Brian Kelly has worked hard at restocking the wide receiving corps. Since arriving in South Bend, Kelly did inherit some star power (see Floyd, Michael), but for the most part he was underwhelmed with the depth that existed on the roster he took over.
That’s not to say that Charlie Weis did a poor job recruiting wide receivers. It’s probably one of the positions he recruited best. But Weis never seemed to have enough bodies at the position, and one of Kelly’s first orders of business was to restock the shelves.
That hasn’t always been easy. Three players that started out at wide receiver, Bennett Jackson, Austin Collinsworth, and Matthias Farley, now roam the defensive backfield. Two more, Justin Ferguson and Davonte Neal, are now gone. And while the receiver position is the one spot that this staff hasn’t pulled a true blue-chipper, the depth chart is finally to a place where the passing game can take flight.
For the first time under Kelly, the Irish passing attack won’t focus on one leading man. That’s not to say that there isn’t a pecking order, with TJ Jones entering his final season and Davaris Daniels ready to take flight. But there’s a pretty big drop after that dynamic duo, though it’s a solid blend of youth and journeymen that should help the Irish have their most diversified aerial attack since Kelly took over.
After Jones and Daniels, how the Irish breakdown their reps should be very interesting. Will CJ Prosise be a true Z receiver or will Amir Carlisle get the majority of snaps in the slot? Can a freshman standout like Corey Robinson or James Onwualu do enough to help the offense from the start? Will Daniel Smith prove to be more than just a great blocker?
Talking with people around the program, there’s a ton of confidence that while this position group doesn’t have a ton of experience, there’s a lot of talent. With a diverse group of talents, that should help power the Irish offense forward, even after a difficult offseason.
Here’s a look at all the wide receivers on the roster, doing our best to incorporate the depth chart as well.
1. TJ Jones, Sr. #7
2. Davaris Daniels, Jr. #10
3. Chris Brown, Soph. #2
4. CJ Prosise, Soph. #20
5. Daniel Smith, Sr. #87
6. Corey Robinson, Fr. #88
7. James Onwualu, Fr. #17
8. Will Fuller, Fr. #15
9. Luke Massa, Sr. #14
10. Torii Hunter Jr., Fr. #16
11. Nick Fitzpatrick, Sr. #28
12. Eric Lee, Jr. #37
13. Gerald Martinez, Soph. #83
14. Josh Anderson, Soph. #46
15. Omar Hunter, Fr. #81
It might finally be saying something that the Irish could potentially go ten deep at the position this year, assuming a guy like Torii Hunter were healthy. But that we know so little about everyone minus Jones and Daniels is a scary proposition for Irish fans used to having a marquee talent playing on Saturday for the past decade.
That said, just because Jones and Daniels have flown under the radar doesn’t mean they can’t be national prospects. Both receivers were a silver lining in the Alabama game, playing well into the second half when the offense was all about throwing the ball. Expect both guys to have breakout seasons, with 1,000 yard upsides in an offense that could break loose after a modest ’12 output.
But the fun might exist what happens outside that duo. Will Chris Brown step in and play a role as a deep threat with a quarterback that hasn’t proven to be effective throwing down field? Will Corey Robinson be as impressive as he’s looked in practice videos? Can the Irish finally get some production out of the slot receiver position, perhaps proving Brian Kelly a genius of position switches again with the CJ Prosise experiment? Can a guy like Luke Massa carve out a niche in this offense, a big body type that’s more athletic than you think.
Just about everybody in the freshman class, with the exception of Hunter who is rehabbing an injury, looks like they’ll be able to contribute. If that happens is anyone’s guess, but the smart money has both Robinson and Onwualu playing from week one. Still, this looks like an offense that may have co-leading men, with the rest of the unit just hoping to fine a small supporting role.