I like handing out awards after all the games have been played, and the Notre Dame 2019 season is now officially over. Part one of my season awards hands out honors to the offensive players for the Irish.
TOP ROLE PLAYER
WR Braden Lenzy, Sophomore
2019 Stats: 11 catches, 254 yards, 23.1 YPC, 2 TD’s / 13 carries, 200 yards, 15.4 YPA, 2 TD’s
Lenzy showed tremendous promise during fall camp, but for a variety of reasons he was nowhere to be found when the season started. His first action came during mop-up duty against New Mexico, but he showed off his immense talent in that win, hauling in a 52-yard bomb for his first career reception. He finished the game off with a nifty 22-yard catch and run for a score.
His playing time was intermittent, but whenever Lenzy got the ball he did serious damage. His 51-yard touchdown run against USC broke that game open, and he showed home run speed on his 70-yard touchdown reception against Navy. A week later, Lenzy’s 61-yard touchdown on a jet sweep put Boston College away.
RB Tony Jones Jr., Senior
2019 Stats: 144 carries, 857 yards, 6.0 YPA, 6 TD’s / 15 catches, 104 yards, 1 TD
Whenever the run game struggled the finger was often pointed at the running back position, but the reality is whenever Jones got fed he did damage. There were just six games where Jones got at least 10 carries, and in those six games he rushed for 663 yards, scored five touchdowns and averaged 6.8 yards per carry.
Jones became just the third back in the Brian Kelly era to register three straight 100-yard games, joining Josh Adams (2017) and CJ Prosise (2015). He capped off his senior season, and possibly his career, with a 135-yard performance in the bowl game, ripping off a career-best 84-yard touchdown run.
TOP NEWCOMER (Freshman or Redshirt Freshman)
C Jarrett Patterson, Sophomore
Patterson had his struggles this season, but he had a quality first season in the starting lineup and showed tremendous promise. The athletic young blocker was at his best in pass protection and when working to the second level, but he had struggles in the run game and against bigger players. Patterson has an incredibly bright future for the Irish.
WR Javon McKinley, Senior
2019 Stats: 11 catches, 268 yards 24.4 YPC, 4 TD’s
McKinley was a highly ranked recruit, listed as the No. 59 player in the country by Rivals in the 2016 class. His career did not go according to plan, and McKinley entered the 2019 season with a grand total of zero career catches. He made his presence felt in the win over New Mexico, hauling in two catches for 85 yards and a pair of scores. His 65-yard catch and run against the Lobos remains of the top plays of the season.
The senior caught five passes for 104 yards and a score against Bowling Green, caught two passes for 42 yards and a score against Michigan and his final catch was a 26-yard grab against Virginia Tech. An injury cost him the final five games of the season, but McKinley went from after-thought to playmaker this season.
TOP BIG MAN
LT Liam Eichenberg, Senior
Right tackle Robert Hainsey was Notre Dame’s most steady lineman until the moment he went down with a season-ending ankle injury. But the most dominant big man for the Irish this season was Eichenberg. When he was on his game the senior left tackle was brilliant, thriving as a pass blocker and dominating in the run game.
According to Pro Football Focus he was the second highest graded starter on offense, earning a grade that would have led the Irish offense in 2018. Eichenberg did not allow a sack all season and according to PFF allowed just three hits on the quarterback. According to PFF, Eichenberg ranked 11th in pass blocking efficiency among all Power 5 tackles and he ranked 17th overall among Power 5 offensive tackles.
TE Cole Kmet, Junior
2019 Stats: 43 catches, 515 yards, 12.0 YPC, 6 TD’s
Despite missing the first two games of the season, the junior had one of the most productive individual seasons ever for a Notre Dame tight end. Kmet’s 43 receptions ranks as the fifth-best single-season mark in school history, his 515 yards ranks 6th and his six touchdowns is tied for the best single season mark in school history. That mark tied Ken MacAfee’s mark that was set back in 1977.
Kmet hauled in nine passes for 108 yards and a score in his first game back, a road contest against Georgia. The middle of the season saw his numbers go down as team’s spent more focus on defending him, but he caught 14 passes for 155 yards in the final two games of the regular season. Kmet is arguably the most gifted tight end in the country, and as a junior he finally turned his potential into big-time production.
WR Chase Claypool, Senior
2019 Stats: 66 catches, 1,037 yards, 15.7 YPC, 13 TD’s
There should be no debate about this. Claypool was without question Notre Dame’s best player this season. He was dominant from start to finish, and whenever the quarterback and coaching staff made getting him the ball a priority he was as unguardable of a wide receiver as Notre Dame has seen since Michael Floyd was running around dominating opponents. Claypool used his combination of size, elite ball skills and athleticism to cause nightmares for opponents.
Claypool had three games with at least 100 yards and six games with at least 90 yards receiving. He was especially dominant during the second half of the season, hauling in 37 passes for 601 yards (16.2 YPC) and nine touchdowns in the final six games of the season. Claypool had been getting open like that all season, but in the final six games he was finally targeted with greater frequency, and he rewarded quarterback Ian Book with one of the best stretches of play from a Notre Dame receiver in a very long time.