Yeah, yeah, they aren’t technically in the ACC, but for all intents and purposes, they are. Starting these previews at the QB spot is perfect as we get into the oft-maligned position from last season. I had very high hopes for Brandon Wimbush last season. I pegged him as a Heisman Dark Horse and recommended him as a high-value target in CFF. The Heisman tip was a huge whiff, and he underperformed in CFF, relative to his pre-season ADP. When you see the issues that plagued him last season and go back and study him as a high school player, it doesn’t make sense why he regressed in the fashion he did. I remember during last season’s spring game my colleague, friend, and editor @DFF_BMack was pretty critical of the way that Wimbush was staring down receivers and failing to go through his progressions. My mind was already made up that he was in store for a big season.
Spring games aren’t always prophetic, but in this instance it was. He was a miserable passer. He wasted the talent of ESB and many other pass catchers. As erratic as Wimbush was, he still finished as the overall CFF QB15! This offense is built for a QB to put up massive numbers and Wimbush was able to be a top QB due to his running ability. His 141-803-14 rushing was outstanding. The competition will likely come from Ian Book. This is an excerpt from the News-Sentinel where Brian Kelly talks about what they are looking for and what he is seeing,
“I don’t know if we are looking for an answer so much as we are looking for the consistency in play.” Kelly specifically mentioned a missed read by starter Brandon Wimbush where he threw to an outside receiver (Miles Boykin) in traffic as opposed to an uncovered tight end (Cole Kmet) streaking upfield for an easy score. “We had somebody wide open in the seam,” Kelly said with exasperation. “We want to get better at that than worrying about who is the starter. Because then that will take care of itself.”
Both Wimbush and redshirt sophomore Ian Book has shown flashes of ability this spring, and both can extend plays with their agility. In the case of Book, he closed the season with a strong game against LSU in the Citrus Bowl, and Kelly said that he has improved since the spring practice sessions have unfolded. “Over the last couple of practices,” Kelly told News-Sentinel.com Saturday, “Ian has been much more consistent. The last time (I met with the media) I commented on I wanted more consistency out of the quarterback, Ian has been much more consistent (in) the last three practices, and that is what we want from our quarterbacks, the ability to execute on a more consistent basis.”
In last week’s scrimmage, multiple outlets reported that Wimbush was the best they had ever seen him. It appears that there has been an emphasis made on less scripting plays this spring and also more of an effort to simulate the potential chaos from a rod game environment.
That being said, it appears that the QB position will remain unsettled as we head into summer. The other two less probable 2018 challengers are rFR Avery Davis and TrFR Phil Jurkovec. Both players have a lot of athleticism, but Davis is a potential candidate to get some wildcat QB reps or move to a more permanent role at RB or WR. Jurkovec is the elite talent of the group but he hasn’t enrolled early, and I think that makes him an outsider in this 2018 race. I would certainly target him in dynasty CFF formats. Whoever wins this job should be a nice CFF option.
Josh Adams wasn’t my favorite player nor prospect, but he sure was effective last season. His 206-1430-9 rushing shows that this offense can support a valuable fantasy back. Dexter Williams looks like the likely candidate to assume the RB1 role. Here is an excerpt from Notre Dame’s Diehards site,
“It starts with Dexter (Williams) and his ability to maintain himself in a position where he can be on the field for all three downs,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said last week according to Tim O’Malley of IrishIllustrated.com.“That’s pass protection, play-action fakes – all the little detail things that go along with playing the position.
“It’s been something that he’s been below the line on. He’s shown this spring he understands how important that is and he’s been above the line on those things – play-action fakes, protections, releases, all the nuances that are in the offense other than ‘Just give me the ball.’”
Williams has shown flashes during the last three seasons at Notre Dame, rushing for 643 yards on 99 carries. Last season, he averaged 9.2 yards per carry in limited action and excited with his general explosiveness out of the backfield.”
Beyond Williams, the next man in line will come from the group of Tony Jones Jr., Jafar Armstrong, Jahmir Smith, C’Bo Flemister, and the hybrid, Avery Davis could factor in. Williams and Jones Jr. are my best guesses for the most volume in 2018, but I’m also not sure if this offensive line will be very good with the losses of McGlinchey, Nelson, and their incredible OL coach.
