On Saturday, Notre Dame football was dealt a crushing blow when news broke that 6th-year senior wide receiver Avery Davis tore an ACL and will be out for the season. Of all positions, wide receiver is the one Notre Dame could least afford a major injury; for Davis, the injury robs him of one last chance for everything to come together.
Davis hauled in 27 passes for 386 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2021 before his season was cut short with another ACL injury against Navy. He worked hard throughout the off-season to be ready for the season opener. He looked poised not just to make a full recovery but start the season in the starting lineup as the leader of a wide receiver robbed of depth by shoddy recruiting over the last few years.
Davis decided to come back for a 6th year thanks to the free year of eligibility from 2020, but now his Notre Dame career ends prematurely with another what if. On a personal, you hate to see something like this for any player, let alone one that battled as much adversity as Davis. Recruited as a running back before converting to a running back, then a corner, and finally a receiver; Davis was finally making his presence felt before the injury last year. Despite not playing in the final four games of the year, he had season highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns.
Davis was also a captain last season and was almost certainly set to be a captain again in 2022 before the injury leaving a leadership for the Irish to fill in addition to the void the injury creates on the field.
Notre Dame Wide Receiver Room Dwindling
For Notre Dame, the news is equally as crushing as it leaves Notre Dame with just five fully healthy, scholarship wide receivers at the moment. Joe Wilkins is still coming back from a foot injury, and sophomore Deion Colzie missed practice on Friday. There is some optimism that Wilkins could be ready for the opener, but wide receivers and foot injuries tend to be problematic. Marcus Freeman said on Saturday that Colzie should be back “soon.” Lorenzo Styles, Tobias Merriweather, Jayden Thomas, Braden Lenzy, and converted walk-on Matt Salerno are the Irish’s five fully healthy receivers.
Even if Notre Dame gets Wilkins and Colzie back in time for the opener, having seven scholarship wide receivers – only six of whom were initially recruited – is not ideal. However, it’s safe to assume all seven, assuming they are available, will play this year. It’s also safe to think that CJ Williams would probably have had some role in this offense had he not flipped to USC at the 11th hour. Williams could have been a candidate to replace Davis, given his skillset and how advanced he is as a route runner. But I digress.
Look for freshman Tobias Merriweather, who has reportedly been impressive in the early going of camp, to see the field early in his Notre Dame career. Sophomore Jayden Thomas has also been impressing early on and could be a candidate to take Davis’s starting spot depending on how Wilkins progresses in his recovery. Greg and I have previously talked on the pod about how Wilkins could potentially be an interesting player in the slot, given his size.
Looking for Depth Elsewhere
Notre Dame and Tommy Rees will have to get creative after losing Davis. Notre Dame used a ton of 21 personnel (2 tight ends) in 2020 and might be forced to do that again this year even if it doesn’t produce the most exciting of offenses. The Irish have the talent at tight end with perhaps the best tight end in the country, Michael Mayer, and some promising underclassmen such as Cane Berrong and freshmen Eli Raridon and Holden Staes.
Michael Mayer was already going to see a lot of volume this year if Davis was fully healthy. With Davis out for the year, Mayer’s volume will only increase.
We could see more of running back Chris Tyree in the slot depending on the injury report at running back. Notre Dame already lost Jadarian Price for the year, and it’s unclear if sophomore Logan Diggs will be available for the opener. When Diggs is fully returned, Tyree in the slot seems to make logical sense given the numbers at receiver. Until then, though, Notre Dame needs Tyree in the backfield. Don’t be surprised if Notre Dame utilizes more two-back looks with Tyree and Audric Estime.
Fans will likely throw Xavier Watts’ name out as a potential position switch in the wake of Davis’s injury, but it seems as though the staff wants him to stay on defense because he has a defined role in the defense. The fact that the staff let Watts and Styles both have #4 suggests that they have no intention of moving him.
From a production, depth, and leadership perspective, losing Avery Davis is a big deal for Notre Dame. There’s no sugar coating it. There are things that Notre Dame can do because of talent elsewhere on the roster, but this is certainly not a position Marcus Freeman and Tommy Rees wanted to be in this early in camp.