Breaking Down Notre Dame’s Wide Receiver Depth

Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver T.J. Jones (7) makes a touchdown catch against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the second half at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame defeats Pittsburgh 29-26 in 3 OT. (Photo: Mike DiNovo / USA TODAY Sports)

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.

Starting Caliber

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.

Promising Underclassmen

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.

Injury Concerns

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.

Incoming Freshmen

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.


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  1. Again..Clearly Chris J has nothing better to do than hate on developing players. I’m pretty sure he played football at the collegiate level, was drafted in the first round and went on to win many NFL rings. Or were you on the bench in High School that one year, and graduated to trolling websites to offer your opinions from the inexperienced sideline views?

    1. SFR,

      Good Point!

      My knee jerk reaction is to think of him as a runningback.
      (I guess from last year’s playing time)

      But I understand that the coaching staff has been giving him a long look at the slot reciever spot this spring.

      I would also consider him for some special teams help as well.
      (heaven knows we could use some!)

      1. If Cam put on some weight this off season, I could see him getting a great deal of reps at RB this year. I don’t think GA3 is ready to be a #1 RB based on his lack of shiftiness and football type running. That really showed last year when he couldn’t really make it to the corners to utilize his speed. Great north/south runner, but he will really have to improve to stay as our #1 RB. Losing Carlisle for the spring really sucked. I hope the Bryant kid is a big a beast as I keep hearing about.

  2. Perhaps a view of our receivers should be taken in terms of status.

    For example:
    Receivers with extensive playing experience: Jones, Daniels
    Receivers with exceptional speed: Brown, Hunter
    Receivers that pose match-up advantages because of their size: Smith, Onwaulu, Robinson
    Receivers who could be exceptional blockers in run support: Luke Massa, CJ Prosise.
    Receivers with exceptional versatility (Can play Running back, Slot receiver, or Wide Receiver) Carlisle

    Looking at our receivers in this way gives a better understanding of the wide array of choices and options
    that Kelly and his staff have assembled in the passing game.
    Granted, there may be an injury or a player red shirted here or there, but at least the coaching staff will
    have several receiver choices available based on the defenses that they will see from week to week or even play
    to play stemming from a particular game situation.

    It is conceivable that the receiver “by committee “ approach could be even more effective and productive because
    of the flexibility, ability to stretch the field, favorable size match up options, game situation choices, and the wide array of
    receiving issues that opposing defenses would have to prepare for.

  3. Looking at the mediocre receivers Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, and Andrew Luck had to cope with in college and still succeed, I really hope EG really improves with his pocket presence next season. Height notwithstanding, EG has the mental makeup and tools (big arm) to really soar.

  4. Hey Chris, I really think you’re under rating what Daniels is capable of accomplishing. I will be absolutely surprised if he is not mentioned for all-American consideration, this year. He was so impressive in that bowl game, regardless of the outcome, that I do not see how anyone can not be excited about what he is going to accomplish in2013.GO IRISH!!

    1. Was it Daniels that was impressive or what is Golson’s accuracy and getting him the ball because we were passing every down in that game? When you have that many pass attempts, someone is going to rack up some serious yards and the reason it wasn’t Eifert is because he was being double teamed. I think some people are really overrating Daniels at this point in his ND career. He has 0 TD catches right now. I know he was injured and all but I just don’t see a huge playmaker in him right now. I hope he proves me wrong, just like John Goodman did after I ripped him throughout the summer as it looked like he was going to be a starting wide receiver after a pathetic ND career up to that point.

  5. CJ could be the next Kelvare Russell to shock and awe us.
    And here’s hoping Amir has better luck come Fall. But if neither works out and

    If Brown,, Onwaulu, and Robinson and Smith are all better as wide-outs,
    then it’s time for the hybrid HB/WR Slot position to become less prominent-
    spread out defenses
    with more wideout formations- and go.

    I’m not surprised when a couple of the above add more than depth
    to the passing game beyond Daniels and TJ.

    Spread ’em out and watch George break some huge runs.


  6. I agree guys. What we have are a bunch of average to a little better than average receivers for any college football team. You can make that work for most of the game but who is going to be the guy that you can go to when you need a huge play to be made? Does anyone stand out to you in this group? Nobody does for me. Let’s hope Chris Brown gets some tack for his receiver gloves so he can actually catch a couple passes this year. He is the only one to me that has the potential to be a gamebreaker, very similar to Golden Tate, although I don’t think Brown possesses the natural ball skills Tate had going into his sophomore year.

    1. Not at all. I really like both Daniels and Jones as the top two wide receivers and think Notre Dame has a lot of good options after them. There are definitely question marks among the group, but Notre Dame has a lot of time to find answers.

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