Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 2 DJ Brown, fifth-year safety

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 Cincinnati at Notre Dame
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Listed measurements: 6-foot ⅜, 200 pounds.
2022-23 year, eligibility: A fifth-year veteran, Brown has two seasons of eligibility remaining thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver boosting that count by one.
Depth Chart: Brown will compete with classmate Houston Griffith and junior Ramon Henderson to start alongside Northwestern transfer Brandon Joseph this fall. Entering preseason practices, Brown may have the slightest edge on the other two.
Recruiting: Indecision prolonged Brown’s cycle and led to an eventual flip. The consensus three-star prospect had long been committed to Virginia, but he did not put figurative pen to technological paper during the early signing period. That led to the Under Armour All-American cornerback reopening his recruitment and eventually picking the Irish over Cal and Northwestern while holding offers from Clemson, Ohio State and South Carolina.

CAREER TO DATE
Brown spent 2018 as a cornerback on the bench, playing only in a singular blowout, before he moved to safety in 2019. Still, Brown’s work was largely on special teams.

In 2020, he found a spot in the safety rotation, playing more than 200 snaps while backing up Kyle Hamilton. When Hamilton suffered a season-ending injury halfway through 2021, Brown was the initial replacement starter, though quickly replaced by Henderson.

In all ways, that was a demotion, yet Brown stayed engaged. When Henderson intercepted a pass at Virginia, he gave all the credit to Brown for correcting his presnap alignment from the sidelines.

2018: 1 game.
2019: 9 games; 7 tackles.
2020: 12 games, 1 start; 8 tackles with two passes broken up.
2021: 12 games, 1 start; 42 tackles with one for loss, three interceptions and four passes broken up.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS

QUOTES
In five seasons, Brown is about to work under his third defensive coordinator and first with NFL experience. Al Golden has made it clear he will bring some NFL aspects to Notre Dame, most notably in-game adjustments. Per Brown in the spring, there are other new wrinkles, as well.

“I really like the disguises we’re having,” Brown said. “Our other defenses, we’d have certain disguises, but (with) coach Golden, we have a lot more. Then also, there’s a lot more variation to the calls, play cover two, cover three, some man coverage. We mix it up a lot.”

Some of that may stem from Golden having a handful of experienced safeties in Joseph, Griffith, Brown and to a lesser extent Henderson. He can trust them to monitor the defensive alignment from the back line, as well as move them into cornerback roles when needed.

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Given the spring praises and that Griffith was named a Blue-Gold Game captain, it seems most likely he ends up on the top of the depth chart by Labor Day Eve, but Brown will see plenty of work.

“Not only do the Irish wonder about Hamilton’s running buddy and his backup, but they also are unsure of cornerback depth. On what should be another quality defense, the secondary has plenty of questions.

“With that framing, Brown may as well be a known commodity. Particularly on that afternoon against Sam Howell and an electric North Carolina offense, Brown held up.

“While Notre Dame looks for a nickel back, a stable of trusted safeties means Hamilton can cameo closer to the line of scrimmage on occasion. Moving him around will only bother opposing quarterbacks, and if Brown’s biggest contribution is creating that opportunity, it is not a luxury to be overlooked.

“Statistically, Brown will play more, at least 300 snaps, and he will make more than eight tackles, but the versatility he offers new Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman may be the most valuable aspect of Brown’s 2021. …

“Hamilton will head to the NFL after this season, creating an opportunity for both Brown and Griffith. Even if they have trained to run along with Hamilton all these years, starting together should be possible on the back end.

“Proven by (Brian) Kelly’s long want for a fourth safety, there is no younger player yet breathing down Brown’s neck. He should start in 2022 and then be considered in 2023.”

2022 OUTLOOK
For someone who made three interceptions last season, Brown’s play is oddly unmemorable. Perhaps that is a good thing from a safety, an indicator he was not beaten often. But the best safeties make so many plays they cannot be forgotten.

