Notre Dame's 19 For '19: Michael Young
From July 15 until the start of training camp slated to begin Aug. 4 in Culver, Ind., Blueandgold.com will feature a countdown from 19 to 1 of the most pivotal figures who will be counted on to help lead Notre Dame back to the College Football Playoff.
This is not necessarily about who is the best player or the top pro prospect. It’s more along the lines of individuals who need to either emerge or significantly elevate their production to facilitate the Fighting Irish goal of climbing toward championship timber.
A lot of this is based on talent and impact, but also a high value is placed on, “who can the team least afford to not continue his growth?”
We begin today with junior wide receiver Michael Young.
WHY IS YOUNG NO. 19 IN THIS COUNTDOWN?
One, last year Notre Dame’s top three wideouts monopolized the playing time and spread around the wealth liberally.
The graduated Miles Boykin evolved into the premier target with team highs in receptions (59), receiving yardage (872) and touchdown catches (8) that made him a third-round NFL selection.
However, Chase Claypool (50-639-4) and Chris Finke (49-571-2) were right behind with a combined 99 grabs, so it’s not like opposing defenses did not have to honor their presence and could easily slide their coverage toward Boykin.
With Boykin gone, Claypool is the new alpha figure in the corps and has the capability to go even higher in next year’s draft than Boykin did this past spring. Meanwhile, Finke remains the chain mover. The popular comparison because of their walk-on background, identical stature, stats and pigmentation is Clemson’s graduated Hunter Renfrow, who had 49 catches for 544 yards and a score last year while 2019 graduate student Finke had 49 for 571 yards and two scores.
Thus, there is a vacancy for at third consistent, reliable target along the flank.
Reason No. 2 revolves around the inquiry about " who will be the 'field stretcher' in the equation?" That’s because last year Notre Dame’s 12.5 yards per reception was its lowest in a season since 2011.
This is where the 5-10, 190-pound Young comes in at X receiver.
Two of the three longest catches by an Irish wideout last season came from Young, a 66-yard catch and run at Wake Forest, and a 47-yard touchdown at Northwestern on a post in the 31-21 Irish victory..
A healthy spring was pivotal to get Young into the mix, and he combined that with a productive March and April, culminating with a 12-yard score in the Blue-Gold Game and consistently ensconcing himself on the top unit.
WHERE IS HIS STATUS ENTERING 2019 SEASON?
Young is the starting X (field side) but right now is also undergoing “middle child syndrome.”
That is defined as the older child (in this case Claypool or even Finke) receiving more privileges, expectations and responsibilities, while the younger ones — namely sophomores such as Kevin Austin, Lawrence Keys III, Braden Lenzy and Joe Wilkins — garner greater attention among many in the fan base because of the “new toys” factor.
It’s easy to forget Young in this mix because although he has had his moments — including the crucial fourth-quarter touchdown catch in the 2018 Citrus Bowl as a freshman to help defeat his home state LSU Tigers — his 11 career catches don’t elicit much hype.
Young does not possess the size of a Claypool or Austin, the proven experience/production of Finke, or the sheer straight-ahead speed of a Lenzy and maybe even a Keys. Yet he combines all the elements to be at least the third best option among the wide receivers, especially the needed game-changing explosiveness on the edge.
There is nobody on the team with more speed than senior All-American candidate and cornerback Troy Pride, but Young has displayed a consistent aptitude to beat Pride down field in practices on straight go routes. That’s why when reporters were asking Pride this spring about the swift sophomores, he quickly made sure the "middle child" was not forgotten.
“The sophomores are fast, but you’ve got to count in Mike Young,” Pride reminded. “He’s got some wheels.”
WHAT WOULD BE CONSIDERED A FULFILLING, SUCCESSFUL INDIVIDUAL SEASON?
Foremost is continuing to stay healthy as he did this spring to build upon his progress. That was a problem in the past, as was focusing on too many ancillary aspects such as whether his gloves were too tight, etc., which made him overthink on the field
Next is taking the step that Finke did last season.
Prior to 2018 it was Finke who was the forgotten middle child after catching only six passes for 102 yards in 2017. Thus, in 2018 the much rangier Boykin and Claypool were the focal figures, while the younger, swifter players such as Young, Austin, Lenzy, et al were going to render Finke into a forgotten man in the lineup, or “it was nice while it lasted for the former walk-on.”
Now it’s Young’s turn to be in 2019 what Finke was to 2018.
We do not envision Young snaring 49 passes this year the way Finke did in 2018, mainly because the receiving depth should be better balanced now that the sophomores have a year under their belt in the weight room.
Instead, about 30 to 35 catches from Young could still match Finke’s 571-yard output, or about 16 yards per catch, which would be field-stretching type of production.
More catches will definitely drop Young's 19.7 yards per reception from last year on seven grabs. However, if Young can become the consistent mainstay he is capable of as a field stretcher, then that should help bolster the overall unit into a higher tier than 31.4 points per game, while the top teams are between 44 to 48.