Notre Dame’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 9, Braden Lenzy
Throughout July, BlueandGold.com is counting down the 25 most pivotal figures whom Notre Dame will rely on to get back to the College Football Playoff in 2020, if the season is held.
This is not necessarily about who is the best player or the top pro prospect. It’s more along the lines of individuals that need to either emerge, remain a centerpiece or significantly elevate their production to facilitate the Fighting Irish’s goal of climbing toward championship timber.
Much is based on talent and impact, but a premium is also placed on these questions: 1) If you subtracted this individual from the roster, how much of a setback would it be? 2) If this less proven player emerges and makes an impact, how much does that raise the ceiling (or lower it, if a breakout does not happen as expected)? The players and their ranking were determined by vote from five BlueandGold.com writers.
At No. 9 in the countdown is junior wide receiver Braden Lenzy, who earned 75 points in our poll.
Why Lenzy Is Ranked No. 9
Lenzy owns comet-like speed, but appeared with comet-like rarity his first two seasons.
Every time he touched the ball, he became a magnet for every soul in the stadium, necks slowly craning, breath held, to make sure no potential excitement would be missed. Nothing was off limits with Lenzy in the open field. He was Notre Dame’s best home-run hitter and its third-leading rusher despite carrying the ball just 13 times.
Thing is, those touches were intermittent. He had only 24 despite averaging 18.9 yards per touch. He was absent from the stat sheet in four games and had one touch in two others.
There was a concussion that kept him from playing at Georgia. There were also self-admitted fatigue issues — “difficulty sleeping” and needing to “figure out my daily regimen of food and all that,” he told reporters in November. They kept him out of the Nov. 9 game at Duke.
The Irish’s top three receivers from 2019 are gone, meaning Lenzy is in line for a snap count bump as a result of personnel losses, but also because he found himself late last year. After a November surge, he appears to be a trustworthy player who has put earlier instances of swimming upstream behind him. He no longer looked like a sprinter masquerading as a football player.
“He has done a nice job of adding consistency to his practice preparation,” head coach Brian Kelly said in December. “That was one area that had held him back a little bit. We like his competitiveness. Really, it’s a matter of time before he adds more to the trust bank in that he gets more playing time.”
Lenzy had 298 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns in Notre Dame’s last six games. He played a season-high 67 snaps in the last regular-season game against Stanford and 37 (third most) in the Camping World Bowl against Iowa State.
Lenzy’s Status Entering The Season
Lenzy is in the mix, if not the favorite, to start at the field receiver spot. If he demonstrates the continued grasp of the offense and technical development he did toward the end of 2020, it’s hard to envision anyone beating him out. The more he touches the ball, the more explosive Notre Dame’s offense becomes.
“He’s gained even more confidence,” Kelly said before the bowl game. “I think he came back with a sense of, ‘I’m a good player and I’m going to go prove it more so than I’m going to feel my way around here.’ And I think that says a lot about his internal kind of motivation to want to do well.”
Lenzy’s transformation into a more complete full-time receiver was going to take some time. He arrived at Notre Dame with blow-by speed to match anyone, but a limited route tree and a 160-pound frame. He needed more strength to win releases and improvement in his technique to run more than go routes or screens. All but three of his 17 targets were either 10 or fewer yards from the line of scrimmage or at least 20 yards downfield, per Pro Football Focus.
“We knew we had a young man that was going to need to be developed,” Kelly said. “From a technical standpoint, he was very raw. But I think where he’s really improved is catching the football. We thought in his first year that could be a struggle for him.
“I think he’s done a really good job of becoming okay at that. And I think he’s got a chance to be a really solid ball catcher.”
What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?
With start-to-finish consistency and better technique, Lenzy should have a prominent role in the offense all year. Chris Finke, Notre Dame’s primary slot receiver, punt returner and open-field threat the last two years, topped 700 snaps in 2018 and 2019. His single-season bests were 49 catches, 571 receiving yards and four touchdown grabs. Lenzy was the primary kickoff returner in the bowl game and could grab that role again.
The door is open for Lenzy to start the year as his team’s most frequent and trusted target. If so, surpassing 50 catches and 600 yards should be doable. With around 20 rushing attempts at high efficiency, Lenzy could approach 1,000 scrimmage yards. He has the explosiveness to be a yards-after-catch machine and a deep threat few defensive backs can run with in coverage.
This offseason was an important one for Lenzy for develop his route-running skills and add strength. Like everyone else, he was unable to do either in an organized setting. His progress in both areas this summer and any he made while on his own this spring can be the difference in being a complimentary speed threat and a well-rounded receiver capable of leading the Irish in catches and yards.
Behind The Ranking
The top 25 was determined in the same manner as the Associated Press poll. Five BlueandGold.com writers submitted their ballots, and each position on the ballot was given a point value. The top ranking was worth 25 points, No. 2 was worth 24, No. 3 worth 23 and so on down until No. 25, which was worth one point. The players with the 25 highest point totals made the list.
Patrick Engel: 7
Lou Somogyi: 13
Mike Singer: 16
Todd Burlage: 10
Andrew Mentock: 9
Prior Top 25 Profiles
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