That will most likely be Joseph this season, with his running buddy the more stable of the two safeties, thus allowing the Northwestern transfer some free-range liberties. That may be a scenario ideally-suited for Brown, given the greatest critique of his 2021 was that it was not particularly noticeable.

Henderson’s greater length and sprinter’s speed, though, give him a higher ceiling.

Regardless, Brown should play. Even when Henderson started the final four games last year, Brown played plenty. And as noted regarding Henderson’s interception at Virginia, Brown impacted the game even when he was off the field.

RELATED READING: Lacking Kyle Hamilton against North Carolina, ND again turns to DJ Brown
DJ Brown will add depth and experience to Notre Dame secondary in 2022

DOWN THE ROAD
If Joseph has the season he expects to, he will presumably jump to the NFL after this season. Griffith will be out of eligibility. That combination could lead to Brown returning for the rare sixth year.

Sixth-year players should not be assumed until announced in the winter. Notre Dame will have to be sure of its scholarship count; Brown will have to want to live in South Bend for another 12 months.

But other than those hang-ups, there will be little reason to not want a three-year contributor back in 2023 to add a fourth season to those notes. The Irish are not well-stocked at safety beyond these veterans. Without Joseph and Griffith, Notre Dame will have just Henderson, current junior Xavier Watts, current sophomore Justin Walters and Brown around next season, plus the eventual signees.

Watts is a converted linebacker who used to be a converted receiver. He is rocketing up the learning curve, but his most notable asset is his physicality, not necessarily a trait deployed in an every-snap safety. Walters has not gotten a chance to crack the rotation just yet.

Two highly-touted safeties are committed in the class of 2023, but the Irish would rather lean on a Brown-Henderson combination, backed up by Watts.

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
No. 3 Avery Davis, sixth-year receiver returning from an ACL injury
No. 3 Houston Griffith, fifth-year safety

Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 3 Houston Griffith, fifth-year safety

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 23 USC at Notre Dame
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Listed measurements: 6-foot ¼, 202 pounds.
2022-23 year, eligibility: A fifth-year veteran, Griffith will have no eligibility remaining after this season, barring injury. As is, Griffith could return to Notre Dame in 2022 because of only the universal pandemic eligibility waiver.
Depth Chart: Griffith could end up the safety starting alongside Northwestern transfer Brandon Joseph. Griffith, classmate DJ Brown and junior Ramon Henderson will enter preseason practices on Friday competing for that gig, though all should certainly see plenty of playing time this season regardless of that pecking order.
Recruiting: The Under Armour All-American originally committed to Florida State but reconsidered his choice as the Seminoles stumbled to 7-6 while the Irish went 9-3 in the 2017 regular season. Rivals.com rated Griffith the No. 4 safety and No. 43 overall player in the class of 2018.

CAREER TO DATE
Something to keep in mind as the Irish enjoy a bounty of somewhat proven safeties but few such cornerbacks is that Griffith played nickel back earlier in his career and was also tried at cornerback. His work at nickel back in 2018 was out of a bit of desperation after Shaun Crawford was lost for the season, but Griffith played well, considering he was only a freshman.

Griffith worked largely as Crawford’s backup in 2019 before moving to safety in 2020, yet the two names remained intertwined. Griffith and Brown did not wow the coaching staff in preseason practices, so Crawford was moved to safety, as well. In spot duty, Griffith was targeted eight times by opposing quarterbacks in 2020, giving up seven catches for 83 yards.

He improved on that worrisome rate in 2021, to a drastic enough extent it was not as easily tracked. With star Kyle Hamilton sidelined for half the season, Griffith remained the constant of Notre Dame’s back line. Brown initially stepped in for Hamilton but was then replaced by Henderson.

2018: 11 games, 1 start; 14 tackles with two passes broken up.
2019: 13 games; 5 tackles with one pass broken up.
2020: 12 games, 2 starts; 14 tackles with one for loss.
2021: 13 games, 12 starts; 38 tackles.

