The following players are players who are under the radar, but I could see making big jumps next season. Some may not be as much as a surprise, but then some are less apparent. These are all based on my opinion of what I have seen/heard from 2019.
Braden Lenzy (RS/JR)-
Lenzy is an undeniable choice for a surprise player for the 2020 season. I know most are thinking he isn’t a “surprise player”. I believe there is a good chance that Lenzy doubles his production next season after his 454 yards in 9 games in 2019. With the speedster from Oregon being dangerous all over the field, he makes for a unique offensive talent for Notre Dame. Lenzy has a natural running ability on jet sweeps, even though Lenzy is a smaller guy he has excellent balance when bouncing off of tacklers. Lenzy also can’t be guarded 1on1 very often because he will run right past the defender in most cases. I expect Lenzy to return some kickoffs next year, and if he gets a running lane, then it’s going to be off to the races because he’s that fast.
Bo Bauer (JR) –
Bo Bauer is a fan favorite with the Irish fans. Bauer will play a significant role in special teams. But my surprise with Bauer is I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays meaningful snaps at linebacker. Bauer played mostly mop-up duty and special teams and still managed 28 total tackles and 2.0 tackles for a loss. Bauer’s biggest problem is if Drew White and Bauer can play together. They’re both Mike linebackers at the moment, but can Drew or Bo become a Buck linebacker?
I genuinely believe that the three linebackers that lineup for Notre Dame against Navy are going to be Drew White and Jack Lamb on the inside and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Jack Lamb is a prospect that I like, but his injuries scare me. Bo Bauer brings a nastiness that Notre Dame doesn’t have on its defense with the departure of Gilman. I’m not too fond of the idea of taking JOK out of space, that seems crazy to me. Owusu-Koramoah is due for a breakout season as a rover, and I’d like him to stay there. Bauer isn’t a player that you want to put in space in the passing game often, but with identical intangibles as Asmar Bilal, I don’t think the idea of him becoming a Buck is crazy. I know Bilal is long and rangy, but Bauer closes ground fast. I might be wishing for something that isn’t plausible, only time will tell.
Kevin Austin (RS/JR)-
The former top 100 recruit out of Pompano Beach Florida is set to make his return to the gridiron in 2020 after being suspended all of the 2019 season. In 2018, Kevin Austin played in four games for the Irish tallying 5 catches for 90 yards. There is a pretty good chance that Kevin Austin leads Notre Dame in receiving this season after only having five previous catches. Kevin Austin is a talent that wasn’t one Notre Dame’s 2019 roster, literally and figuratively. Chase Claypool was a significant deep threat, but if he was catching a route that wasn’t taking a shot, he was more of a possession receiver. Kevin Austin can beat you deep or take a 5-yard crossing route 75 yards. I’m very excited to see where Notre Dame’s 2020 offense goes. It could be one of Brian Kelly’s more explosive offensives even if it isn’t returning it’s most prominent threats from a year ago.
KJ Wallace (RS/SO)-
One of the Sophomore and/or Freshman DBs need to make a jump next season. I believe it’ll be KJ Wallace. Wallace was one of my favorite recruits from the 2019 class, his speed, quickness and willingness to tackle as a smaller corner jump off the film. Notre Dame needs to find a nickel, and KJ seems like an excellent candidate for it. We only heard good things about Wallace in last year’s spring practice, which usually seems it’ll be a good indicator going forward even though we knew he wasn’t going to play much in 2019 baring injury. Wallace can play either corner position also though he’s not necessarily a big corner. I expect a big leap from KJ Wallace in 2020.
Ovie Oghoufo (RS/JR)-
Ovie Oghoufo will not have a starting spot on the defensive line in 2020, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be very productive as a rotational guy. With Ade Ogundeji and Daelin Hayes moving into starting end positions in 2020 and Jamir Jones moving on to the NFL. That means someone needs to make-up for Ade, Daelin, and Jamir’s roles off the bench, and I believe that’s what Ovie does. In only eight games, Ovie managed to rack up 2.5TFL and 2.5Sacks. I expect Ovie to at least double those numbers and then also become more of a run defender from the DE spot. Ovie feels like one of those players that could take a massive leap, and no one from outside the Gug expected, so here’s your fair warning.
Kyren Williams (RS/SO)-
Kyren Williams seems to be the forgotten running back on Notre Dame’s roster. Everyone talks about all of the running backs potentially having a breakout season besides Kyren Williams. Williams was a 4-star RB out of high school, and I think he shines in spring ball. On only 4 rushing attempts on the season, Kyren Williams managed to average 6.5 yards a carry. I see the running back room as an open depth chart coming into 2020 spring ball. The staff loves Armstrong. We know Armstrong is going to have plenty of carries in 2020. There is room for at least two more running backs to take a lot of game reps. Kyren Williams would have played last year if there was room for reps, but as a true freshman, there wasn’t.
Houston Griffith (RS/JR)-
The former top 75 recruit needs to be a hit in 2020. Houston Griffith has had a weird career at Notre Dame, so far. Griffith started the 2018 season as the starting Nickleback, then by the end of the season wasn’t playing at all. I think Griffith makes the jump in 2020 and becomes a needed rotational guy. Coming out of high school, Griffith had all the potential to be playing as a true freshman and produce. He played, but he didn’t provide. With the departure of Gilman and Elliott, the development of Griffith is a must. With the wizard that Clark Lea is, I think the coaching staff will get it done.
Matt Cashore, 247sports