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Notre Dame 2023 depth chart projection: Irish need improved wide receiver production

The Notre Dame wide receiver room was a point of weakness in 2022, but there is reason for optimism heading into the 2023 season. The Irish will bring in Sam Hartman, a Wake Forest transfer quarterback who set several ACC records during his tenure with the Demon Deacons. Hartman ranked first in depth of target in 2022 (Irish starting quarterback Drew Pyne ranked 129th), so that immediately elevates the ceiling for what these receivers can accomplish in 2023. The Irish offense is looking to improve on their 31.8 points per game mark. Notre Dame finished 7-0 when exceeding that point total in 2022, but they were just 2-4 when they fell below that mark. 

2022 summary

The Irish wide receiver corps was a shallow group, and they didn’t exactly turn heads throughout much of the season. Sophomore Lorenzo Styles, the projected breakout star of the group, struggled with drops throughout the season and caught 30 passes for 340 yards and a single touchdown. Classmate Jayden Thomas ended the season as the group’s yardage leader with 361 yards on 25 catches. He tied Braden Lenzy, who retired after the Gator Bowl, for the wide receiver lead in touchdown receptions with three. 

Thomas emerged late, posting 12 catches for 189 yards over the final four games, compared to Styles’ seven catches for 53 yards. Additional pieces in the wide receiver room included Lenzy, who departs after totaling 24 catches and 309 yards, both ranking third among wide receivers. Sophomore Deion Colzie also emerged late as a solid third-down option, finishing with nine catches for 192 yards in the final five games of the regular season. Freshman Tobias Merriweather made one catch in the regular season, a 41-yard touchdown reception, but struggled with injury down the stretch. And finally, graduate student Matt Salerno added five catches for 62 yards. 

Thomas and Styles stand out as the guys with the best chance of making the jump to being a true WR1 in the coming season, but Colzie offered a glimpse of his ceiling in the latter portion of the season. Unhampered by injury, and with a full collegiate season under his belt, Merriweather remains a name to watch. 

Key Departures

In this department, it’s really just Lenzy. He vacates a starting role, and the Irish will need to fill it. Lenzy caught 56 passes for 659 yards over the past two years. It isn’t elite-level production, but he was the most proven receiver in the room. No other wide receiver that caught a pass for Notre Dame departs ahead of the 2023 season. Graduate student Joe Wilkins, a role player for several years, entered the transfer portal in November, having not caught a pass in 2022. He announced his transfer to Miami (OH). 

Transfer Portal Additions

Virginia Tech transfer Kaleb Smith is a name to know heading into 2023. His 2022 numbers of 37 catches and 674 yards would both have led the Irish wide receiver room last season. Like the Notre Dame receivers, Smith is receiving an upgrade at the quarterback position and should be in line for a more impactful 2023 season. Smith posted a pair of 100-yard games last season, which no Notre Dame wide receiver accomplished. He’s the natural fit to replace Lenzy atop the depth chart and brings an explosive weapon to the Irish offense. 

Incoming Freshman

The Irish pulled in four wide receivers in their 2023 recruiting class. Braylon James, Jaden Greathouse, Rico Flores and Kaleb Smith (not to be confused with the Virginia Tech transfer) all committed to Notre Dame, and all but Smith enrolled early. That should help mitigate some concerns about learning the complete Notre Dame playbook, which seemed to delay Merriweather’s development. 

Recruiting rankings don’t tell the whole story, but Greathouse feels the most ready to make an immediate impact. He played with Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik for several seasons in high-level Texas high school football. At 6’2, 220 pounds, he has the physicality to get on the field early and make an impact on the 2023 Irish team. James is more of a Merriweather-esque vertical threat, but with a solid spring, he should have a chance to make an impact next season as well. Flores is another early-enrollee and he’s not as highly regarded as Greathouse and James, but the freshman could still find a way to make an impact. He could find a home in the slot for Notre Dame, offering Hartman a consistent target. 

Smith feels like the biggest longshot to impact the roster in 2023. He’s the lowest-ranked recruit and is not enrolled early, which will likely set him a few months behind his classmates. 