At 49 career games, Griffith would be a shoo-in to tie or break Kurt Hinish’s record of Irish appearances. Hinish set the mark at 61 last season, so a complete season with a bowl game would put Griffith atop the record books … if not for fifth-year linebacker Bo Bauer.

When Griffith did not play against Navy as a freshman or in the College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Clemson later that season, he fell two games behind Bauer in this unexpected record chase. Bauer has played in every game of the last four years, giving him the inside track to a mark that should never be broken.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
If anything, it is surprising more college athletes have not found chances to show off their shoe fashion via NIL rights.

QUOTES
Griffith entered the transfer portal following the 2020 season, talked into returning to South Bend by Marcus Freeman once he was named the Irish defensive coordinator. Given that hesitation, it was not a certainty Griffith would return for a fifth season.

“I feel like it’s a lot of talent on this team, and I want to be a part of that team, to go out here and leave Notre Dame and leave my legacy, be a part of a team that wins a national championship,” Griffith said in January when asked what led to that choice.

He then put some blunt onus on himself to make that championship happen.

“Honestly, I need to make more plays,” he said. “It’s something that I just want to work on, just playmaking ability, take it day-by-day. Work on my leadership ability.

“One purpose of me coming back, I want to be a captain of this Notre Dame football team.”

The Blue-Gold Game should never be given too much weight, given it is literally a practice, but Griffith was named a captain for the spring practice finale for the second year in a row.

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Griffith has never lacked physical talent. That was clear in high school, and he has been blessed by health such that his physical gifts have never been diminished. Instead, Griffith has been held back by indecisiveness and confusion. To put a more precise bow on it, both Griffith and (Brian) Kelly cited his ‘football IQ’ this spring.

“Griffith doubled down on film study in the spring, something that should only increase this fall now that he already has his diploma. If that takes, then suddenly Griffith may be in position to make the most of yet another opportunity.

“‘Two things needed to happen for Houston, right?’ Kelly said in mid-April. “‘opportunity and then making the best of the opportunity. What is making the best, what does that equal? For me, I think a lot of that has just been the awareness of the situation that he’s in and using what I think is outstanding athletic ability and applying it to the particular situations. He’s doing that very well this year.

“‘At times he was using a hammer when he needed to use a screwdriver on particular plays.’

“If Griffith uses a screwdriver throughout 2021, that may largely have an intangible effect, but one area in which it should show is in pass breakups. A safety needs to have more in a season than Griffith has in his career, all of three.

“If Griffith can get his hands on half a dozen passes this year, that will show he is finally diagnosing plays quickly and appropriately.”

2022 OUTLOOK
Griffith saying he needs to make more plays should qualify as an understatement. In more than 1,000 career snaps, he has directly impacted 74 of them, between tackles and passes broken up. An athletic safety should be around the ball far more often.

For Notre Dame to enjoy anything near the kind of championship success Griffith seeks, he will need to be around the ball far more often.

The fact that Griffith started 12 games for the Irish last season, playing in all 13, and did not break up a single pass is not a reflection of quarterbacks throwing away from him out of respect. If anything, they would have thrown toward him for the first half of the year in order to avoid Hamilton.

There is no benchmark number of passes Griffith should have broken up or should get to this season, but not getting to any was inexcusable and would remain so.

That harsh reality is why Brown or Henderson is more likely to start alongside Joseph. Notre Dame has a fleet of aggressive linebackers, and the defensive line is the best position group on the team. It no longer needs safeties to buttress the run defense or to pressure the quarterback. It needs them to patrol the back line and break up passes.

Presume that is correct and Griffith is idle on the bench on the first few defensive snaps on Sept. 3 at Ohio State. With his nickel back and cornerback experience, he could quickly become the Irish dime back. Either him or turn to a freshman in front of 105,000 fans; as well as early enrollee Jaden Micken fared in the spring, those stakes are a good deal different.

