With the recent transfer of Davonte Neal and the injury to Amir Carlisle that cost the junior another spring practice, wide receiver depth has become a concern for Notre Dame heading into the 2013 season. Notre Dame has numbers at the position, but do they have enough players ready to contribute this fall for the offense to take the next step forward similarly to how the defense did in 2012?
Notre Dame is losing it’s top receiving target from a year ago with tight end Tyler Eifert set to be the first tight end drafted in the first round out of Notre Dame since Irv Smith leaving a void for Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin to fill in the Irish offense. Notre Dame has talent and depth, but experience will be a concern heading into the season with the Irish likely depending on some position switches and incoming freshman for production.
Here is a top to bottom rundown of the wide receiver depth Notre Dame has right now and heading into the 2013 season.
TJ Jones – Jones took a big step forward in 2012 with a career high 50 catches for 649 yards and 4 touchdowns. Jones’s reception total has now increased from 23 to 38 to 50 over the last three years and a similar increase is not out of he question for the Georgia native with the departure of Eifert. Jones’ improvement in receptions becomes even more impressive when you consider that he did so while also improving his yards per catch from 9.6 to 13.0 from his sophomore to junior seasons.
There might not be a more dangerous receiver on the quick outs and wide receiver screens on the Notre Dame roster than TJ Jones. By the end of the season, Jones looked really good on those little quick hitters and as Everett Golson continues to develop and becomes more comfortable with those throws, Jones will continue to impress. Look for Jones to continue his development and improve on his junior season with a great final season in South Bend. 800 yards and 6-8 touchdowns is probably a very attainable goal for Jones in 2013.
Davaris Daniels – The son of former NFL defensive end Phillip Daniels might just be ready to become the #1, dominant wide receiver everyone thought that he would become when he committed to Notre Dame. The younger Daniels has shown flashes throughout his career – most notably during the BCS Championship game – and so far in spring camp he has looked very, very sharp.
Daniels has always had all of the physical tools to be a dominant receiver on the college level and he is now starting to put everything together. I would not be surprised at all to see Daniels elevate his game by eclipsing 1,000 yards with 6 or 7 touchdowns as a junior. Daniels missed some time at the end of the 2012 season due to a broken collarbone but he showed no signs of it against Alabama with a career high 115 yards receiving on 6 catches.
No one should feel concerned about Notre Dame’s top two wide receivers. The Irish can win a lot of games and play championship caliber football with Jones and Daniels lining up as their starting wide receivers. Behind Jones and Daniels, however, Notre Dame has some question marks and injury concerns.
Chris Brown – Rising sophomore Chris Brown showed last year that he can get behind a defense and run a go route, but other than that he wasn’t asked to do much. Very similar to Golden Tate in 2007 albeit with a little less production, Brown flashed enough skill to show that he can be a playmaker but also showed that he needed to develop quite a bit before he is ready to be a consistent producer.
Brown is being trained in the slot this spring in an effort to get him on the field sooner and as a result of the injuries and transfers Notre Dame has experienced. Long term I think his skillset might be better served on the outside as the deep threat in this offense, but short term getting his speed on the field even if just as a decoy will help open things up underneath for the Irish tight ends.
Amir Carlisle – Heading into the spring USC transfer Amir Carlisle was one of the more interesting players on the Notre Dame roster. Carlisle would have been eligible to play last season even after his transfer from USC after being granted a hardship waiver, but unfortunately he was not able to take advantage due to an ankle injury that cost him the season. He still has 3 years of eligibility remaining though and he received some rave reviews from Brian Kelly before breaking his collarbone in the first full contact practice.
When healthy, Carlisle could be a prime candidate in the slot as a hybrid running back/wide receiver. He has great moves in the open field and good hands. The problem is he has been hurt more than he has been healthy while at Notre Dame. Kelly said that they saw enough of Carlisle to know he will be a factor in 2013 in the limited action he saw in the spring, but to this point he has missed almost all of the last two spring camps and never got close enough to 100% last season to see the field.