Projected Depth Chart 

WR1: Lorenzo Styles, Jayden Thomas, Kaleb Smith

WR2: Deion Colzie, Tobias Merriweather, Jaden Greathouse

This is one possibility for how the two-deep looks heading into the 2023 season opener. Styles and Thomas should retain their starting roles. Despite Styles not making the jump many anticipated, he was still one of the Irish’s most productive receivers and remains a major talent with elite potential. The Irish need to see him make good on that potential sooner rather than later, but he remains atop the depth chart. He sits there alongside the quickly emerging Thomas. Thomas caught five passes for 66 yards as the team’s most consistent receiving threat in the Gator Bowl. His routes looked crisp, and he made several contested catches. He needs to be utilized more frequently next season. Replacing Lenzy is Kaleb Smith. He enters as the most proven receiver, and expectations will be high off the bat. Expect him to be starting in August. 

In the second string, Colzie represents the most experienced name. He emerged late and could be a huge weapon in 2023 if he continues to leap forward. His nine catches for 192 yards in a five-game stretch to end the season extrapolate to 22 catches for 461 yards over a full season. If the Irish can get that out of their fourth wide receiver, that signals good things for the offense. Behind Colzie is a pair of unproven talents. Merriweather is a big-time vertical threat but needs to develop consistency that will hopefully come with a full spring and summer with the team. Greathouse is the freshman with the best chance to impact the team immediately and gives the Irish another rangy, athletic weapon. 

Beyond the two-deep, Flores and James remain intriguing options in the freshman class, and don’t discount Salerno. The sixth-year and former walk-on brings some athleticism and a whole bunch of knowledge to this room. The Irish shouldn’t need to lean on him, but he could be on the field in some key moments in 2023 as well.

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu.

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Notre Dame 2023 recruiting class instant analysis, grades

Notre Dame signed its recruiting class after an eventful early signing day. Most notably, the Irish entered the day with 26 commitments, but flips affected the class. Five-star safety Peyton Bowen flipped to Oregon and four-star running back Jayden Limar is projected to do the same. 

Here’s an instant analysis and grades given to each position group. 

Quarterback: A- 

Four-star quarterback Kenny Minchey would have probably been worth a B or B+ by himself. However, the recruitment’s timing plays a big role in elevating this grade. After losing out on the Dante Moore sweepstakes, the Irish were down and out on a quarterback in the 2023 cycle. Although projected to get highly-ranked C.J. Carr in 2024, the transfer of Drew Pyne left the Irish with questionable depth at the position. 

Minchey re-opened his recruitment late in the fall after previously committing to Pitt. The Irish coaching staff turned up the heat and landed a prolific passer who impressed at the Elite 11 camps. Not only did the coaching staff walk away from this class with a quarterback, but they walked away with one of the best signal-callers.

Minchey ranks 13th among quarterbacks by the On3 consensus rankings. Rivals ranks Minchey at No. 11 among pro-style quarterbacks. In an interview with The Observer, Rivals Notre Dame recruiting analyst Kyle Kelly compared Minchey to both C.J. Stroud and DeShone Kizer in his skillset and physical makeup. He also called it arguably the Irish’s biggest win on the recruiting trail, so it’s hard to drop this grade below an A-.

Running Back: A-

Don’t stress about the de-commitments in this group. Dylan Edwards and Jayden Limar both flipped to Pac-12 schools, but the Irish held onto their highest-ranked running back in Jerimiyah Love. Love is an explosive runner and playmaker ranked as the 5th overall running back by On3 Consensus. Plus, the Irish have a trio of lethal running backs from this season returning, as well as a high-ceiling freshman in Jadarian Price. The Irish did lose two intriguing names in this group. But it was from a deep-position group that was likely going to see some transfers anyways.

Tight End: B+

Cooper Flanagan is the only signee at this position for Notre Dame. However, much like running back, the Irish didn’t need a ton of depth here. Although they will lose Michael Mayer, the Irish have five tight ends currently rostered that will fight for playing time in 2023. Notre Dame also signed a pair of four-star tight ends last year in Holden Staes and Eli Raridon. As such, there was no real need to go after more than one tight end this cycle.

Flanagan, ranked the 14th-best tight end by On3 Consensus, is an intriguing prospect with big-time upside. The biggest impact here for the Irish is Flanagan’s run-blocking ability. He fine-tuned this skillset in a run-heavy high school offense, and that talent could get him on the field early. He’ll have to earn his snaps in a deep tight end room. But Flanagan’s physicality is a big win for the Irish who must get more reliable blocking at the position in 2023.