The Buckeyes will force Notre Dame into dime packages frequently — in this context, “dime” means using more than five defensive backs. The best offense in the country will try to go over the top of Al Golden’s defense. If Ohio State does not find those big plays repeatedly, it is a good chance Griffith is involved somewhere, and he may quite possibly break up his first pass since 2020.

RELATED READING: Houston Griffith’s return provides another possible answer to Notre Dame’s safety questions

DOWN THE ROAD
This is it. Griffith would need to get injured in the first four games of the season for there to be any version of a 2023 collegiate thought.

His general athleticism should get Griffith an offseason look by the NFL, but if he does not make more plays in 2022, that look may be short.

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
No. 3 Avery Davis, sixth-year receiver returning from an ACL injury

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

Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 4 Lorenzo Styles, sophomore receiver poised for a breakout

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-1 ⅛, 195 pounds.
2022-23 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Styles has three seasons of eligibility remaining.
Depth Chart: Styles may be more assured of a starting spot than any other Notre Dame receiver.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star prospect and the No. 6 receiver in the country, per rivals.com, Styles opted for the Irish instead of his homestate Ohio State, where his brother, a freshman safety, ended up.

CAREER TO DATE
Styles played in every game as a freshman, but it was only at the end of the season that he erupted. In the first 11 games, he caught 13 passes for 181 yards, highlighted by a 40-yard catch against North Carolina with 74 yards total that day.

Then in the regular-season finale, Styles caught four passes for 27 yards at Stanford, a season-high in receptions, and in the Fiesta Bowl, he led the way with eight catches for 136 yards and his first career touchdown.

2021: 13 games; 24 catches for 344 yards and a touchdown; one rush for 37 yards.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
Styles and fifth-year receiver Braden Lenzy recently signed a NIL deal with Under Armour and Dick’s Sporting Goods to push a line of athletic apparel that does look rather comfortable.

QUOTES
While Notre Dame has Lenzy and junior tight end Michael Mayer, not to mention junior running back Chris Tyree, as proven offensive playmakers, getting the ball into Styles’ hands will be a priority this fall.

“If he can get his hands on the ball, he can do a lot of great, great things,” Irish receivers coach Chansi Stuckey said in April. “He reminds me of when I first switched to receiver — super athlete, but I didn’t understand the details of it.

“With him, I see a younger version of myself. I’m trying to bring him along the way I was brought along, just working on the details and finding a way to get better every day. Before long, we’ll hopefully have a pretty polished and finished product.

“Getting him the ball in space is the biggest thing.”

For context, Stuckey went to Clemson in 2003 as a quarterback, moving to receiver as a sa sophomore. He had 25 catches for 280 yards in his first season at the new position before catching 64 passes for 770 yards and four touchdowns as a junior.

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Preseason practices will shed more light on Styles’ hopes of cracking the receiver rotation. Of him, (Avery) Davis and (Lawrence) Keys, the Irish are likely to incorporate only two at slot. The transfers of sophomores Jordan Johnson (to Central Florida) and Jay Brunelle (to Yale), though, leave a lack of depth on the outside. Moving Keys there would be a surprise, but Davis or Styles could contribute behind Lenzy.

“If Notre Dame makes sure to get practice reps for one of them on the outside, either one, that will serve as an indication of early faith in Styles and an expectation for him to chip in. Irish head coach Brian Kelly is oft-criticized for not utilizing freshman receivers, but that is not entirely accurate. TJ Jones, Chris Brown, Will Fuller, Corey Robinson, Kevin Stepherson and Kevin Austin all played in at least 11 games, to name the highlights.

