The Notre Dame offense didn’t have great production out of its wide receiving corps in 2022. That should change in 2023, even with Lorenzo Styles transferred out of the program. The Irish have young talent at receiver in years. Sophomore Tobias Merriweather looks primed for a breakout campaign this fall.
Things didn’t go exactly as planned for Merriweather as a true freshman. He caught just a single pass for 41, but it did go for a touchdown against Stanford.
With Notre Dame desperate for big play threats at receiver last year, most helped Merriweather’s big play against Stanford would be a springboard for a big second half of the season. Unfortunately, Merriweather suffered a concussion in Notre Dame’s romp over Clemson and did not see the field for the rest of the year. His freshman year ended with only one catch and eight targets on the season.
Big Spring for Merriweather
Throughout spring practice, Merriweather’s name was one of the most consistently mentioned as turning heads in practice – along with true freshman Jaden Greathouse. Notre Dame posted several clips throughout spring practice, including this one:
And this one of him beating Benjamin Morrison for a deep ball.
Good morning and good day, I will skip to work on account of Tobias Merriweather bombs against Ben Morrison pic.twitter.com/6eIul8Fqf0— Greg Flammang (@greg2126) March 29, 2023
The hype during camp didn’t carry over to the Blue & Gold game where Merriweather caught just one pass for one yard, but like the other receivers on the Blue team, he didn’t get the best of quarterback play as former quarterback Tyler Buchner struggled throughout the game. No receiver for the Blue team caught more than two passes or had more than 18 yards.
Despite the lack of production in the Blue & Gold game, former teammates raved about Merriweather in the off-season. Brandon Joseph predicted that Merriweather would be the “alpha” in the wide receiver in March while preparing for the NFL Draft.
Will Fuller like Breakout in 2023?
Former Notre Dame wide receiver only caught six passes for 160 yards as a freshman in 2013 but exploded for 76 receptions, 1,094 yards, and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2014. Like Merriweather, Fuller didn’t have the best quarterback play during his freshman campaign, with Everett Golson suspended in 2013. When Golson returned, and the Irish had someone who could push the ball vertically again, Fuller took off. The same is possible for Merriweather.
The one catch Merriweather had showed that he could be a big play, vertical threat. Like Tommy Rees in 2013, Drew Pyne just couldn’t consistently test defenses deep. With Sam Hartman in the fold, the Irish vertical game should be a weapon again for Notre Dame, and no other receiver on the roster is suited to be on the receiving end of those passes more than Merriweather. Even though he only had eight targets in 2022, he led Notre Dame with a 24.9-yard average depth of target.
A 1,000+ yard and 15 touchdown season might not be in the cards because Hartman is likely to spread the ball around to the likes of receivers Jayden Thomas, Jaden Greathouse, and new slot receiver Chris Tyree along with tight ends Mitchell Evans, Holden Staes, and Eli Raridon. A huge spike in production from freshman to sophomore seasons isn’t uncommon at Notre Dame, though. It’s become pretty common over the last decade. Golden Tate and Equanimeous St. Brown had modest stats as freshmen, only to explode in their second seasons.
How the Notre Dame receiving rotation shakes out will be fun to watch in the summer. Greathouse looked so good in the Blue & Gold game that it will be impossible to keep him off the field. Jayden Thomas started to break out last year and was also impressive in the spring. Chris Tyree could rediscover the big play potential we saw from him in 2020 out of the slot. Deion Colzie had his moments last year. Freshmen Braylon James and Rico Flores are going to make some noise too.
Merriweather is the outlier, though, as a deep threat who can also play every down. If he and Hartman refine their timing and chemistry over the next two months, Merriweather is in store for a monster season in 2023.
Beyond 2023 for Tobias Merriweather
Because of his speed and big play ability, the sky is the limit for Merriweather. He has potential future first-round draft pick type potential. Fuller was the last Irish receiver to be drafted in the first round, but if Merriweather reaches his ceiling, he has that potential.
Obviously, Merriweather has a lot of work to do before that’s a real possibility. Still, with his size and speed, it’s a definite possibility if he puts it all together over the next 2-3 seasons.