All Notre Dame fans should be hoping that Carlisle stays healthy through fall camp because Carlisle has the ability to be a huge factor in the 2013 offense for the Irish. Remember, this is a kid who saw the field as a true freshman at USC despite a fairly crowded backfield at Southern Cal. Light a candle or two at the Grotto that Carlisle recovers from the broken collarbone and is ready for prime time in fall camp.
Torii Hunter, Jr – Before suffering a nasty injury during practice for the US Army All American Bowl, Torii Hunter, Jr. was one of my picks for a somewhat under the radar recruit who could have seen the field early for Notre Dame. When healthy, I love what Hunter has to offer out the slot position. He’s got great speed and athleticism and can make plays in the open field. Despite reports that he could be ready for fall camp, the injury that he had is not the kind of injury that a freshman can generally overcome in time to be a factor on the field as a frosh. Long term though, there is a lot to be excited about the son of Detroit Tiger all-star outfielder.
Daniel Smith – Ever since arriving on camp three years ago, Daniel Smith has shown that he has a lot of athletic ability. The problem for Smith is that he has been slowed by injuries and just hasn’t been able to put it all together at wide receiver. He had 7 catches for 47 yards last season for the first catches in his career. Smith will likely provide depth behind Daniels and continue to be a solid special teams contributor.
Luke Massa – The converted quarterback is heading into his senior season without notching his first career reception. Right now Massa is not in the two deep at any of the receiver positions but has been a valuable contributor on the scout team the last few years. Look for Massa to continue to fill that roll in 2013 and possibly see some action in mop up duty.
CJ Prosise – Brian Kelly announced at his first press conference of the spring that the rising sophomore CJ Prosise would get cross trained at receiver this spring after playing a little bit of linebacker and safety as a freshman. Neal’s transfer and Carlisle’s injury turned cross training into just training though and Prosise will now play pretty much exclusively on offense. With the log jam numbers wise at safety this move makes a whole lot of sense too.
No one outside of the coaching staff really knows what to expect out of Prosise at receiver since we didn’t see him at the position. He provides some interesting match-up problems at 220 lbs at the slot position although I would imagine that his time spent with Paul Longo between now and August will be focused on sliming down a little bit if wide receiver is his final destination.
James Onwaulu – The Minnesota native is already on campus as an early enrollee and has reportedly been impressive so far in camp. Onwaulu is put together well for a freshman and is pretty much assured some work on special teams if not at receiver in the fall. Like Brown he is getting a look at the slot position even though long term I think his best position might be on the outside where his size can be used to his advantage.
In terms of a really unfair comparison for Onwaulu, he is a receiver built in the Anquan Boldin mold – big and physical without “elite” straight line speed, but still more than capable of being a playmaker because he can use his body to shield defenders and can get open. Smaller corners are going to have a hard time covering Onwaulu one on one because of his size. Not sure how much we can expect out of him in the fall because he might need some time to work on his route running, but long term I like what Notre Dame has here.
Corey Robinson – Speaking of liking what Notre Dame has long term, I am really, really high on Corey Robinson and not just because I used to collect his dad’s basketball cards as a kid. I think Notre Dame potentially has a great wide receiver here if Kelly, Chuck Martin, and Mike Denbrock can develop him.
The problem for 2013 is, even though Robinson is already on campus, I think it would be unfair to expect him to make a big impact at receiver this fall. Robinson is still really raw after getting a late start to his football career. Right now Robinson is a huge target but he is going to need some time to learn the nuances of the position. If Robinson develops like he has the potential to though, look out for this kid in a few years.
William Fuller – The last of the incoming freshman at receiver for the Irish, Fuller is another prospect with a high ceiling who might need some time to develop. Fuller is more advanced as a receiver than Onwaulu and Robinson, but will need some time in the weight room similar to how Chris Brown needed to a year ago. It wouldn’t surprise me if Fuller saw some time in the fall, but against teams with more physical corners he’ll have a tough time until he bulks up a bit.