“Jones cracked 300 yards with three touchdowns, and Stepherson outdid that with 462 and five scores, while Fuller averaged 26.7 yards on six catches. Brown’s greatest contribution remains well-remembered (50-yard gain at Oklahoma), Robinson’s towering frame provided red-zone worries for every opposing defense to fret over and Austin worked through age-old traits issues to make his only collegiate impressions to date.

“Kelly uses freshmen when they can genuinely help. For further evidence, note tight end Michael Mayer and running back Chris Tyree in 2020.

“Of those receivers, Styles may arrive the most complete package, perhaps aside from Stepherson, myriad off-field issues aside.

“That depth alone may be needed for Notre Dame’s offense to find its footing in 2021. Austin has not played a season’s worth of snaps since his final year in high school in 2017; Lenzy’s hamstrings remain a tricky issue; Keys’ bumps and bruises have kept him off the field a few times throughout his career. Any one of those troubles returning could push Styles into a primary role.

“And if not, then Irish special teams coordinator Brian Polian may have a use for Styles as a punt returner. Polian indicated in the spring that he had made sure to get Styles work at the position, and Notre Dame does not have an established piece there, walk-on Matt Salerno notwithstanding.”

2022 OUTLOOK
Expect more. Notre Dame not only needs more out of Styles as a sophomore, but simple logic also makes it clear more is coming.

Styles took 249 snaps last season, though the Irish offense ran 903 plays. With Kyren Williams and Kevin Austin the most notable names now gone, Notre Dame has few options to step in for them. Styles tops that list.

He likely will push 600 snaps this year. At a minimum, he should take 500.

For prediction’s sake, let’s suggest Styles catches 45 passes for 700 yards and five touchdowns, leading the Irish receivers in all three categories. Those numbers would be higher if not for Mayer, who will get the bulk of first looks from sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner.

On a less serious note, for prediction’s sake, let’s acknowledge the ABC broadcast in 31 days will spend plenty of time on the Styles family, even if Sonny might not start for the Buckeyes. Longtime Irish fans with devoted memories may get flashbacks to a certain Notre Dame quarterback and an Ohio State linebacker circa 2006.

DOWN THE ROAD
Styles will lead Notre Dame in all receiving categories — and this time including tight ends — in 2023, and if those numbers are dramatic enough, that might push him toward the NFL after only his junior season.

The confidence in those statements comes partly from the dire straits of the Irish receivers room. When Davis and Lenzy depart after this season, Styles and his classmates Deion Colzie and Jayden Thomas will be the most proven commodities left. Taking off a third of the offensive snaps will not be an option any longer; Styles might play 800 snaps in 2023.

If he produces in those moments to such an extent he needs to consider the NFL, that will be a welcome worry for Notre Dame.

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

Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 4 Xavier Watts, junior receiver-turned-safety

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 30 North Carolina at Notre Dame
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Listed measurements: 5-foot-11 ¾, 195 pounds.
2022-23 year, eligibility: A junior, Watts has three seasons of eligibility remaining. While it may be assumed all upperclassmen’s eligibility was inflated by the universal pandemic eligibility waiver, Watts and many juniors are on the typical five-year track.
Depth Chart: Watts is one of four safeties competing to start alongside Northwestern transfer Brandon Joseph, and with the least experience both at safety and on defense in general, Watts is presumably the fourth the pecking order among the four.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect and the No. 90 receiver in the class of 2020, per rivals.com, Watts narrowed his choice to Notre Dame and his homestate Nebraska, despite offers from more than half the Big 10 as well as Tennessee, Louisville and Iowa State.

CAREER TO DATE
As a freshman, Watts played in the two games that bookended the Irish coronavirus outbreak, one of many deep reserves to chip in with spot duty those weeks due to the obvious shorthanded nature of the locker room.

He was still a receiver then. It was not until last September that Watts’ move to linebacker became publicly known, and before he saw a genuine chance there, he moved to safety. His most notable work came against Navy, when the physical nature of his linebacker’s physique fit well facing the triple-option. Watts played well enough to stay in the rotation through the end of the season, part of how Notre Dame navigated the loss of star Kyle Hamilton.

