Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 5 Joe Wilkins, receiver with a September-costing foot injury

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 05 Notre Dame at Florida State
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-1 ½, 195 pounds.
2022-23 year, eligibility: A fifth-year veteran, Wilkins has two seasons of eligibility remaining, a misguided number considering his 2021 season was halted by injury, but he had already played more than the four-game maximum to preserve eligibility, and now a chunk of this year is in jeopardy for the Florida native.
Depth Chart: A healthy Wilkins would likely start for Notre Dame at Ohio State in 33 days, but a foot injury will sideline him into the season. When Wilkins does return to the field on Saturdays, his recovery will determine where he lands in the pecking order at boundary receiver, as will the progress of sophomores Jayden Thomas and Deion Colzie, of course.
Recruiting: Pursued as a cornerback, the consensus three-star prospect chose Notre Dame over offers from Louisville, Washington State and Michigan State, among others, in a widespread recruitment.

CAREER TO DATE
Wilkins looked to be on the verge of consistently contributing in 2021 when a torn MCL cost him the final eight games of the year. After rising to the occasion when inconsistently called upon in 2020, Wilkins had four catches for 61 yards and a touchdown in five games to begin last season.

That may not sound like much, but extrapolate it across a season and a stat line of 11 catches for 160 yards and three touchdowns is somewhat noticeable. Wilkins’ leaping front-corner touchdown at Florida State showed he could be a red-zone threat.

Instead, his season ended the first weekend of October.

2018: 2 games.
2019: 6 games.
2020: 10 games; seven catches for 63 yards and one touchdown.
2021: 5 games; four catches for 61 yards and one touchdown.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS

QUOTES
Only one quote matters about Wilkins’ 2022 at this point. After suffering a Lisfranc injury and having surgery on his foot in the first days of April, the question becomes, when will Wilkins return this season? The broadly expected timeline for a Lisfranc injury is six months, which would rule out Wilkins for at least September.

Joe Wilkins won’t be 100 percent for fall camp,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said at the end of June. “I would expect him at some point early in the season to be ready to go. I don’t know if it’s first game or not.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Much of the preseason will be spent building and rebuilding the hype around (Kevin) Austin, but a reasonable argument can be made that he should fall entirely in a ‘Believe it when we see it’ category, and if granting that, then Wilkins’ viability becomes both more pertinent and more necessary for Notre Dame this year.

“He has shown good hands and decent speed, but perhaps the part of Wilkins’ game that most sets him apart from the other Irish receivers is his run blocking. In the Irish offense, that alone can get a receiver plenty of playing time, especially in a season when Notre Dame may get away from using multiple tight ends as much as recent years.

“The Irish leaned on Javon McKinley and Bennett Skowronek to clear the perimeter and distance the second level as run blockers in 2020. They were both much bigger than Wilkins, but receiver run blocking is more about want-to than anything else, and with that imposing pair gone, Notre Dame has a want-to vacuum, perhaps aside from Wilkins.

“The Irish would rather Austin’s dynamic playmaking, of course, but if not taking that for granted, then Wilkins’ reliability and physicality would be a considerable backup option.

“None of that may lead to massive receiving numbers — think in the range of 15-20 catches for a couple hundred yards — but Wilkins showed how just a few snags can propel an offense when his three first-half catches against Duke directly led to 10 points in a 27-13 victory.”

2022 OUTLOOK
Patience. Lisfranc injuries can take a bit to come back from, though they are more problematic for bigger players, such as Jarrett Patterson during the 2021 offseason.

That six-month timeline would put Wilkins back into action toward the end of September. How long will he need to go from his first practices to being Saturday-ready? Guessing that answer would be little more than speculation.

But Notre Dame has an off week entering October, the type of week that could allow Wilkins more practice reps while the few healthy receivers enjoy lesser workloads. Heading to Las Vegas to face BYU on Oct. 8 will be a tougher matchup than many expect, but the Irish then have three games to close October that should all be routs.

Bringing Wilkins back into the offense in that stretch would both give him some time to get up to speed and build toward some success given the quality of the secondaries at Stanford, UNLV and Syracuse.

Wilkins could then appear in up to seven games, not counting a bowl game. Notre Dame needs him to. The Irish receiving corps consists of eight names total, including Wilkins and former walk-on Matt Salerno. When another injury inevitably pops up in September, the dearth of depth will become even more dire.

Wilkins’ return will be a welcome one, no matter if it comes with only half a dozen catches for 100 yards. Every route he can run in place of Thomas or Colzie will be a moment their legs get needed rest.

RELATED READING: Already lacking depth at receiver, Notre Dame loses Joe Wilkins for the spring

DOWN THE ROAD
Wilkins is a locker-room favorite. That was clear when the Notre Dame sideline stopped mid-game against Louisville in 2020 to watch a clip on the Notre Dame Stadium video board of Wilkins discussing his relationship with his father who died before Wilkins was born.

