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Notre Dame Football

Position Outlook | Wide Receiver

February 15, 2021
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If I would have told you that Notre Dame wasn’t going to get a combined 10 catches or 100-yards receiving from Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy, you’d assume the wide receiver position was a disaster.

For the first two games, you would have been right.

Things started to flip against Florida State. Javon McKinley had his first of four 100-yard receiving games and he emerged as a big play threat Notre Dame needed. Ben Skowronek returned from injury a week later and emerged as a solid number two option and had a couple of monster performances against Pitt and Boston College.

After one catch from the two in the first two weeks, they had 70 in the next 10 games.

Wide receiver wasn’t a strength, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as most thought it would be. Can it get better after losing McKinley and Skowronek? It has to be if Notre Dame is going to be a College Football Playoff contender.

It may start with getting Avery Davis more touches. He had 27 last season and showed he can make plays vertically and after the catch. If Notre Dame is in 11 personnel more (one back, one tight end), that likely means more snaps for Davis in the slot.

It is worrying Davis and his 39 career catches are more than any other receiver on the roster. That’s why it’s critical for the Irish that talent emerges.

Austin is at the top of the list. He’s entering his fourth year, but injuries and off the field issues have held him back from being the player he was supposed to be. If he’s healthy in 2021, he’s a candidate to be a WR1 and be the next great boundary receiver in blue and gold. Three years of little production makes that difficult to predict, though.

Lenzy had an extremely disappointing season in large part due to a hamstring injury that limited him all fall. He was projected to be a breakout playmaker and the offense could desperately use his speed.

If Lenzy doesn’t produce, Lawrence Keys has flashed that kind of speed in practice. It’s never materialized for him in games, though. He had trouble staying healthy as well and Davis ended up taking control of the slot.

It’s a “now or never” spring for him. He has to take a step to get on the field more consistently.

The other veteran returning is Joe Wilkins who surprised with four catches to spark the offense against Duke in the season opener. He only caught three balls the rest of the season. He’s in the same category as Keys and the other two previously mentioned. The time is now or they will be passed by the younger talent on the roster.

Under Del Alexander, not too many young receivers have jumped the line in front of upperclassmen, but there is no excuse if they’re better since none of the players have enough production to keep their spot safe.

Last year’s freshmen trio has a golden opportunity.

Talent is not the issue with Jordan Johnson. If he is doing what he needs to do, he can make a significant impact. Xavier Watts and Jay Brunelle could easily get into the mix. Reports have been positive about all three of them.

Then there’s the three arriving on campus this year. Lorenzo Styles Jr. is already in school and will be competing this spring. He may be too good to keep on the sidelines. Deion Colzie and Jayden Thomas will be in South Bend in the summer and have more of an uphill climb to get on the field than Styles, but it’s obvious that there isn’t clarity at the position. Anything could happen with this group.

That could be both terrifying and exciting for Notre Dame fans who know the value of having elite receivers. There are some potential stars on the roster. Alexander needs to help those players rise to their potential this season.

 
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