2020: 2 games.
2021: 11 games; 15 tackles.

That may not seem like many tackles, but Watts made those 15 takedowns in just 88 snaps.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
Watts appears to make a little spare change by hawking a simple, college football-focused t-shirt, one espousing a belief that few can argue with.

More notably, Watts and the NBC Sports NIL marketplace found a way to help him profit off a hobby.

QUOTES
Watts was viewed as a multi-positional receiver when he enrolled early in 2020. Of course, that spring never happened in a football sense, and Notre Dame admittedly struggled to get newcomers up to speed due to the pandemic’s limitations that fall. So his only moments of note on offense came in 2021’s spring.

Thus, the move to defense surprised Watts, but the Irish needed depth at linebacker after Marist Liufau, Shayne Simon and Paul Moala were all lost for the season to injury. And Watts had excelled as a defensive back in high school, making 68 tackles and picking off three passes in his senior season.

“[The move] caught me by surprise a little bit,” Watts admitted in the winter. “I really wasn’t expecting it too much.

“I played it in high school, so I wasn’t too worried about it. I was excited to go out there and try something new.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
Few projections end up further off than this one, undone by Watts’ eventual position change.

“Notre Dame’s uncertainty at receiver will end up to someone’s benefit. Of the 10 receivers on the roster, from a sheer numbers perspective, some receiver or two will break through. Simple logic suggests that is more likely to be one of the four seniors and not one of the two remaining sophomores, but that latter thought cannot be ruled out.

“Watts will get a chance at that, if nothing else, presuming he can stay healthy. His natural hands and comfort chasing a deep ball — exhibited both in that pass from Buchner and in his work as a defensive back in high school — make it clear Watts has collegiate talent. It very well may be he simply needs to find health for a sustained stretch.

“The odds are, though, Watts will provide depth in 2021, especially since slot receiver is the only established position in the group, and more obvious candidates have shown some flashes in their careers at both field (senior Braden Lenzy) and boundary (senior Joe Wilkins; theoretically senior Kevin Austin).”

2022 OUTLOOK
Watts’ 15 tackles on only 88 snaps might be an inflated piece of praise, simply given the nature of playing significantly against Navy, but it is still a valid bit to note. Watts has a knack for finding the action.

That action may blow by him, simply given his lack of experience, especially compared to Joseph, fifth-years DJ Brown and Houston Griffith, and junior Ramon Henderson. That will be the risk of playing Watts, while his eagerness to hit the ball carrier is the reward.

With those other options around, Watts’ time should remain limited in 2022. Plodding offenses will best cater to his skill set, presumably Cal, Stanford and Navy more than any other opponents.

In just those three games, Watts may approach last year’s 15 tackles. By no means does his inexperience condemn him to the bench. The Irish will recognize the cure to that inexperience is playing time, gleaned whenever possible.

RELATED READING: Xavier Watts growing, learning and flashing

BEFORE YOU ASK
Watts is not going to move back to receiver to help with yet another depth issue. Notre Dame may have only seven healthy receivers, including a former walk-on, but Watts has chosen to focus on defense, feeling his long-term ceiling is higher there than at receiver. Based on what he showed last fall, that may prove wise.

DOWN THE ROAD
Getting Watts reps on Saturdays will be vital for Notre Dame as it moves forward. Joseph likely will head to the NFL this spring, while Brown and Griffith will be out of eligibility. That will leave Watts and Henderson the top-two options on the Irish depth chart at safety, at least at first glance.

Others will compete for the starting roles. Namely, current sophomore Justin Walters and a pair of highly-touted 2023 commitments could push Watts.

If his high-school playmaking shows itself this fall or in the spring, those pushes may not matter.

RELATED READING: 2023 recruiting off to strong start with 8 consensus four-star commits
Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 22 Justin Walters, sophomore safety

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