Future Tense: WRs

With the graduation of 4-year starter TJ Jones, Notre Dame loses its best receiver for the third consecutive season. Yet the return of DaVaris Daniels ensures the program returns its second-best target for the third straight season as well. It's a trend that will doubtless continue over the next several seasons now that Brian Kelly has injected depth -- if no superstar -- into the WR unit.

2014 Outlook: Wide Receivers

Two from the recruiting class of 2010, T.J. Jones and Daniel Smith, have exhausted their eligibility. Jones started each of his four seasons while Smith burned two years of eligibility as a part-time kick coverage man before earning time as a physical perimeter presence aiding the Irish running game.

The South Bend (Clay High School) product had his final season truncated on October 5, suffering a broken ankle in a win over Arizona State. The 2010 group's other two WR prospects, Bennett Jackson and Austin Collinsworth, moved to the defensive backfield as sophomores.

Potential 5th-year senior: Luke Massa. His return as a scout team WR/QB and game day holder for PAT/FG is pending an available scholarship. There's no chance the staff would play with 84 rather than bringing back versatile scout teamer and strong locker room presence such as Massa as the 85th.

Senior: DaVaris Daniels (2015)

Juniors: Chris Brown (2015) and C.J. Prosise (2016)

Sophomores: Torii Hunter, Jr. (2017), Will Fuller (2016), Corey Robinson (2016), James Onwualu (2016)

Incoming Freshmen: Justin Brent (early enrollee) and Corey Holmes

Scout.com three-star RB/Slot athlete Isaiah McKenzie has yet to qualify academically. At 5'8" 165 pounds, McKenzie would bring additional quickness to a young, faster football team for 2014.

Potential 2014 Class Addition: Charles Nelson. Another diminutive runner and Scout.com three-star prospect whose future in South Bend would likely be as a slot receiver. As noted previously in the running backs preview, popular theory holds that the Irish are unlikely to bring both Nelson and McKenzie aboard. Then again, if both are qualified and spots remain in the class, why not? Notre Dame hasn't come close to filling its 85-player scholarship allotment during the Kelly era.

2014: Depth, and Competition, is the Key

The departing Jones was as advertised (by head coach Brian Kelly, that is) and better than most fans and analysts expected. But as with the loss of Tyler Eifert from 2012 and Michael Floyd before him, the unit as a whole realistically projects to be better in Jones' absence, largely because of the myriad weapons available to Kelly and returning quarterback Everett Golson.

There's a senior ready to step into a lead role in Daniels. There's a junior speedster that ended his season on an up-tick in Brown -- and one that will benefit greatly from the return of Golson, to boot. And there are three sophomores (plus a redshirt-sophomore) that received crucial playing time against top tier competition and will be better next fall for it (Robinson, Fuller, Onwualu, and Prosise).

Augmenting their efforts are the Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year in Torii Hunter, Jr., a slot weapon that should be fully recovered after breaking his femur on January 1, 2013, and a pair (or maybe a trio) of incoming freshmen, Brent, Holmes, and a slot target such as McKenzie or Nelson pending.

The unit should enter August nine, maybe 10-deep, with five battle-tested -- and none from the group out of eligibility next January.

Multiple freshmen redshirts seem likely, then again, Notre Dame found legitimate playing time for seven receivers in 2013 with Jones rarely leaving the field -- they could realistically reach eight regular contributors next fall pending Golson's ability to spread the wealth in an offense that has proven it must run the football to beat the big dogs and one that has two proven tight ends, to boot.

2015: If you fear competition, don't join the perimeter fray in South Bend.

The Irish receiving corps is stacked through 2015 whether or not Daniels remains for his potential 5th-season. No more than two pledges will likely be courted for the 2015 cycle though like quarterback and cornerback, wide receivers tend to migrate elsewhere as depth charts unfold in South Bend -- Shaquelle Evans 2010; Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson 2012 (not to mention Deontay Greenberry's signing day defection from '12).

The ideal recruiting model for '15 would include a special athletic talent that could carve a niche role in his first two seasons coupled with a second receiver that could also project to the defensive backfield for Kelly's future Irish.

Final Grade and Projections

2013: B … Jones was excellent, but Daniels was at his best against Temple, Purdue, and Brigham Young -- only the latter had a pulse. The freshmen trio plus Prosise contributed consistently as a whole, though none from the quartet was a week-to-week reliable producer. The quarterback situation and over-reliance on pre-snap checks didn't do the young unit any favors.

2014: B+ … Changed from my initial grade of A- until Daniels proves he can take the reigns as a leader in a manner similar to Jones last year. The group has A+ capability should Golson perform as expected, but a projection higher than B+ is putting the cart before the horse. These youngsters still have to take major steps forward considering the quality defenses they'll encounter next fall.

2015: A … It's unlikely each member will be on hand for the 2015 season, but the names collected above would make for one of the deeper, more intriguing receiving corps in the nation.

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