The star of undefeated Notre Dame’s statement victory over Stanford this past Saturday was quarterback Ian Book, in his debut game as a starter. Though Book is a clear and obvious upgrade over Brandon Wimbush as a thrower, the play of the receivers also caught my eye. Playing with a natural passer for the first time, the group met Book halfway and executed to near perfection against a strong Stanford defense.
Much has been made this season about the Ole Miss wide receiver trio plus tight end Dawson Knox, but Notre Dame actually has a group with some similarities. Though probably on a lesser scale compared to the elite potential of the Rebels, the Irish may also have four draftable receiving targets. Wide receivers Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool, and Chris Finke, along with tight end Alize Mack make up the group that is just finding themselves with Book behind center.
If Book was the star of the show on Saturday night, senior Miles Boykin won the award for best supporting actor. He put together a dominating performance as Book’s main target early and often, finishing with 11 receptions for 144 yards and a touchdown. The biggest thing that stuck out on tape with Boykin? His hands of glue.
Boykin has strong, natural hands that allows him to pluck passes out of the air at full extension. Numerous times, he adjusted to balls thrown slightly behind or ahead of him with ease, always extending towards the catch point. Thriving in the intermediate level, Boykin looks the part of a possession receiver at the next level at 6’4 and 228 pounds. His size limits his burst after the catch, but few receivers have his combination of strength and ball skills upon entering the NFL draft.
Last season, Boykin was awarded with Citrus bowl MVP during the Irish win over LSU, and he has picked up right where he left off the 2017 campaign. The former Illinois High School player of the Year, Boykin looks poised to continue his breakout and show NFL scouts the traits of a complimentary receiver piece at the next level.
The Irish are blessed with size, as junior Chase Claypool is nearly identical to Boykin in height and weight at 6’4 and 227 pounds. Claypool, a Canada product, is the more athletic of the two who has the tools a downfield threat in the NFL. His long speed and body control allow him to win above the rim with consistency.
Claypool’s size doesn’t go unused, as he uses his frame to stay in between defenders and the catchpoint. Also, he has the ability to hold onto the ball through contact while going over the middle. While still a bit raw as a receiver prospect, Claypool has flashes of excellence and is already a willing blocker. Though not guaranteed to leave school, his athleticism way warrant an early declaration if he tests the NFL waters.
Chris Finke is a former walk-on turned starting slot receiver. Though undersized at just 5’10 and 185 pounds, Finke started seeing the field early in his career as a punt returner. Now in the lineup as a receiver, Finke is showing the short area quickness and change of direction that NFL teams covet in their slot receivers.
Finke has already accumulated 16 receptions on the season, as he operates underneath and works through windows in zone coverage. Heavily incorporated in the screen game, Finke is a threat after the catch with his speed and low center of gravity.
Tight end Alize Mack has always been full of potential, and is finally scratching the surface of it as a senior. The former No. 1 ranked tight end recruit in the country, Mack has found himself on the Mackey Award for best tight end watch list for three collegiate seasons.
At 6’5 and 247 pounds, Mack has incredible athleticism for the position, and projects perfectly for the modern role of the tight end in the NFL. On top of his athleticism, he has the potential of a dominant redzone threat with his ball skills and strength above the rim. Additionally, Mack can stretch the field up the seam or block in space out on the edge.
In his last 11 games, Mack has accumulated 32 receptions, solid production for a collegiate tight end. As long as he can stay healthy and out of trouble off the field, Mack’s natural ability and high ceiling will easily warrant a draftable grade from the NFL.
Heading into Lane Stadium for a night game against Virginia Tech will be no easy task for the Irish this weekend. The Irish will surely lean heavily on Ian Book's arm the rest of the way if they are going to find themselves in the hunt for the College Football Playoff. The execution of their receiving corps could end up as the key to their run, and these professional prospects seem more than ready for the challenge.