Wide Receiver: A 

Unlike at running back and tight end, the Irish needed depth here. They signed just one receiver — Tobias Merriweather — last season, and expect to enter next year with just five returning receivers who combined for under 1,000 yards in 2022. The Irish desperately needed depth, and, if possible, talent that could impact their depth chart immediately. 

Check and check. The Irish produced a haul of four receivers, including three from Texas. Jaden Greathouse and Braylon James may be the biggest names in the group. But Rico Flores Jr. out of California and three-star Kaleb Smith represent solid additions to the group as well. 

Greathouse played with Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik in high school and posted some gaudy stats. His experience playing with a high-level Power-5 quarterback could help him get on the field early. James gives the Irish a third big vertical threat, joining Deion Colzie and Merriweather as receivers that are at least 6-foot-4. Flores posted consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to end his high school career. And Smith flashed his athleticism while notching two special teams touchdowns to go with five receiving scores. This class is flush with impressive raw athletes that could get on the field early in their Irish careers.

Offensive Line: B-

A little undecided about the haul here. Notre Dame brings in five guys to compete in a loaded offensive line room. This grade is on the higher end of the B- spectrum, and it only falls from a B due to some of the bigger names that Notre Dame missed on. However, Charles Jagusah, the fifth-ranked tackle by On3 Consensus, is a great headliner to this class. Kelly called Sullivan Absher a “prototypical right tackle.” The Carolina native should fit in well as he tries to earn the right to be sophomore Blake Fisher’s eventual successor at the position.

Joe Otting, Chris Terek and Sam Pendleton will probably need more time before having a chance at cracking the starting lineup. They could eventually turn into starting guards or centers for the Irish. The Irish did miss on a few big five-star names, including Kadyn Proctor (Alabama signee) and Samson Okunlola (Miami) along with four-star Monroe Freeling (Georgia) that could have elevated this group.

Defensive Line: B

No major complaints about this group. Although it definitely would have crept up into A/A- territory had they held onto prolific edge rusher Keon Keeley. As it is, however, stealing a high-level pass rusher out of Ohio in Brenan Vernon, directly beating Ohio State for an in-state recruit, is a massive win for Notre Dame. Vernon could be an instant impact player in the edge rusher rotation. Notre Dame is losing Isaiah Foskey and potentially graduate student Justin Ademilola. If Ademilola does depart, senior Nana Osafa-Mensah is the only returning player with more than 80 snaps at the position.

Outside of Vernon, Boubacar Traore is an intriguing prospect. If he stays healthy, which is a prominent concern, he becomes a steal. Canadians Devan Houstan and Armel Mukam are unlikely to make immediate impacts. Time will tell how much the Keeley miss will hurt the Irish. 

Linebacker: A

Just another phenomenal linebacker class from Marcus Freeman and the Irish. Butkus award winner Drayk Bowen has been all-Irish all the time since he verbally committed. He could be an instant contributor on special teams while waiting to crack the rotation in a deep linebacker corps. Jaiden Ausberry is higher-ranked than Bowen by some services. And the Irish stole him out of the heart of LSU territory, winning a key recruitment battle for an elite-level linebacker.

Preston Zinter is a three-star recruit with an intriguing upside. The Irish have maximized recent three-star linebackers, such as team captains Drew White and J.D. Bertrand or 2022 starters Marist Liufau and Jack Kiser. Zinter will be a name to watch. A great group with elite talent and a high upside follow a 2022 class that was high on both quantity and quality.

Defensive Back: B+ 

The Bowen de-commitment hurts. Losing a five-star always will. The Irish lost a pair of them in this cycle, albeit one before the season started in Keon Keeley. That being said, the Irish have buckets of talent here. Christian Gray is the highest-ranked Irish recruit at cornerback since Shaun Crawford in 2015. Micah Bell brings “a rare sort of speed,” with several sub-10.5 100m dash times.

At safety, four-star Ben Minich has run a 10.47 100m and brings elite speed to the position. Adon Shuler was a two-way star this past season and featured dynamic athleticism while accumulating over 100 tackles and 662 all-purpose yards from scrimmage. Irish cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens got four-star cornerback Benjamin Morrison ready to play in a hurry this fall. And he’s got a whole bunch of young talent to work with here.

