The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are strong in many areas headed into 2022, but fans can also acknowledge a few weaknesses - one of which is the wide receiver position. Irish fans have many justified grievances against the Del Alexander/Brian Kelly-led recruiting efforts at the position, which limited personnel at the position to start. Injuries and early departures further whittled down Notre Dame’s numbers, and they have many Irish fans despairing of the team’s ability to compete on the outside.
I’m not going to pretend the Irish are loaded at receiver or that they are ready to outgun the Ohio State Buckeyes on the perimeter. What I am going to say is there are plenty of reasons to believe this situation is not as bad as it seems, and with good luck on the injury front it’s entirely plausible that Notre Dame could squeeze a solid year of production out of this year’s group before reinforcements arrive in 2023.
The best-known quantities outside for Notre Dame are Lorenzo Styles and Avery Davis. The venerable sixth-year captain Davis has never exactly been a star for the Irish, but has become a reliable contributor out of the slot over the last couple years while flashing impressive quickness and a knack for big moments. Styles, meanwhile, is a star in the making who looked absolutely fantastic as he came on in the second half of 2021. With great speed and the size to be competitive in coverage, Styles is a threat all over the field. If these two can stay healthy, they will give Tyler Buchner a versatile pair of downfield threats and keep the big-play dimension in Notre Dame’s offense alive.
Braden Lenzy and Joe Wilkins, Jr. are the other veterans in the mix here, and I’m certainly pulling hard for both of these guys to finally put it all together after flashing to varying degrees. Lenzy’s blazing speed makes him a more likely candidate to finally break out - especially with Wilkins sidelined until the start of the season - and Tommy Rees has been saying the right things about his development, if you put stock in that. If either one of them can stay healthy and finally become a consistent contributor it will do a lot to solidify the Irish passing attack, with Lenzy in particular another guy who can add big-play potential. However, Irish fans do have reason to be concerned about both of these guys given their injury histories.
The real question mark here is whether Notre Dame has the athletes behind these guys to keep the offense going in case one of them gets hurt - which every one of them besides Styles already has multiple times - or simply can’t produce. The answer is: yes, just not in the numbers we would like.
Deion Colzie was less impressive than his classmate Styles in limited time last year, but brings a level of size and strength to the boundary side that the Irish will need in possession and red-zone situations. Incoming freshman Tobias Merriweather brings a similar frame and skillset to the table, and rumors since his enrollment in June suggest that he will be athletically ready to contribute as well. They will have to catch up quickly, but these two guys could have big-time potential and could completely change our perspective on the position if they break out.
Last but certainly not least here is Jayden Thomas, who has impressed in practice and showed out in the Blue-Gold game, recording four catches and showing some nice downfield blocking ability on Jadarian Price’s long touchdown reception. Thomas is a long-striding athlete who moves smoothly in space, has the strength to win contested balls, and can be placed at either the corner or the boundary.
None of this is ideal: there is nothing behind these guys and every one of them will have to contribute. There will be no weight-room years in this group. But put them all together and you have the makings of a productive group with a ton of upside that can be unlocked under the right conditions. The keys here are health and quarterback play: if the receiving corps isn’t decimated by injuries and Tyler Buchner progresses, there is no reason that some combination of these guys can’t lead a successful passing attack in 2022. They will all have the opportunity - it’s just a matter of who can seize it.