Notre Dame's relative dearth of wide receivers for its 2014 roster is the result of three realities over the course of head coach Brian Kelly's Irish career, just two of which were under his control: recruiting, roster management, and the life of a student-athlete.
- The Irish inked just one true wide receiver prospect during their 2011 cycle, DaVaris Daniels. Among the remaining 22 signed that February, only two other prospects had a chance to play the position, George Atkinson, who was pegged immediately as a running back, and current starting safety/2012 season savior Matthias Farley, who began his career as a 2011 scout team slot receiver before moving in the 2012 off-season.
- Notre Dame landed three WR prospects in the 2012 cycle plus another athlete, C.J. Prosise, capable of playing on either side of scrimmage. Two of those prospects, Davonte' Neal and Justin Ferguson, transferred during their second spring session with the program. Prosise's move from the defensive side of scrimmage (S, LB, then S) was cemented and appears to be a blessing.
Current seniors T.J. Jones and Daniel Smith will both exhaust their eligibility at the conclusion of the 2013 season, Jones as a four-year starter; Smith as a two-season special teamer (2010 extensively, 2011 in a cameo) and two-year rotation member at the position (2012-13). Fellow 2010 wide receiver prospects Bennett Jackson and Austin Collinsworth both move to the defensive backfield after their first seasons.
The addition of four prospects (detailed below) for the upcoming season and two more already in place for 2014 will help bolster future rosters, but new addition Corey Holmes (St. Thomas Aquinas, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) and longtime pledge Justin Brent (Speedway HS, Speedway, Ind.) need at least one more perimeter threat to join them in what appears to be a Top 5 recruiting haul to South Bend.
Below is a look at Notre Dame's 2014 wide receivers when four-star pledge Corey Holmes hits campus next summer:
Senior DaVaris Daniels (2015): Ranks among Notre Dame's top 10 returning players for 2013 and is a potential pro prospect following his true seniors season, 2014. Daniels was withheld from action in 2011 to preserve a year of eligibilty and could/will likely remain with the program through 2015.
Junior Chris Brown (2015): Earned a monogram as a true freshman last fall and is expected to compete for a major rotation role in 2013.
Junior/Redshirt-Sophomore C.J. Prosise (2016): His apparent ascent from scout team freshman to competitor for the starting slot role was the storyline of the spring.
Sophomores/Redshirt-freshmen James Onwualu, Corey Robinson, Will Fuller and Torii Hunter, Jr. (2016-17): Eligibility to be determined for each, though its apparent at least one, more likely two, and possibly three will see the field this fall. Hunter, Jr. continues to recover from a broken femur suffered at a January 1 All-Star practice.
Fellow incoming freshman Justin Brent (2017-18): Notre Dame inked the rising high school senior prior to his junior season at Speedway, HS and Brent has since exploded as a prospect, earning a fourth star per FOX Sports NEXT and showing well at the recent recruiting event/bonanza, The Opening.
Note: Current senior Luke Massa could apply for a 5th season of eligibility as well. Massa tore his ACL in the spring of 2012 and has played sparingly during his collegiate career after moving from quarterback following his true freshman season (2010).
Football Forum members have recently compared Holmes to a "taller T.J. Jones." (And I think the comparison is apt watching Holmes run a variety of tunnel screens at full speed yet under control. FOX Sports NEXT analysts have universally lauded his hands, ball skills and as important, his athletic gifts, plus his ability to add weight (and he might not be done growing) to a sub-180 pound frame.
Though combine numbers rarely translate to on-field excellence, if the legit 6'2" Holmes is anywhere near his listed 38-inch vertical leap at The Opening, he's more like T.J. Jones with fade route potential, a skill set shared by incoming freshman Will Fuller, another prospect that, like Holmes, appears more quick and fluid than fast -- traits I'll take every time over the long list of high school straight-liners that struggle when "space" includes the presence of defensive pads, hands, and feet.
Holmes will hit campus in 2014 with heavy competition in front of him (and alongside him in Brent). No Notre Dame wide receiver will exhaust eligibility after the 2014 season and just two, Chris Brown and DaVaris Daniels, will do so following 2015. Holmes and Brent won't play immediately, but the pair plus Prosise and the incoming 2013 quartet make up the basis of Notre Dame's distant future at wide receiver.
Playing time will be hard to come by early for both Holmes and Brent, though Year 2 in the system and its concepts should prove fruitful.
Finishing 2014 Notre Dame will receive one more receiver pledge to its current class, of that there is little doubt. Thereafter I expect a potential fourth receiver/athlete prospect to be signed, possibly late in the cycle. You can expect the latter -- if not both -- to be capable of flipping scrimmage and aiding the Irish secondary far down the road.
Playing time could be scarce at Notre Dame in 2014 for incoming freshmen. Expect the third and final true wide receiver pledge to be among the nation's top tier. (Failing that, two athletes that could develop over time at multiple positions could be the fall back plan.)
I'll stick with my initial projection of three true wide receiver prospects, but with a fourth "athlete" (WR/CB/S/RB) joining the fray as well.
For previous "Recruit Fit" columns covering Notre Dame's 2014 class, click the links below:
The First Five Fit -- a look at pledges Greer Martini, Justin Brent, Jimmy Byrne, Jay Hayes, and Andrew Trumbetti.
Quenton Nelson (Nelson's review examines the position's evolution during the Kelly era as well.)
Recent pledge Grant Blankenship's "Recruit Fit" column will be published after Notre Dame receives commitment from its next defensive end or hybrid OLB/DE, Big Skill athlete.