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu.

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Notre Dame National Signing Day updates, analysis

Notre Dame continued to build their official signing class on Wednesday, inking 24 new recruits in the morning hours. Four-star running back Jayden Limar flipped to Oregon, and five-star Peyton Bowen announced the same move at 11 a.m central time. Here’s a look at every recruit that has signed with Notre Dame on National Signing Day, plus overall analysis of the class.

Instant Analysis, Grades of the 2023 recruiting class

Two-way Athlete Brandyn Hillman

Offense

QB, Kenny Minchey

RB, Jeremiyah Love

TE, Cooper Flanagan

Wide Receivers

Jaden Greathouse

Braylon James

Kaleb Smith

Rico Flores Jr.

Offensive Line

Charles Jagusah

Sam Pendleton

Sullivan Absher

Joe Otting

Chris Terek

Defense

Linebackers

Drayk Bowen

Preston Zinter

Jaiden Ausberry

Defensive Backs

S Ben Minich

S Adon Shuler

CB Micah Bell

CB Christian Gray

Defensive Line

DE Armel Mukam

DE Brenan Vernon

DE Boubacar Traore

DT Devan Houstan

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Greathouse expected to ‘step in right away’ with receiving corps

On Wednesday, Jaden Greathouse made his commitment to Notre Dame official from Westlake High School in Austin, Texas. After heavy recruitment from Chansi Stuckey and an official visit in June, the wide receiver announced his verbal commitment July 15. Greathouse visited once more after that and now, he has converted his word to reality.

According to Rivals, Greathouse ranks as the No. 85 player nationally. He’s also the No. 18 player in Texas and No. 13 in the country at wide receiver. He received a 5.9 rivals rating as a four-star recruit and he sits in the middle of their “All-American Candidates” bracket. He received offers from 15 schools including USC and Michigan and visited Alabama and Clemson in addition to those. Of his 15 offers, Greathouse visited four, including Notre Dame. He only took official visits to South Carolina and Oklahoma outside of the Irish. He did visit the in-state Longhorns on four occasions. After a third visit to Notre Dame though, the wide receiver stopped looking elsewhere.

Greathouse has the potential to be an asset to the Irish on all fronts. He averages 17.4 yards a catch across 232 catches and 67.3 yards per game in his career. He has 53 receiving and seven rushing touchdowns. Greathouse and the Westlake Chaparrals won the 2019 and 2021 6A/D2 Texas State titles. They won a state title in 2020 as well, but the school was 6A/D1 that year. In his senior year alone, Greathouse had 915 receiving yards and 418 yards across kick returns and punt returns. That came after back-to-back seasons with more than 1,100 receiving yards.

There are several ways for Notre Dame to use Greathouse early on. Rivals Notre Dame recruiting analyst Kyle Kelly cites a couple other reasons he might see the field quickly. 

“He played with Cade Klubnik (the backup quarterback at Clemson), and he put together some really good stats his first three years,” Kelly said. “He’s a Texas receiver, playing at the highest level, having had a Power 5 quarterback throwing him passes. He should be able to step in right away.” 

Fellow four-star recruits Rico Flores Jr. and Braylon James join Greathouse in the 2023 Irish recruiting class, as does three-star recruit Kaleb Smith. The four of them will enter a wide receiver room that’s looking to become a stronger weapon for the offense. Tobias Merriweather joined the receiver corps last year as a four-star. According to Kelly, slight concern over his mastery of the playbook is all that kept him off the field. Even so, toward the end of the season, Merriweather started to become a stronger option for Irish quarterback Drew Pyne prior to an injury.

Kelly says there’s more than enough room for Greathouse and company to make a splash. Stuckey and the Irish coaching staff will have competition at the position, and the receivers will look to a new face under center.  

“They can put some pressure on some of those sophomore and soon-to-be junior receivers who are expected to take a big leap,” Kelly said. “Even if they’re not seeing playing time immediately, they’ll be right on the heels of guys like Deion Colzie, Lorenzo Styles.”

If Greathouse doesn’t line up with the offense immediately, Notre Dame fans could see special teams play from the 6-foot-1, 210-pound commit as a punt returner. Either way, it’s likely he’ll be a name Irish fans know early.

Contact Mannion McGinley at mmcginl3@nd.edu