The wide receivers didn’t get a chance to see their potentials realized last season due to poor QB play. They will hope that changes this fall and there will again be some fantasy relevance for them at WR. Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool appear to be strong candidates to play in the outside wide receiver roles. Boykin was a player that got my attention last spring, but he didn’t do much for me after that. He will look to build on his momentum after making the game-winning one-handed-catch against LSU in the bowl game. As good as he looked making the tough catch, he looked equally as bad running after the catch.
Miles Boykin’s one handed catch to win the game 😦🔥 pic.twitter.com/8s5ESRkocM
— Football Central™ (@FootbalICentral) January 1, 2018
That type of long speed makes Auden Tate look like Rocket Ismail. Boykin has been working hard this off-season, and he has reportedly broad jumped nearly 11 feet and posted a 40 inch vertical. The 6’4” Claypool’s problem has nothing to do with natural ability or athleticism; he appears to be more of a consistency issue. He is still recovering from the shoulder issue that caused him to miss the Citrus Bowl, but he has reportedly been turning heads this spring. I mentioned that Claypool was likely an outside WR, but he also played some in the slot last year. It seems that putting a mismatch player in the slot is becoming more and more popular. This was a very interesting excerpt from ND Insider that may help outline Boykin’s role,
“They’re not in the same category,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said on Saturday when asked how Boykin compares this spring with fellow Irish wide receivers Chase Claypool, Chris Finke and Michael Young. “He’s a guy that can defeat 1-on-1 coverage and get you out of a loaded box by just throwing a fade to him. Those guys don’t have that, and we’re not asking them (to). We didn’t recruit them for that purpose.
“We recruited Miles for that, and he’s giving it to us. If you drop an eighth hat (near the line of scrimmage) and you’re going to leave him 1-on-1 to the boundary, you’re going to have to deal with him going up and getting the football. We think he can take it away from anybody.”
The aforementioned Michael Young will get a look as an outside wide receiver, and Chris Finke will be an option inside. Braden Lenzy is an incoming freshman that has track speed. He will compete as a sprinter on the Notre Dame track team. With Kevin Stepherson getting kicked off of the team, Notre Dame could use a versatile player with that type of speed. Boykin seems like the logical choice at WR for CFF but his 18-344-3 in three seasons gives me pause. Claypool is a much better football player, but he doesn’t come without his share of risk either. He is the player I would prefer in Devy, but I’m unclear what to expect from this passing attack this fall. There should be value; we have to be patient and mine for it a bit.
There are several talented TEs on this roster. The group had 45-476-4 receiving in 2017. Those are pretty respectable numbers, but that won’t mean there is fantasy relevance if that is going to split up amongst three or more players. I could see that number increasing in 2018 because I think the passing attack will be better and I think that the WR room is pretty weak. The group will consist of Nic Weishar, Alize Mack, Cole Kmet, and Brock Wright. If I were to guess whether or not a dominant pass-catching option would emerge, it would be Mack, but I don’t think I’m ready to go there (again).
Notre Dame returns some talent on defense. They have a lot of experienced players that I thought could be a very formidable unit with Mike Elko leading them. Unfortunately, Elko moves on to College Station, and they promoted from within. From the Indy Star,
“Now Lea, who previously coached linebackers, inherits a defense that returns 10 starters and made visible strides last year as a young unit learning a new system. After an abysmal 2016, the Fighting Irish jumped from 45th to 25th nationally in yards per play, 66th to 7th in rushing touchdowns allowed, 61st to 31st in scoring defense, 104th to 50th in forced turnovers, and 118th to 70th in sacks.”
There is a lot of talent at every area of the defense. The player that I like most is CB Julian Love. He defended 23 passes in 2017, which ranked second nationally. He has the skills of an NFL player, but the staff has been trying to make sure he doesn’t go on “auto-pilot” and stays focused each play. This defense should be on of the country’s best and they likely will likely flex-on a toothless Michigan offense in the opener.
Image of Miles Boykin via Photographer John Raoux /Associated Press