Notre Dame's current dearth of perimeter receivers (in other words, not running backs masquerading as slot receivers) can be traced back to 2010 when former four-star recruit Shaquelle Evans, one of two pass-catching sophomores at the outset of the Brian Kelly era, chose to pursue powder blue pastures, transferring closer to home and the UCLA Bruins.
The defection left Robby Toma was the lone remaining '09 receiver recruit, a good fit in the slot for Kelly's new spread scheme.
One year later, the Irish had three receivers in their recruiting haul: T.J. Jones, Daniel Smith, and Bennett Jackson. A fourth competitor, Austin Collinsworth, was viewed as a both a safety and receiver prospect. Collinsworth began his career on offense, but his one year of tutelage – and that of his classmate's Jackson – was interrupted when two players on the other side of the ball, Spencer Boyd and Chris Badger, chose to transfer and pursue a religious mission, respectively.
Collinsworth moved to safety; Jackson to cornerback, and suddenly Jones and Smith stood alone as two receivers from the 2010 recruiting haul. Coupled with Toma, that's three remaining receivers in two years of recruiting.
2011 became a crucial cycle as a result, but Kelly & Co. landed just one pure pass-catcher, four-star DaVaris Daniels. A Scout Team season on the offensive side of scrimmage for receiver Matthias Farley proved fruitless last fall – the natural safety was back in the defensive backfield, presumably for the long haul beginning this spring.
2009, 2010, and 2011 therefore yielded only a quartet of competitors, especially with '09 running back, turned '10-11 slot, turned '12 RB/slot Theo Riddick more of a jack of all trades than true perimeter target.
Add former verbal pledge Deontay Greenberry's shocking decision to go to Houston (neither Andre Ware nor Case Keenum is walking through that door) and the Irish were again left one player short in the most recent, all-important 2012 cycle.
That's what makes the receiver position a priority in 2013 and probably for 2014 as well.
Below is a look at how the class's most recent addition, 6'4" 195-pound target Corey Robinson will fit in when he hits campus approximately 15 months from today.
2013 Perimeter Wide Receivers DepthCurrent sophomore Amir Carlisle and freshman Davonte' Neal aren't slated for much, if any perimeter (X or W receiver) duty. Carlisle is more of a running back than slot receiver and Neal is almost exclusively a slot option, though his speed and quickness will be utilized all over the field by 2013 if things progress According to Hoyle this fall.
Senior T.J. Jones: The leader at the X position where he's started the bulk of the last two seasons, Jones will be counted on to show up for 13 consecutive games this fall rather than disappear during the season's final month as he did in both 2010 (injury) and 2011 (though he caught five balls – albeit for just 42 yards – vs. BC). Will graduate following the 2013 season.
Senior Daniel Smith: Working at the W receiver spot vacated by record-setting target Michael Floyd. A junior entering 2012, Smith has yet to catch a college pass but burned both seasons of eligibility in sparse special teams action. Joins Jones as a 2013 graduate.
Senior Luke Massa: Former quarterback recruit is still learning the position, though the depth chart will never be more favorable than this fall. The 6'5" 220-pound Massa must emerge as a player in 2012-13 to earn a potential 5th-year in 2014.
Junior DaVaris Daniels: Expected to be among the top players in the rotation this season but in all likelihood, Notre Dame's offense needs him to be much better than No. 4 if they're to improve upon the past two seasons 8-win totals. Eligible through the 2015 season.
Sophomore Chris Brown: Kelly's "third-round steal" as coined on National Signing Day will have his collegiate eligibility determined through 2015 or 2016 pending the upcoming campaign. Polished or not, Brown's athleticism may be a necessary ingredient for the 2012 perimeter.
Sophomore Justin Ferguson: Will be eligible through 2015 or 2016 pending his immersion into action this fall. Lauded by Kelly on National Signing Day as a player that could take the top off the defense (a deep threat) and has also shown impressive aggressiveness and brute strength as a runner after the catch. Either he or Brown, potentially both, will find the field this fall.
Freshman James Onwualu: The first of what should be at least three wide receiver pledges for the 2013 cycle, the 6'1" 185-pound Onwualu is a natural pass-catcher that will join the Irish with a chance to earn the sixth spot in the rotation. (It's relevant to note only one player listed above has caught a college pass.)
Freshman Corey Robinson: At present a three-star prospect, Robinson is athletic and rangy and could easily be 6-5 or 6-6 by the time he hits campus. The son of NBA Hall of Fame center David Robinson, Robinson's playing time in 2013-14 will be determined by weight training and the ability to change direction/get off press coverage, as out-jumping college corners is a rarity for incoming, unseasoned freshman targets.
Note: Early enrollment by either Onwualu, Robinson, or the next receiver recruit to give his verbal pledge could go a long way toward first-season playing time. 2012 recruit Davonte' Neal (mentioned above) will be the leading candidate to fill the slot role in 2013.