The 2021 Notre Dame football roster is down another wide receiver after sophomore Jay Brunelle entered the transfer portal on Wednesday. Brunelle became the second sophomore receiver – Jordan Johnson being the first – to enter the portal since the conclusion of spring practice leaving the Irish with a grand total of one scholarship receiver in the sophomore and junior classes combined.
On the surface, the news of Brunelle entering the portal does not seem overly surprising. His name rarely came up in the limited reports from spring practice this year, and with a talented dup of receivers enrolling at Notre Dame – Jayden Thomas and Deion Colzie – along with early enrollee Lorenzo Styles already seemingly ahead of him. Losing another receiver, however, creates some holes on the roster beyond 2021.
WIth Brunelle and Johnson transferring out, the only wide receiver left from the 2019 and 2020 recruiting cycles is Xavier Watts. Brunelle and Johnson were in the 2020 class with Watts, while neither receiver from the 2019 cycle – Cam Hart and Kendall Abdur-Rahman – is still at wide receiver. Hart moved to cornerback while Abdur-Rahman also transferred out of the program. One wide receiver over two recruiting cycles is very far from ideal.
Notre Dame could potentially get by in 2022 if they bring back any of this year’s seniors – all of whom are eligible to return – though the group faces questions of their own after injuries have slowed most of their careers to date. Between Joe Wilkins, Kevin Austin, Braden Lenzy, and Lawrence Keys, there is a ton of talent, but to date, not a lot of production. There’s plenty of time left for all four of them, of course, and for Notre Dame’s sake, they really need a few of them to put it all together this year and potentially next.
The Fighting Irish could look to the graduate-transfer market next year as well. Notre Dame hit on Bennett Skowronek out of Northwestern last year even though their previous attempts at wide receiver grad-transfers were not nearly as successful – Freddy Canteen and Cameron Smith in 2017.
The losses in the wide receiver room place more pressure on this year’s class of Styles, Thomas, and Colzie to hit as well. Notre Dame needs at least two of them to develop into impact players. It also creates more pressure to sign a big wide receiver class in 2022. And finally, it places a spotlight on Del Vaughn Alexander that he probably doesn’t necessarily was on him.
The 2019 receiver class was deemed a miss at the time and, in hindsight, looks even worse. The 2020 class looked great on paper when they signed. Still, with just one player left of the group, even if Watts develops, the group as a whole is destined to be deemed a miss as well, baring some sort of Herculean development from Watts that overshadows the losses of Johnson and Brunelle.
The good news amongst the doom and gloom here is that wide receiver recruiting does look promising for 2022, and the early indicators are that the 2021 class could indeed be the real deal. That could mask the void of bodies in the junior and senior classes next year though Notre Dame’s recent track record of freshman receivers making significant impacts has been less than stellar as well.
At present, Notre Dame has just one wide receiver committed – 3-star Amorion Walker – but is in good shape with four different top 250 receivers at the moment in CJ Williams, Tobias Merriweather, Andre Greene Jr, and Nicolas Anderson. With all of the recent losses, the Irish may add a larger class of receivers than initially expected.