Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 3 Avery Davis, sixth-year receiver returning from an ACL injury

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 Cincinnati at Notre Dame
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Listed measurements: 5-foot-11, 202 pounds.
2022-23 year, eligibility: A sixth-year veteran, Davis has one season of eligibility remaining and only via the universal pandemic eligibility waiver.
Depth Chart: Presuming health — and that is no certainty — Davis should start in the slot at Ohio State, backed up nominally by fifth-year former walk-on Matt Salerno but more earnestly by either sophomore Lorenzo Styles, fifth-year Braden Lenzy or incoming freshman Tobias Merriweather, whoever is the clear odd man out of the rotation at field receiver.
Recruiting: Hop in the way-back machine and remember neither Baylor nor Texas Tech was particularly good in 2016, Davis’ senior year of high school. As the consensus three-star dural-threat quarterback and Under Armour All-American weighed his options, he considered those homestate possibilities but was more drawn to Notre Dame. Then again, the Irish were not particularly good in 2016, either.

Notre Dame at least had coaching stability, something Baylor lacked, to put it lightly. And as badly as 2016 went for the Irish, 2015 had ended in the Fiesta Bowl, a bit better than Texas Tech’s 7-6 showing, and Davis committed that following March, before the 2016 debacle of a 4-8 season.

CAREER TO DATE
Davis spent 2017 on the sideline deep down the quarterback depth chart, far enough down it he moved to running back in 2018. Giving up his dream of playing quarterback was admittedly difficult, but Davis did not hesitate.

“I would be lying if I sit here and tell you it was sunshine and rainbows the whole time,” he said in March of 2021. “I definitely went through dog days and days where it was complete confusion, what’s going on, where am I going to be? It was a point where I’m playing in the fall and the spring in completely different positions. From a comfort aspect, you’re not really able to set fast and set your mind on a specific task and grow at it because it’s such uneasiness, so much uncertainty.”

He played a bit from the backfield but was still mired deep down the depth chart, so Davis moved to cornerback to help assuage years of Irish recruiting gaffes. He never quite caught on defensively, the learning curve of the new role so steep Davis could not catch up to the rest of the depth chart, and he moved to receiver.

Finally, Davis found a home. He saw action in 2019 and broke out in 2020, most notably with the two biggest catches of Notre Dame’s pandemic, one to set up the tying touchdown against No. 1 Clemson and the other the tying touchdown.

Then in the midst of a productive 2021, Davis tore his ACL in November. While that cost him a chance to piece together an entire impressive season and left the Irish grasping at straws at receiver in the Fiesta Bowl, it is also the primary reason Davis returned for 2022.

2017: Did not play.
2018: 9 games; 22 rushes for 70 yards with 5 catches for 30 yards.
2019: 11 games; 10 catches for 124 yards and two touchdowns with 6 rushes for 10 yards.
2020: 12 games; 24 catches for 322 yards and two touchdowns with 3 rushes for 57 yards.
2021: 9 games; 27 catches for 386 yards and four touchdowns with 3 rushes for 19 yards.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
We, as a society, are about a year away from the return of an EA Sports NCAA Football video game, and no group may be more excited about that than the current players. They will make some money off the return, but that is not the primary source of their anticipation.

Rather, they will have a chance to play as themselves. Most of the previous generation of college football players — a generation the current sixth-years is more precisely a part of — played the game in high school, dreaming of one day being those players. That was how Davis first started thinking about attending Notre Dame.

“I thought about Notre Dame when I played NCAA,” Davis said to Jac Collinsworth last fall on the ND on NBC Podcast. “I used to play NCAA, the football game, all the time. I ran with Notre Dame a lot. That’s where I first got interested in them. That’s where I learned who Everett Golson was, who Tommy Rees was, Tyler Eifert, guys like that.

“That’s where I originally learned about it, and then you start to see — oh, they’re on TV every week, and I saw them a little bit there.”

QUOTES
There is broad optimism Davis will be available at Ohio State on Sept. 3. That will be less than 10 months since he tore his ACL, though, so that optimism should be measured.

The most aggressive timelines in returning from an ACL injury are usually about nine months, meaning Davis will also likely be limited at the start of preseason practices on Friday, though some Notre Dame-selected workout footage this summer has included him appearing rather healthy.

In late June, Irish head coach Marcus Freeman was somewhat vague about his expectations for Davis’ timing.

“Avery is still working his way back,” Freeman said. “I don’t know if he’ll be 100 percent for the start of fall camp. That’s still to be determined. I think that’s what he’s aiming at.”

(Davis tore his ACL on Nov. 6, 2021, in the play below. At the very start of the video, Davis comes from above the line of scrimmage to make a block, and as he pivots, he goes down.)

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Davis comes across as a probable captain. He has been through too much in full view of his entire team only to find a productive role; respect naturally follows that.

“But when it comes to playing time this year, he may also be the only sure thing among the Irish receivers. Whether he starts at slot or at field receiver, he will be the most reliable option for quarterback Jack Coan on Labor Day Eve (one month!).

“If Davis can maintain that reliability and turn it into consistency throughout the season, then he could approach 40 catches and 500 yards this year, perhaps even more yardage with a few big plays courtesy of Coan’s stronger arm.”

2022 OUTLOOK
Davis was on pace for that 40-catch, 500-yard prediction. Extrapolate his nine games of stats into 13 and he would have ended 2021 with 39 catches for 558 yards and six touchdowns.

Notre Dame would leap at that kind of production in 2022.

It may not come, but more because the Irish offense will operate a bit slower this year and its focuses will be junior tight end Michael Mayer and sophomore receiver Lorenzo Styles. None of that reflects poorly on Davis.

There may also be the wonder of if he will be full-go by Labor Day weekend.

Regardless, a third contributing season at receiver is ahead of Davis, something hard to fathom at any point in 2017, 2018 or 2019.

Davis will almost certainly be a two-time captain, and at some point, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees may let Davis finally throw a pass. It would be a fitting conclusion to the career of the one-time quarterback recruit.

DOWN THE ROAD
If healthy, Davis will go through the myriad combine drills in hopes of signing an undrafted free agent contract with an NFL team. There is little reason to bet against him.

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
No. 5 Joe Wilkins, receiver with a September-costing foot injury
No. 5 Cam Hart, senior cornerback, second-year starter
No. 4 Xavier Watts, junior receiver-turned-safety
No. 4 Lorenzo Styles, sophomore receiver poised for a breakout