According to multiple sources, junior wide receiver Michael Young will not play the remainder of the season for Notre Dame with the intention of transferring.
For Notre Dame, it must now replace a veteran player that at one point in fall camp was poised to become a key figure in the Irish offense. Young was a standout through the first two weeks of fall camp, using his speed and ball skills to make big plays before a broken clavicle knocked him out and caused him to miss the first three games of the season.
Notre Dame must now prepare for life without the junior receiver.
vs. MICHIGAN AND 2019
Young played just 15 snaps in the win over Virginia and 22 in the win over USC. The positive of this situation is that Young was not eating up the bulk of the snaps or targets at the X receiver position, which makes it easier to replace him in the lineup.
The return of junior running back Jafar Armstrong could not have come at a better time. A converted wide receiver, what makes Armstrong so dangerous is his ability to make plays from the backfield or outside in a receiver alignment. Using more two-back sets was always going to be a big part of the offense once Armstrong returned, and Young would not have been on the field in most of those situations.
Sophomore tight end Tommy Tremble has played between 21 and 35 snaps per game this season, and he’s been targeted seven times in the last two games. Young leaving could result in a few more snaps for Tremble, but more targets is certainly an option for the talented young tight end.
With Young gone there are now more opportunities for sophomore receivers Braden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys III to get more reps and targets. Keys is more comfortable inside, but his biggest play of the season (vs. Georgia) came outside at X prior to Young’s return. Notre Dame could use Keys outside, or it can play him more inside to spell fifth-year senior Chris Finke, or beside Finke with the veteran moving outside for a few snaps.
Lenzy burst onto the scene against New Mexico, hauling in a 52-yard reception the first time he was targeted and later out-running the Lobo defense for a 22-yard touchdown. We did not see much of Lenzy after that due to a concussion, but he returned to the lineup against USC, and his 51-yard touchdown run played a significant role in the Irish victory.
No player on the offense brings more explosiveness than Lenzy, and if he can seize upon this opportunity it would give the offense a huge shot in the arm. If Notre Dame is willing to go with youth and put Lenzy in at X and Keys in the slot it would give the Irish a dynamic one-two punch to the field.
That would not be the full-time alignment due to the presence of Finke as the starting slot, as well as Armstrong and Tremble, but it would certainly provide the offense with a change up that could create problems for opposing defenses.
Veterans Chase Claypool and Finke are both out of eligibility after this season and it remains to be seen if Javon McKinley would be brought back for a fifth season, so Young was expected to be the veteran of the receiving corps next season.
Notre Dame will have a much younger group of pass catchers next fall, but there will be plenty of options, plenty of talent, and a lot of speed.
If they continue to step up and play to their potential, Lenzy and Keys should provide a dynamic pairing at X and Z next season. There will also be opportunities for classmate Joe Wilkins Jr. to work into the rotation at both positions, which is also an option this season should Lenzy falter or get hurt again.
Not since 2015 (Will Fuller, Chris Brown, Amir Carlsle) has Notre Dame had the kind of explosiveness at wide receiver that the 2018 class of receivers bring to the offense.
Class of 2020 commits Xavier Watts and Jay Brunelle will be early enrollees, which should help the depth chart. Watts projects to the X position, and his combination of size (6-0, 185), strength and speed is something the X position does not have right now. Young leaving now will give Watts even more rep opportunities, and if he can make a fast transition he could provide the offense with a dynamic weapon to pair with Lenzy.
Watts is still raw from a technical standpoint, so getting in early and getting the extra reps that Young is giving up provides the Omaha, Neb. native with an opportunity to grow up faster than he otherwise would have.
Fellow 2020 commit Jordan Johnson projects more as a W receiver, but the Rivals five-star recruit is certainly capable of playing the X position. Johnson has a mature game and physique, which should allow him to compete for immediate playing time, but that was going to happen whether or not Young returned in 2020.
The wildcard in this conversation is Kevin Austin, the talented sophomore who has yet to play this season while serving an unofficial suspension. Austin is arguably the most talented wide receiver on the roster, and he’s capable of playing either side of the formation. He’s big and strong enough to play in the boundary, where he could replace Claypool, and he’s athletic enough and dynamic enough to play the X position.
But right now Austin has yet to prove he can turn his potential into production, or if he can even stay eligible.
Notre Dame will be less proven at wide receiver next season, but the raw talent at the position will be as good as we’ve seen in South Bend in a very long time. With Young leaving, those young and talented players will be counted on even more, and there are now more reps for those players to prove themselves.