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Notre Dame loses last receiver depth with Avery Davis suffering a torn ACL on Friday

Clemson v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 07: Wide receiver Avery Davis #3 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass in the fourth quarter against the Clemson Tigers at Notre Dame Stadium on November 7, 2020 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Clemson 47-40 in double overtime. (Photo by Matt Cashore-Pool/Getty Images)

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Notre Dame has lost its last vestiges of receiver depth with sixth-year receiver Avery Davis suffering a torn right ACL in Friday’s practice. The second torn ACL in less than a year for Davis, the Irish now have six healthy scholarship receivers, including one former walk-on. Davis will miss the entire 2022 season.

Davis tore his left ACL in November and returned to action a bit faster than perhaps expected by being full-go at the start of preseason practices. Notre Dame needed him to be available in order to have enough receivers to fill a simple two-deep.

It took Davis three seasons to find his home on the Irish roster, bouncing around from quarterback to running back to defensive back before settling in at receiver. In his career he has 66 catches for 862 yards and eight touchdowns, highlighted by 27 snags for 386 yards and four scores last year.

A sixth-year veteran afforded the 2022 season solely by the 2020 universal pandemic eligibility waiver, perhaps Davis can petition the NCAA for a seventh season following this injury, but having played in nine or more games in four seasons — not to mention preserving a year of eligibility via a traditional redshirt as a freshman in 2017 — there would be absolutely no assurances the NCAA would grant that exemption.

Davis likely would have jumped to the NFL following last season if not for that November torn ACL. It was far from the first hurdle he needed to clear in his football career.

Notre Dame originally signed Davis as a consensus three-star quarterback. He never saw the field in that role, stuck behind Brandon Wimbush, Ian Book and then Phil Jurkovec. So he set aside his dream of starring behind center and sought a way to help the team.

He was buried on the depth chart at running back, and he was too far behind on the fundamentals at defensive back.

“I would be lying if I sit here and tell you it was sunshine and rainbows the whole time,” he said in March of 2021. “I definitely went through dog days and days where it was complete confusion, what’s going on, where am I going to be? It was a point where I’m playing in the fall and the spring in completely different positions. From a comfort aspect, you’re not really able to set fast and set your mind on a specific task and grow at it because it’s such uneasiness, so much uncertainty.”

As a junior, though, Davis fit at receiver, and in 2020, he made the two biggest catches of Notre Dame’s pandemic, one to set up the tying touchdown (above) against No. 1 Clemson and the other the tying touchdown.

Davis’ career to date:
2017: Did not play.2018: 9 games; 22 rushes for 70 yards with 5 catches for 30 yards.2019: 11 games; 10 catches for 124 yards and two touchdowns with 6 rushes for 10 yards.2020: 12 games; 24 catches for 322 yards and two touchdowns with 3 rushes for 57 yards.2021: 9 games; 27 catches for 386 yards and four touchdowns with 3 rushes for 19 yards.

That team-first approach and eventual success established Davis as something more than a captain and a leader, though he was (and perhaps is) in position to be a two-time Irish captain.

“He’s been here six years, he’s played five positions,” offensive coordinator Tommy Rees said last week. “He’s made some plays in absolutely critical moments.

“He gets hurt, he’s back, ready to go for his teammates, makes the selfless decision to be here. … We’ve had a lot of guys that garnered respect over my last five-and-a-half years here, (but) he might garner as much respect as any player in that locker room that I’ve seen. That’s a testament to his character and who he is.”

(Davis tore his ACL on Nov. 6, 2021, in the play below. At the very start of the video, Davis comes from above the line of scrimmage to make a block, and as he pivots, he goes down.)

Without Davis, Notre Dame has only the following scholarship receivers available for action at Ohio State in three weeks: fifth-year Braden Lenzy, sophomore Lorenzo Styles, sophomore Deion Colzie, sophomore Jayden Thomas, freshman Tobias Merriweather and fifth-year former walk-on Matt Salerno.

While Lenzy and Styles are somewhat proven commodities, the other four combine for a total of four career catches, all by Colzie. Lenzy has openly admitted he was exhausted by the end of the Fiesta Bowl, when the Irish had only four scholarship receivers play while attempting 70 pass plays.

To avoid that fatigue on a weekly basis, Notre Dame will have to slow down its offense and lean on its tight ends and running backs to supplement the receivers. Star junior tight end Michael Mayer, in particular, may line up detached from the line all season, and once sophomore running back Logan Diggs is fully recovered from a labrum injury, junior running back Chris Tyree may spend more time at receiver than in the backfield.

Fifth-year receiver Joe Wilkins may return during the season from a Lisfranc injury suffered in the spring, but the timing on his recovery remains vague.

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