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Notre Dame Football Position Preview: Wide Receivers and (Mythological) Olympians

How did the wide receiver room get to this position? It’s all Greek to me

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What is there to say that hasn’t already been said about Notre Dame’s wide receiver group? Poor recruiting and chronic injury issues have put the Irish in an almost untenable position. That’s what led head coach Marcus Freeman to fire the old wide receivers coach and bring in a new one with just one year of collegiate coaching experience.

So how to do a fresh take on this already highly scrutinized position … Eureka! I’ll compare the receivers to Olympians from Greek mythology. Looks like reading all those Percy Jackson books as a kid is finally paying off. Away we go.

No. 4 Lorenzo Styles — Zeus

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Beyond hoping he will, the Irish need Styles to build on his 24 receptions, 344 yards and one score from last season and become a go-to wide receiver. (Spoiler alert, needing production from young and/or unproven players is going to be a theme here). Given the injury history, inconsistency and as-of-yet-unfulfilled potential of the other wideouts, Styles is No. 1 at the position almost by default. And, naturally, the No. 1 receiver is the equivalent of the No. 1 Greek god and king of Olympus: Zeus.

Styles appeared in all 13 games last season, recording just two receptions in the first six games but finishing with at least one catch in each of the final seven contests. His true freshman season culminated with a team-leading eight receptions and 136 receiving yards in Notre Dame’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.

Shouldering the title of No. 1 receiver is a big ask for a true sophomore. That’s the case despite the former four-star recruit’s pedigree: a father who played in the NFL and a five-star safety brother who is reclassifying to join Ohio State this season.

Luckily for Styles, he isn’t really tasked with being the No. 1 receiving option because All-American tight end Michael Mayer is still on the roster. (Stay tuned for the tight end position group preview for more on Mr. Mayer). But Styles is next in line after Mayer and an indispensable part of the pass catching corps.

No. 3 Avery Davis — Ares

Notre Dame v Virginia Tech Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Davis has endured trials and tribulations, more than your typical college athlete. From a position change, to another position change, to ANOTHER position change, to suffering a torn ACL. For a guy who’s been through adversity and proven himself, there’s no one else you would want to go to war with on the field. Who better, then, to be the Greek god of war?

Davis was a four-star quarterback recruit in the 2017 class. After redshirting as a freshman, he was moved to cornerback in 2018, then switched to running back early in 2019. He finally found his niche at wide receiver in 2020 and finished the season fifth on the team in receptions (24) and fourth in receiving yards (322) while tacking on two touchdowns, including a last-minute score to force overtime against No. 1 Clemson.

Davis returned to Notre Dame for a fifth year and finished the 2021 season with 27 receptions for 386 yards and four touchdowns despite missing the final four games with a torn ACL. With that injury preventing him from working out for NFL teams, he elected to use the extra year of eligibility granted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s unclear if he will be back to 100% by the season opener at Ohio State, but Davis is a reliable option in the slot assuming he stays healthy through the majority of season.

No. 0 Braden Lenzy — Hermes

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It seems like all you ever hear about Lenzy is that he is a former Oregon track star. That’s appropriately analogous to the speedy messenger of the gods: Hermes.

Lenzy was a member of the 2018 class, a four-star recruit who committed to in-state Oregon before flipping to Notre Dame. After redshirting as a freshman he flashed as a sophomore: 254 receiving yards and two touchdowns on just 11 receptions and 200 rushing yards and two scores on 13 carries.

Injuries kept Lenzy from building any momentum during the 2020 season, but he put together a better effort last year. He appeared in all 13 games and logged 350 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 32 receptions, the third-most catches on the roster.

Ink has been spilled year after year on the topic of whether “this is the year Lenzy puts it all together.” Staying healthy is an ever-present concern, but his speed is unique to the position group and could be an X-factor if his fifth year in the program is, in fact, the year he puts it all together.

No. 5 Joe Wilkins Jr. — Apollo

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 05 Notre Dame at Florida State Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It makes sense (to me) that the analogous player to the god of the sun would be the most radiant personality at the wide receiver position. If you’ve never heard Wilkins Jr. talk, you’ve missed out. He just exudes positivity. (I also highly recommend reading up on his family story if you haven’t already; it’s powerful to say the least).

