Posted: 6:00 a.m. Thursday, June 20, 2013
By Eric Murtaugh
We've moved through the Notre Dame roster examining whether they'll be better or worse with only two more articles to go. The last piece will be the radically changed quarterback position but today we look at a combined grouping of wide receivers and tight ends.
2012 Wideouts & Tight Ends
I have very strong marks across the board here with the exception of depth. Welch's season-ending knee injury, Daniels missing a few games, plus the lack of young receivers making an impact left these units with a lower number for that category. The depth obviously wasn't terrible as Niklas, Koyack, Goodman, Brown, and Daniel Smith all saw many snaps even if their stats were very meager.
Eifert and Jones really carried this unit with these rankings putting together very fine seasons in a conservative passing offense. Tyler Eifert alone really boosted these rankings across the board. He was just that good.
2013 Wideouts & Tight Ends
Have I mentioned this tight end that left Notre Dame with several school records in hand, who was super versatile, clutch in the many big moments, and ended up being drafted really high in the NFL Draft? Yeah, that guy was awfully good.
I know the loss of Toma and Goodman isn't crippling in any way for the receivers but I believe the loss of Eifert is very big for the tight ends. That's a gem of a versatile athlete and productive player who won't be around anymore.
There are a lot of bodies at wide receiver and tight end which means there's a ton of untapped potential. There's enough starry-eyed optimism with the Niklas, Koyack, and Welch but they are not proven enough to off-set the loss of Eifert to the point where I'd give the tight ends roughly the same rankings as last year if they were standing alone.
These combined units are really interesting though because I think there's a wide range of opinions on them---some might not be too excited at their prospects while others are really enthusiastic about a new crop of young players plus the returning veterans. I'm not sure you can say that about any other area on the roster. Well, maybe running back too.
The combined tight ends and receivers are bringing back 98 out of last season's 181 receptions (54.1%) but that discrepancy is mostly due to losing Eifert's 50 catches and bringing back a combined 8 grabs between Niklas and Koyack. The receivers bring back 90 of 123 receptions (73.1%) from a year ago largely due to the return of starters T.J. Jones (50 catches) and DaVaris Daniels (31 catches) while Robby Toma is the only significant statistical loss with 24 receptions.
The depth at these positions for 2013 is what could really tip the scales---by next January it wouldn't surprise me if the rankings are a little higher across the board. That is especially true if the offense throws the ball a little more with Rees at quarterback.
Notre Dame loses Eifert, Toma, Goodman, Ferguson, and Neal but tight end Alex Welch returns from injury and a plethora of young players inhabit the roster. Chris Brown and Daniel Smith return at wide receiver and they'll be joined by former safety C.J. Prosise as well. The 2013 recruiting class hit both of these positions hard as James Onwualu (early entry), Corey Robinson (early entry), Torii Hunter, and Will Fuller add bodies at wideout and Mike Heuerman (early entry) and Durham Smythe bring the total number of tight ends on scholarship to 5.
Combining the receivers and tight ends the Irish used a total of 9 bodies on a regular basis in 2012; will Notre Dame use more bodies in 2013 and be more productive?
I definitely could see Jones getting in the 80 reception range and Daniels doubling his output from a year ago to around 60 receptions. More passing targets alone should boost the 2013 productivity ranking and I'd be shocked if this pair of starters were anywhere near their combined 81 receptions from a year ago with Daniels being kept out of the end zone.
Can the backups produce the 35 receptions that we saw last season? That's a tough question and I'd answer it by trying to guess how many receivers will see the field this fall. Brown, Smith, and Prosise are all locks for decent minutes and at least 1 of the early enrollee freshmen should see some time, perhaps both. It doesn't seem like too much to ask to get 20 receptions from Chris Brown, does it?
I'm a little more concerned than your average fan about replacing Eifert at tight end but 58 receptions there isn't insurmountable. These guys will get their targets and if the offense throws the ball more good things will happen for Niklas, Koyack, and Welch. I'll still bet the under on matching last year's output, though.
Adding in a healthy increase at wide receiver and I see the overall 2013 production of these combined positions going up.