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Pre-Spring Depth Chart: Wide Receiver

The first installment of the OFD pre-spring depth chart takes a look at the wide receiver position where there has been some news and notes lately to discuss.

Here is the list of receivers that will be on scholarship for the 2011 football season.

*Denotes 5th year eligibility

Michael Floyd, Senior

John Goodman, Senior*

Deion Walker, Senior*

Theo Riddick, Junior

Robby Toma, Junior

TJ Jones, Sophomore

Daniel Smith, Sophomore

Davaris Daniels, Freshman

George Atkinson, Freshman

Thank Goodness Floyd is Coming Back

I have enough faith in Kelly’s player development (especially at receiver) that I don’t think Floyd’s absence would have been devastating, but it clearly would have been a major blow to this unit.

Floyd’s career numbers account for 61.3 percent of the returning receptions, 67.2 percent of the returning receiving yards, and a whopping 80 percent of the returning receiving touchdowns.

Those are very high percentages, but let’s also remember that Theo Riddick missed a good chunk of the season last year and was on pace for very good numbers, TJ Jones missed the last three regular season games, and these numbers don’t account for passing plays to the tight end where the Irish got 20 percent of their production in 2010.

Nevertheless, this group without Floyd is far less intimidating and lacks an experienced and tall outside receiver.

Where’d All That Depth Go?

Coming into the 2009 and 2010 seasons, the Irish appeared loaded at the receiver position in terms of experience and skill, but more so in terms of bodies. Going into 2011, the depth here has been trimmed down a little bit and exposes a unit that doesn’t have a whole lot of experience outside of Floyd.

Still, the depth is adequate and will allow for everyone a chance to see the field at some point. The team might be in a little trouble if Floyd is to go down long-term with an injury, but overall this is a good spot to be in if you’re a younger receiver looking for minutes.

I’d probably be a little more comfortable with another scholarship at receiver, but this affords Brian Kelly the opportunity to sell 2012 recruits on minutes as a freshman and that is always a big selling point at this position.

With Floyd gone after next season, the freshman-to-be class and current 2012 targets will have a huge opportunity to make an impact early in their careers. It will also help that they are the first two full classes to be recruited specifically for Kelly’s system.

Moving Bennett Jackson and Austin Collinsworth to the secondary makes the receiving depth a little thin, but it is in a good spot for next year and for recruiting.

What Can We Expect from the Freshmen?

A couple weeks ago I believed it would have been a toss-up for either Davaris Daniels or George Atkinson to see the field as true freshmen in 2011.

But with Jackson and Collinsworth now out of the mix and only five returning players with adequate experience, it’s hard not to think that Daniels and Atkinson could see plenty of minutes in the fall.

Notre Dame is returning all three opening day starters from last year in Floyd, Riddick and Jones, but behind them you have Goodman and Toma with decent but not overwhelming experience, an upperclassman in Walker who didn’t even see the field last year, and Daniel Smith who saw limited action on special teams only.

It won’t be easy for either freshman to come in and play right away, but it’s not like the depth chart is so clogged with talent that they can’t step on the field at some point and contribute in a significant way.

Who Needs to Step Up?

You could make the case that everyone except Michael Floyd has to step up in this offense which relies on the passing game so often, especially the other two returning starters.

Theo Riddick needs to stay healthy, continue refining his skills at wide receiver and become the consistent threat in the slot that we saw glimpses of last year.

TJ Jones had moments last year where he looked like a future star, and he’ll need to continue getting better. Ideally, he'd lock down the third starting position with another spring and fall under his belt.

But I think the one player who really needs to step up is John Goodman.

Deion Walker would be another candidate, but he’s been on campus for three full seasons, has caught one ball and hasn’t even been on two separate coaching staff’s radar. There’s the possibility that he breaks out in 2011, but it’s probably more likely that he plays sparingly and is not granted a fifth year of eligibility.

Robby Toma is another choice, but I don’t think there’s much pressure on him to improve this unit. He’s undersized but very fast, and should always be a nice backup who can come in and play well when he gets the ball in his hands.

But Goodman on the other hand, has higher expectations, has played well at times during his career, and will be a reasonably seasoned senior coming into 2011. His punt return duties may be coming to an end, but he has a great mixture of size and speed and needs to step up and give the Irish another big presence on the outside.

Will Riddick Really Move to Running Back?

It still seems highly unlikely.

The current receiving corps is very good and will probably be ranked among the best in the country when the preseason magazines are published, but removing Riddick from the slot immediately makes this group far less intimidating and explosive.

Brian Kelly has invested far too much teaching in Riddick to switch him back to running back, when he can get the ball in Riddick’s hands through the running game as a slot receiver anyway.

Barring some kind of major injury to Cierre Wood or another running back on the two deep, I don’t think Riddick moves to the backfield, and even with such an injury we’d probably just see Riddick more often in the wildcat formation.

What’s the Lineup Going to Look Like?

We know Floyd will be starting and Riddick should be the guy in the slot, although I’m less certain that TJ Jones will lock down the third starting position on the outside.

I’ve always thought that because of his size Jones was a better fit for the slot, but he’s not going to wrestle much playing time away from Riddick in that regard. He might be deployed in the slot in some four-receiver sets, but the Irish are just as likely to kick a tight end out instead of another wideout in that formation.

Being tall isn’t as big of a deal in the spread as it would be in a pro-style system, but it would be nice if two out of the three projected starters weren’t less than six feet tall and there could be some decent size on the field opposite of Floyd.

While I think a Floyd-Riddick-Jones starting lineup is the safe bet, I think Goodman (6’3") and sophomore Daniel Smith (6’4") might get a hard look at the outside position and could push for some quality playing time.

One young player to keep on your radar will be Davaris Daniels, who will likely come in and contribute right away as a freshman. Fellow freshman George Atkinson could also contribute early (especially in special teams), but Daniels has the taller frame and legitimate speed to compete for serious minutes right out of the gate.

A starting spot still seems unlikely (especially since he won’t be in for spring), but I wouldn’t be wholly surprised if Daniels is the starting X receiver at some point in 2011. He’s still very raw, but his size, speed, and talent level are all likely a notch above TJ Jones, so it shouldn’t shock anyone if Daniels catches 25 or 30 passes this upcoming season.

Coach Kelly seemed genuinely excited about having Daniels and had more than just the generic praise for him on signing day. I also think Kelly realizes that without Floyd in 2012, a player with the skill, size and potential like Daniels has to be an experienced threat and ready to take on a big role as a sophomore.

That likely means a lot of playing time as a freshman.

Overall, there is good depth and skill at the wide receiver position heading into spring practice. The return of Michael Floyd boosts this unit (and the team) across the board, but I think it’s important to stress that the younger players have to step up and make the transition as painless as possible when Floyd heads to the NFL.

Another couple gems in next year’s recruiting class will make that an easier road to travel, but ideally the improved output of Riddick, Jones, and Goodman with quality minutes from Daniels, Toma and Smith will keep the receivers at a high level of play into 2012.