As for actual football, Wilkins has had a difficult time finding and staying on the field. He didn’t log a reception until his junior season and finished 2020 with just seven catches for 63 yards and one score. Last season looked to be more promising, especially after an outstanding contested touchdown catch in the season opener.

Unfortunately for Wilkins, his senior campaign ended prematurely with a major knee injury against Cincinnati. He recorded just four receptions for 61 yards and one touchdown in five appearances.

Wilkins elected to return to Notre Dame for a fifth year, but he suffered a broken foot this spring that required Lisfranc surgery. His timetable to return is unclear, and his absence could become significant if just one other receiver goes down with an injury.

No. 83 Jayden Thomas — Poseidon

NCAA Football: Notre Dame Spring Game Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

An unexpected (but welcome) surprise from this spring’s Blue-Gold game was Thomas. His numbers weren’t eyepopping (four catches for 39 yards and a jet sweep carry for 22 yards) but he displayed a smoothness to his game. It was smooth almost like … water? Yeah, let’s go with that and call him the god of the sea.

Thomas’ spring game performance was promising from a player who appeared in just three contests and didn’t touch the ball once as a freshman. And while reading into an open scrimmage in the middle of April is usually a fool’s errand, one might infer that Thomas had even surpassed classmate Deion Colzie on the depth chart.

But regardless of depth chart position — and as with all the young receivers on the roster — the inconsistency of others and lack of bodies at the position mean Thomas needs to tangibly contribute as a redshirt freshman.

No. 16 Deion Colzie — Dionysus

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 23 Notre Dame Spring Game Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If Tantalus were a Greek god, I would go with him for the tantalizing physical traits Colzie possesses. Alas, I’ll settle for the demi-god Dionysus, the patron of wine. Because if the fruits become ripe for the 6-foot-4, 207-pound Colzie, Notre Dame’s passing game could be something sweet this season.

A four-star recruit out of Athens (Georgia, not Greece), Colzie decommitted from the Irish in the spring of 2020 but recommitted before the early signing day. He appeared in 11 games last season and caught four passes for 67 yards. His Blue-Gold game performance was underwhelming (two receptions for eight yards), and the report has always been that he’s adjusting to a significantly greater level of competition than he experienced in high school.

If the light goes on for Colzie, he unlocks a new dimension for an Irish passing game in need of a big-body target on the outside. How soon new receivers coach Chansi Stuckey can get him there will be something to monitor.

No. 15 Tobias Merriweather — Hephaestus

Via @coach_dom21 on Twitter

Similar to Colzie, what Merriweather is as a freshman could make or break Notre Dame’s offense in 2022. And making and breaking things is what Hephaestus, the god of the forge, is all about.

Merriweather, a four-star recruit, was the sole wide receiver to sign with Notre Dame in the 2022 recruiting class following the decommitments of C.J. Williams and Amorion Walker. He’s also the recruit whose family hosted Brian Kelly for a barbecue dinner as the news broke that Kelly would be leaving Notre Dame for the LSU head coaching job.

Asking Merriweather to be a key piece of the Irish passing game as a true freshman is unfair to him, especially since he wasn’t even an early enrollee in the spring. But at 6-foot-4, he and Colzie are the only two big targets at wideout. The Irish need at least one of them — though preferably both — to be a viable option this season if the offense is going to sniff College Football Playoff caliber.

No. 29 Matt Salerno — Hades

Georgia Tech v Notre Dame Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

A harbinger of doom for opposing defenses and punt units. Just as Hades was often excluded from the 12 Olympians, so Salerno is often excluded from the discussion of Notre Dame’s wide receivers.

Salerno became a rotation player on special teams in 2020 when former Irish receiver Lawrence Keys III muffed a punt against Florida State and Brian Kelly yanked Keys for the surehanded Salerno. He recorded 45 all-purpose yards as the regular punt returner that year, then split time with Kyren Williams in 2021. Salerno recorded his first career reception last season and was the main punt returner for the Fiesta Bowl, concluding the year with 42 all-purpose yards.

Awarded a scholarship after the Fiesta Bowl, Salerno will almost assuredly see time this season (even if not as the No. 1 punt returner) if for no other reason than out of necessity.