When the whistle blew to end the 2021 Notre Dame Blue & Gold game, the Fighting Irish wide receiver room featured 11 scholarship players. However, after what appears to be a significant knee injury to 5th-year senior captain Avery Davis, the Irish could very well enter this coming weekend’s contest against Virginia with just five healthy wide receivers available – three of whom are true freshmen.
A mix of transfers, injuries, and position changes have contributed to the dwindling bodies for Del Alexander and Tommy Rees to work with.
Three receivers who were on the roster for the spring game are no longer on the roster. Two of the three never even made it to fall camp.
- Jordan Johnson – Two days after the Blue & Gold game, the former 5-star recruit entered the portal. He landed at UCF where he currently has zero catches this season.
- Jay Brunelle – Like classmate Jordan Johnson, he transferred after the spring. He also has as many catches for Yale as Johnson has for UCF.
- Lawrence Keys – After not getting targetted in the season opener, Keys abruptly decided to sit out the rest of the year and focus on graduating and is currently in the transfer portal.
Given Johnson and Brunelle’s impact or lack thereof for their new teams, it’s safe to assume that Lorenzo Styles and Deion Colzie would have passed them anyway. Still, there would undoubtedly be an opportunity for them now if they hadn’t left when they did. Of the three transfers, Keys is the one that stings the most since he would currently be starting had he stuck it out. At the time he decided to leave the team, Notre Dame still had seven scholarship receivers.
Injuries have taken a further toll on the position this year.
- Joe Wilkins – Wilkins was lost for the season in the first half othe Cincinatti game. Before the injury, he had four catches for 61 yards and a highlight reel touchdown against Florida State. If he were healthy, he’d probably be playing 100% of the snaps at the slot position.
- Avery Davis – We don’t yet know the extent of Davis’s injury, but the NBC telecast reported that it was severe and that teammates were consoling him on the sideline so it’s safe to assume his chances of playing again this year aren’t great. He has 27 catches for 386 yards and 4 touchdowns on the season.
Both Wilkins and Davis are eligible to return in 2022 because of the free COVID year in 2020, but that doesn’t help the Irish much over the final three games.
- Xavier Watts – When injuries ravaged the linebacker room, Notre Dame moved Watts to ROVER. When injuries hit the secondary, he moved to safety where he saw some reps against Navy and looked pretty comfortable in his new position.
Where Does Notre Dame Go from Here?
Assuming Davis isn’t back this year, Notre Dame might have to remove the redshirt from freshman Jayden Thomas out of necessity. Outside of that, Notre Dame will have to do some roster juggling to compensate for losing a player who didn’t come off the field much this year.
- Freshman Lorenzo Styles might be able to fill in at the slot, but it’s not ideal to move him full-time after he just started getting comfortable on the outside. Still, his catch and run ability could allow him to thrive working out of the slot. His work on special teams would help in terms of the blocking responsibilities as well.
- If running back Chris Tyree gets back to 100%, he could see more snaps out of the slot – esepcially with the emergence of Logan Diggs at running back. That would open up opportunities for C’bo Flemister and Audric Estime at running back.
- Walkon Matt Salerno likely will see some real snaps at receiver as we saw a week ago.
Having five healthy scholarship players at a position where you typically start three is far from ideal, but it’s most likely the reality of the situation for Notre Dame over the final three games of the year.
On the recruiting front, this probably doesn’t change much from Notre Dame’s perspective – especially if Wilkins and/or Davis end up returning in 2022.