It was clear ago when he was a top pick this offseason for workout teams, highlighted by sixth-year offensive lineman Josh Lugg.

With two separate injuries cutting into two separate seasons, there is more reason than usual to invite Wilkins back for a sixth season in South Bend. Not to mention, the Irish will still be desperate for any receiving options.

Wilkins should return in 2023, and if he is healthy, he should have a contributing role throughout the entire season.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 85 Holden Staes, incoming freshman tight end
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit
No. 80 Cane Berrong, sophomore tight end coming off an ACL injury
No. 79 Tosh Baker, one of four young Irish offensive tackles
No. 78 Pat Coogan, sophomore center, recovering from a meniscus injury
No. 77 Ty Chan, incoming offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, sophomore starting left tackle
No. 75 Josh Lugg, sixth-year offensive lineman, likely starting right guard
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard coming off foot surgery
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, senior offensive tackle-turned-guard
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, sophomore offensive tackle, former Auburn pledge
No. 68 Michael Carmody, junior offensive line utility man
No. 65 Michael Vinson, long snapper, ‘Milk’
No. 65 Chris Smith, defensive tackle, Harvard transfer
No. 59 Aamil Wagner, consensus four-star incoming freshman offensive tackle
No. 58 Ashton Craig, incoming freshman center
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, fifth-year defensive tackle, coming off shoulder surgery
No. 56 Joey Tanona, early-enrolled offensive guard coming off a concussion
No. 56 Howard Cross, senior defensive tackle with heavy hands, and that’s a good thing
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, fifth-year offensive lineman, three-year starting center, captain
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, senior defensive tackle, now lighter and a starter
No. 54 Blake Fisher, sophomore starting right tackle, ‘ginormous’
No. 52 Zeke Correll, senior center or perhaps left guard
No. 52 Bo Bauer, fifth-year linebacker, Ironman
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, sophomore offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, sophomore end-turned-linebacker
No. 47 Jason Oyne, sophomore defensive end-turned-tackle
No. 44 Junior Tuihalamaka, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, consensus four-star recruit
No. 44 Alex Peitsch, junior long snapper
No. 42 Nolan Ziegler, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Irish legacy
No. 41 Donovan Hinish, incoming freshman defensive tackle, Kurt’s brother
No. 40 Joshua Burnham, early-enrolled freshman linebacker-turned-end
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, senior Vyper end coming off an Achilles injury
No. 31 NaNa Osafo-Mensah, senior defensive end
No. 29 Matt Salerno, fifth-year receiver, punt returner, former walk-on
No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, fifth-year starting nickel back
No. 27 JD Bertrand, senior linebacker recovering from a plaguing wrist injury
No. 25 Philip Riley, sophomore cornerback
No. 25 Chris Tyree, junior running back, possible Irish bellcow
No. 24 Jack Kiser, senior linebacker, second-year starter
No. 23 Jayden Bellamy, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 22 Justin Walters, sophomore safety
No. 22 Logan Diggs, sophomore running back with a shoulder injury
No. 21 Jaden Mickey, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 20 Jadarian Price, early-enrolled freshman running back with a ruptured Achilles
No. 20 Benjamin Morrison, freshman cornerback
No. 18 Chance Tucker, sophomore cornerback
No. 18 Steve Angeli, freshman QB, Blue-Gold Game star
No. 17 Jaylen Sneed, early-enrolled linebacker, Rover of the future
No. 16 Brandon Joseph, Northwestern transfer, preseason All-American, starting safety
No. 16 Deion Colzie, sophomore receiver
No. 15 Tobias Merriweather, freshman receiver, forever a memorable recruitment
No. 15 Ryan Barnes, sophomore cornerback
No. 14 Bryce McFerson, freshman punter facing a Harvard challenge
No. 13 Gi’Bran Payne, freshman running back, late recruit
No. 12 Tyler Buchner, sophomore starting QB
No. 12 Jordan Botelho, a defensive end-turned-linebacker
No. 11 Ron Powlus III, sophomore QB providing steadiness to a chaotic room
No. 11 Ramon Henderson, junior cornerback-turned-safety
No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback
No. 10 Prince Kollie, sophomore linebacker, high school Butkus Award winner
No. 9 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL
No. 9 Justin Ademilola, fifth-year defensive end, a backup in name only
No. 8 Marist Liufau, senior linebacker returning from a dislocated ankle
No. 7 Audric Estime, sophomore running back, No. 2 on the shortened depth chart
No. 7 Isaiah Foskey, defensive end on a record chase
No. 6 Clarence Lewis, three-year starting cornerback