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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

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.