Javon McKinley Gets Final Chance To Shine
When Javon McKinley signed with Notre Dame as part of the 2016 class the expectation was he would be the next great Fighting Irish receiver. McKinley ranked as the No. 59 overall player in the country according to Rivals, and he was ranked 58 spots higher than classmate Chase Claypool on the 247Sports composite ranking.
McKinley was a truly dominant high school player, hauling in 153 passes for 3,232 yards and 35 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Corona (Calif.) Centennial. He was truly special as a junior, when he hauled in 97 passes for 2,059 yards and 22 touchdowns.
With Centennial, McKinley was often at his best in the biggest moments. In five playoff games during his junior season, McKinley hauled in 50 passes for 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s not a misprint, those were his numbers in the playoffs, which came against opponents like national power Concord De La Salle (6 catches, 153 yards, 2 TDs), St. John Bosco (13 catches, 151 yards, 1 TD) and Mater Dei (6 catches, 187 yards, 1 TD).
That same season, McKinley also hauled in six passes for 104 yards and a score in a regular season matchup against Mater Dei, caught seven passes for 103 yards and a score against powerhouse Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman and caught three passes for 118 yards against Los Angeles (Calif.) Poly. He rushed for two touchdowns in the victory over Poly.
If that wasn’t enough, McKinley also made his mark as an outstanding student in the classroom.
McKinley has clearly not lived up to his prep billing, failing to catch a single pass during his first three seasons. The 6-2, 220-pound senior hauled in just 11 passes for 268 yards and four scores during the 2019 season, but McKinley showed flashes of that dynamic player we have not seen since his Centennial days.
McKinley is on pace to return for a fifth and final season, which means he should get one last chance at putting his talent on display. Not getting on the field throughout his career was a result of a number of different factors, some of which he had control over and other areas that were outside of his control.
Injuries have been one of the biggest reasons McKinley has struggled to get action and make his presence felt. Even last season, after starting well he was sidelined for the final four games with yet another injury.
If McKinley is going to be counted on this season he’ll need to be in the best shape of his life and have the right attitude, two things he can control. He’ll also need to stay healthy, something that is not truly in his control.
But make no mistake, a healthy and motivated McKinley can have a significant impact on the Irish offense in 2020.
SIZE-BALL SKILLS ARE STILL THERE
McKinley has impressive size and length, and he’s always been a strong receiver. Last season we saw one of the traits that made him so dynamic in high school, and that is the ability to win contested throws. McKinley’s body control, hands and focus allowed him to make a number of downfield back shoulder throws.
While some of those throws came against teams like New Mexico and Bowling Green, here is a clip of McKinley doing it against Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley, a first-team All-ACC player in 2019.
McKinley certainly has the tools to make this kind of play on a regular basis, assuming he can stay on the field from a health standpoint. Improving his release at the snap will be a must for his final season, and if McKinley can do that he’ll be even harder to handle on the outside.
But McKinley isn’t just a big, strong perimeter pass catcher. With an expanded role in 2020 he should also be able to use that size more effectively over the middle of the field. If McKinley can stay healthy, it would not surprise me at all to see him take over the security blanket role for quarterback Ian Book that Claypool served last season.
McKinley is faster than often given credit for, and he’s always been a threat to do damage after the catch using his size, strength, speed combination.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM McKINLEY?
The talent has always been there for McKinley.
The question is can he stay on the field, can he stay locked in and can he bring it day after day. One of the complaints I often heard about McKinley from my sources is he would dominate for stretches of camp and then get banged up, miss time and be slow to catch up.
There were multiple times throughout his career where a source close to the program would tell me McKinley was playing as well, if not better, than any receiver on the roster. Shortly after, however, I would be told he was banged up again, or for whatever reason his play had fallen off.
So what will we see from McKinley in 2020? Will he still be the oft-injured player that shows flashes but struggles with consistency? Will we see the ultra-talented, smart and impactful player he has the tools to be? Will he be somewhere in between?
How that question gets answered could have a truly significant impact on the Notre Dame offense in 2020, and if the answer is closer to the second option he will finish his career on a very strong note.
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