Notre Dame’s wide receiver room underwent a war of attrition this season. Transfers, position changes, injuries. You name it; it happened to the wide receiver room at Notre Dame in 2021. On Monday night, the room could officially add its first decommitment in some time, delivering yet another blow to the future Notre Dame wide receiver depth chart.
Even before the Williams decommitment, many, myself included, felt Notre Dame needed to take another wide receiver this year, given all of the losses the room felt in the last twelve months. Transfers to Kendall Abdur-Rahman, Micah Jones, Jordan Johnson, and Jay Brunelle and a position change for Xavier Watts. That’s five receivers who were on scholarship at this time last year gone.
After injuries hit during the season, Notre Dame was down to just five healthy, scholarship wide receivers – seniors Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy and freshmen Lorenzo Styles, Deion Colzie, and Jayden Thomas. Heading into the 2022 season, Austin and Lenzy could return, as too could injured seniors Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins, though, at this time, none of their intentions are known publicly.
At the moment, Notre Dame has just two wide receivers committed for the class of 2022, and one of them appears to be hanging on by a thread – Amorion Walker. There seems to be some optimism that Notre Dame can retain the long-time pledge, but Michigan has been trying to flip him along with Alabama for months. If Walker ends up signing anywhere but Notre Dame, it would be a massive blow to what is otherwise an outstanding recruiting class.
We don’t know who, between Kevin Austin, Braden Lenzy, Joe Wilkins, and Avery Davis, will return in 2022. All are eligible, but Lenzy said he didn’t intend on returning before the season, and some feel Austin could test the NFL waters. Wilkins and Davis are also both coming back from significant injuries. All four would benefit from returning, but there is only one ball and three starting receiver positions. With Colzie and Styles ascending, only Austin might be an absolute lock to start should they return.
If Notre Dame were to get three of the four to return – which could be optimistic – Notre Dame would head into the 2022 season with at most eight scholarship wide receivers. That is not enough. And that is assuming Walker also signs his letter of intent tomorrow to play for the Irish.
Notre Dame fans have criticized Del Alexander for the last couple of years since the 2019 class saw Notre Dame sign just two receivers – Abdur-Rahman and Cam Hart. One has transferred, and the other is a promising cornerback for the Irish defense. Add in a 2021 class with zero remaining receivers on the roster, and that criticism is about to be white-hot. When Alexander had Walker, Williams, and Tobias Merriweather all committed by the summer, it looked like he had atoned for those two missed classes. Even if Walker signs, though, a two receiver class this year, given the numbers at the position, could seal Alexander’s fate as one of the few assistant coaches remaining who haven’t secured their position on Marcus Freeman’s staff.
The fault for the low numbers doesn’t fall solely on Alexander, though. Plenty of blame falls on the previous head coach at Notre Dame, who we know wasn’t the most aggressive recruiter and who reportedly was even derelict of his duties. Jalen McMillan was one of Notre Dame’s top receiver targets in the ill-fated class of 2020 but told the South Bend Tribune after signing day that a big reason why he didn’t sign with Notre Dame was because of Kelly’s lack of involvement in his recruiting. McMillan started 11 games for Washington this year, catching 39 passes for 470 yards with three touchdowns in the process.
Considering Williams was reportedly wavering on his commitment before Kelly’s departure, one also has to wonder how engaged Kelly was in keeping Williams committing before he himself decommitted from Notre Dame for a bag of cash, a new accent, and new awkward recruiting videos.
Regardless of who is entirely to blame for the lack of numbers at the receiver position for the Irish at the moment, it falls on Marcus Freeman and Tommy Rees to now clean up the mess. Keeping Walker in the class is priority number one, but priority number two is identifying a late riser or two in the class of 2022 that plans on signing in February. We tend to forget that the traditional signing day still exists, but with senior tapes now available for a lot of prospects who may have barely played in 2020 due to COVID cancelations, there stands to be a better chance than usual of finding a prospect or two that is worth offering and pursuing.
Notre Dame also figures to be active in the transfer portal at receiver. The Irish hit big with Bennett Skowronek two years but previously swung and missed when taking grad-transfers Cameron Smitha and Freedy Canteen in 2017. The challenge in the transfer portal for Notre Dame will be its problem is more depth, not top-line talent depending on who returns from the quartet of seniors. Typically, transfers are looking for opportunities with clear lines of sight to starting roles/playing time.
However Freeman addresses the issue, one of his first big challenges as head coach is restocking the wide receiver depth chart.