The area of greatest impact by the freshman class has been through the wide receiver position, with two players (Corey Robinson and James Onwualu) earning starts this season at the crowded position.
The numbers hadn’t quite reflected the true impact they have made until last weekend against the Spartans. Robinson and fellow freshman Will Fuller were the two leading receivers on a team that features T.J. Jones and DaVaris Daniels. Robinson gathered 54 yards on three catches, and Fuller made his lone catch count, a 37-yard reception on the team’s first scoring drive.
Onwualu has yet to record a reception, but he has made his presence felt, especially if you’re on the opposing team. In the opener, Onwualu delivered a crushing hit on special teams, and he has been making his bones on offense as a blocker, something invaluable to a struggling running game.
Fuller is a budding deep threat, and coach Brian Kelly has praised his ability to track the ball in the air, something critical of any team’s vertical threat. With the amount of attention that Daniels and Jones attract, a player like Fuller could find himself left alone with the opportunity to make a big play. And as he showed against Michigan State, the potential is there.
Robinson still holds the most upside of the bunch, as he has the size (6-foot-4) and the pedigree (son of NBA great David ‘The Admiral’ Robinson). As Kelly pointed out, he will need to get stronger to be able to handle running routes into the middle of the field, but he is well on his way to doing so as the NBC broadcasters made a note of Robinson already putting on some weight since he arrived on campus. In the meantime his frame will make him a threat along the sidelines, especially in the end zone.
When push comes to shove the targets will go to Jones and Daniels, but the Michigan State game showed that this offense could still be an above average unit. When teams shut down their top two threats, they have a bountiful of options awaiting a chance to make plays.