Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit
Listed measurements: 6-foot-1 ½, 215 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Thomas still has all four seasons of eligibility remaining after appearing in only three games as a freshman.Depth Chart: Notre Dame’s dearth of receivers, let alone healthy receivers, could be to Thomas’ advantage. A strong spring has him in contention to be the starter at boundary receiver, though fifth-year Braden Lenzy may rotate there to better the path for sophomore Lorenzo Styles at field receiver.Recruiting: Thomas’ quiet freshman season should not take away from his strong recruiting profile, in which he was ranked the No. 45 receiver in the class of 2021 by rivals.com. Thus, Thomas spurned most of the SEC, including his homestate Georgia, in choosing the Irish.
NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
The job description on Thomas’ Instagram page is “Photographer.” Sure, the bio then lists “Georgia | ND Football WR” — and worry not, the Georgia part is simply acknowledging where he is from — but the “Photographer” aspect is a touch different. Only a touch, though.
Kevin Durant has shown up on sidelines with a camera in hand, a credential around his neck. As has Ken Griffey Jr. More pertinently, former Notre Dame defensive lineman Isaac Rochell has found a passion for photography and some semblance of a partnership with Canon.
There may be a path to follow there for Thomas, a creative and enlightening one.
CAREER TO DATE
Thomas played in three November blowouts last season, failing to record a catch in any of them. As classmate Deion Colzie appeared in 11 games and made four catches for 67 yards, it seemed Thomas was falling behind on the depth chart. Then an impressive run-up to the Fiesta Bowl, even if that did not yield snaps, and an even more impressive spring catapulted Thomas back alongside Colzie, if not ahead of him.
That culminated with Thomas’ four catches for 39 yards in the Blue-Gold Game. To conclude this comparison, Colzie had only two catches for eight yards. Thomas’ most impressive moment in that exhibition may have actually been his blocking for early-enrolled freshman Jadarian Price on a screen pass-turned-touchdown.
As this clip hits the replay at 33 seconds, note No. 83 in the white jersey on the right of the screen sealing the sideline for Price’s getaway.
“Everybody goes to college thinking you’re going to play right away, but sometimes things don’t move your way or happen in the position room. I definitely want to play. I’m biting at the bit every day just getting better.”— Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) April 3, 2022
– Notre Dame WR Jayden Thomashttps://t.co/NTycB0RCtN
WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Thomas’ long stride belies his athleticism, but it will reveal itself in due time. That stride will be best used in the field role, where plenty of space is available, not to mention his 6-foot-1 frame is a bit undersized for the boundary role as offensive coordinator Tommy Rees has used it.
“Lenzy may hold onto the starting role on the wide side through 2022, but after that, consider it up for grabs. While Thomas is not touted as much as the other two freshman receivers (Lorenzo Styles and Deion Colzie), a four-star prospect out of Georgia should be viewed with as much long-term optimism as nearly any other recruit.”
The spring version of Thomas was tantalizing. A leg injury played a role in his hushed freshman season, as did the strong play of Kevin Austin. Now fully healthy and without any clear-cut starter ahead of him, Thomas broke through. He may not be towering, but he has a wide frame, its own version of a size advantage. He ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash before arriving at Notre Dame, better speed than one expects when looking at him.
That combination is what the Irish had in mind when they chased the Peach State product. That combination could make him a 2022 starter. At the very least, he will be a contributor.
Notre Dame needs him to be.
When the Irish face Ohio State (104 days), they will have just six or seven healthy scholarship receivers. One of those will be a former walk-on, Matt Salerno. Another will be a freshman yet to partake in a single practice, Tobias Merriweather. The “or seven” will be sixth-year Avery Davis, recovering from an ACL torn in November. It seems increasingly likely fifth-year Joe Wilkins is not yet full-go after suffering a Lisfranc injury this spring.
Notre Dame will hardly have a two-deep depth chart at receiver, so each available will be needed.
And this spring suggested Thomas will be up to that task. If all he needs is chances like he got this spring, then he will have them. If he can produce — especially before Wilkins returns later in the season — then the Irish will continue going to him; they will have no one else to go to.
A dozen catches from Thomas this season may seem like minimal production, but that would be enough to force defenses to acknowledge him on routes, opening up the field for the likes of Lenzy, Styles and star tight end Michael Mayer. If he builds that out to 20 catches, then suddenly Notre Dame’s offense may be nearing a worthwhile hum.
DOWN THE ROAD
Lenzy should be gone in 2023. Davis certainly will be. Wilkins’ injury throws some uncertainty into his projections. But either way, the time will fully arrive for the Irish stellar 2021 receiver recruiting to pay off.
Pulling in a trio of four-star receivers was unlike Notre Dame of late. It had not snagged that many four-star receivers in one class since 2015. In the five cycles between those two classes, the Irish snagged a total of 5 four- or five-star receivers, lowlighted by not signing a single receiver in the class of 2019.
Things have bettered in this regard, or they at least seem to be, but for now, Notre Dame still needs to make the most of every possible perimeter playmaker it has on its roster. All three of Styles, Colzie and Thomas need to pan out for the Irish to sniff the Playoff in the next two or three seasons.
A full season of snaps with that dozen catches could propel Thomas into a strong offseason and such rewards.
NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end
No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 89 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end