Aspirational Peers

As the first round of 2019 practices concludes and we scrounge for scraps of information about how certain players might look in the upcoming season, let’s allow our imaginations to wander a bit (it’s spring, what else is there to do). Countless others have waxed poetic about Notre Dame’s tradition and history and how current players stand on the shoulders of the legends that came before them, etc etc etc. We’re leaning into that sense of nostalgia by picking stat lines from prior years that the current squad might aspire to. What better way to look forward than to look back! Let’s start this exercise by examining skill positions on the offensive side of the ball (stat comparisons are here, all per Sports Reference).

Here’s the most obvious thing you’ll read on this page: this season’s success depends a whole lot on how the quarterback plays. Hard hitting analysis, yes, but the 2019 Irish will travel where Ian Book allows in his first full season as starter. Book’s aspirational peer, and I realize this is rosy, should be 2009 Jimmy Clausen. He can continue hitting at a 68% rate while hopefully ticking up yards per attempt/completion by about a half yard each. Jimmy’s TD-INT ratio of 28-4 is absolutely sterling, so we won’t hold Ian to quite that standard, but he should reach that touchdown total if the Irish are going to field an elite offense as many expect. Book also has a huge mobility advantage — I’ve got a hunch he’ll surpass Clausen’s rushing total of -95 yards.

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All signs point to Jafar Armstrong having a breakout year, just as long as those nagging injuries don’t flare back up. Look for Jafar to double his all-purpose yards and clear the 1,000 yard mark in doing so. Either 2015 C.J. Prosise or 2012 Theo Riddick would more or less amount to a best-case scenario. Even at RB1, the former wideout will be used as a Swiss army knife of sorts, racking up a few hundred receiving yards and hopefully a few scores to boot. Somewhere around 900 yards on the ground also feels about right, probably at around 5 YPC.

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Tony Jones can look to our old friend 2009 Robert Hughes for inspiration. While Tony isn’t as much of a prototypical wrecking ball, he’s similarly dependable — not quite explosive enough to be relied upon as a gamebreaker, but always available to make something out of an Ian Book checkdown. He should again approach 90 carries and average nearly 5 yards per, hopefully adding a couple more touchdowns to last year’s total. In all likelihood, Jones won’t average 26 yards per catch like last year (the long one against USC and a generally small sample size are to thank for that), but it would be no surprise if he were on the receiving end of a few more passes this year.

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Ask anyone close to the program and all you will hear are rave reviews of Chase Claypool’s spring effort. The staff has challenged Chase to reach the 1,000 yard receiving mark, so let’s put him on par with 2010 Michael Floyd (no reason not to aim high!). His reception total should be closer to 79 than 50 if he’s going to hit that mark, and more of them should be touchdowns. Odds are that Chris Finke will build on last season’s 49 catch outing, but a comparison to 2012 T.J. Jones does him no disservice. I’ve heard the word “uncoverable” thrown around more than once this spring, so let’s hope he can bump up his yards per catch and maybe add another touchdown or two.

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Even if the Claypool/Finke duo accounts for 130 or so catches, there’s still plenty to go around, and one beneficiary should be Michael Young. He had his moments last year, but still needs to prove he can be relied upon as an every down player. We heard similar concerns about Chris Brown, who really came into his own as a junior in 2014. More catches might mean a less eye-popping YPC average, but we can sacrifice that for a few hundred more yards. And I’ve already tied myself to Cole Kmet breaking out a la 2006 John Carlson, so let’s stick with that. There’s a real opportunity for Kmet to triple his output and add several touchdowns now that the Irish are without Alize Mack and Nic Weishar.

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