Notre Dame Football's Top 25 Most Important Players, No. 19: Avery Davis
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Notre Dame Football’s Top 25 Most Important Players, No. 19: Avery Davis

Throughout July, BlueandGold.com will feature a countdown of the 25 most pivotal figures counted on to help lead Notre Dame back to the College Football Playoff in 2021.

This is not necessarily about who is the best player or the top pro prospect. It’s more along the lines of individuals that need to either emerge, remain a centerpiece or significantly elevate their production to help the Irish reach that goal.

Much is based on talent and impact, but a premium is also placed on these questions: 1) If you subtracted this individual from the roster, how much of a setback would it be? 2) If this less proven player emerges and makes an impact, how much does that raise the ceiling (or lower it, if a breakout does not happen as expected)?

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish football senior wide receiver Avery Davis
Davis, who had 24 receptions for 322 yards and two touchdowns in 2020, has a chance to be the Fighting Irish’s go-to wideout this fall. (ACC/Notre Dame Athletics)

The players and their rankings were determined by vote from five BlueandGold.com staff members.

Next in the countdown is graduate senior wide receiver Avery Davis, who collected 44 points in our poll.

Why Davis Is Ranked No. 19

The short answer? He’s Notre Dame’s top returning wide receiver from last season. No wideouts coming back from last year’s roster gained more receiving yards than Davis (322).

The long, more speculative answer? Perhaps no Notre Dame wide receiver heading into the 2021 season has a better chance of setting career highs and being a go-to guy for whichever Irish quarterback earns the starting job.

Davis has at least doubled his reception total every year he has been in South Bend. He caught five passes in 2018, 10 in 2019 and 24 last year. Should that trend continue, Davis should be in for a solid senior season.

Davis climbed the ladder without being a true wide receiver until 2019, too. He arrived at Notre Dame in 2017 as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. He spent his entire true freshman season on the scout team. He played most of the 2018 season as a running back, and it wasn't until after fall camp in 2019 that he moved to wide receiver.

Transitions take time. Davis is Notre Dame's top returning wideout despite only having been one for a couple years now. With a set of spring practices under his belt — a luxury he didn't have in 2020 — and a preseason camp yet to come, the Irish are expecting big things from him.

Davis’ Status Entering The Season

The slot is Davis’ position to lose even though the manner in which he won it wasn’t all too impressive. Davis didn’t catch more than four passes in any game last year. He recorded two catches or less in nine games, including being held without a reception in the 52-0 win over South Florida.

Still, Davis fits the mold of a true slot receiver at 5-11, 202 pounds. Though he followed it up with two or fewer catches in the final five games of the season, it remains encouraging that Davis’ best game of his career was his four-catch, 78-yard outing against Clemson last year. The Irish would not have knocked off the No. 1 Tigers without his 53-yard snag and subsequent game-tying touchdown with 22 seconds remaining.

That’s the Davis Notre Dame needs to keep up with the high-powered offenses of today’s game. Davis has shown flashes, but he needs to show them more often. He also needs to find the end zone more than two times.

A high-flying slot receiver opens up so much for an offense, especially one that is trying to discover itself through the air. Fellow senior wide receivers Kevin Austin Jr. and Braden Lenzy, who are both anticipating a breakthrough season like Davis, could benefit greatly from Davis being a problem for the opposition. Not to mention taking pressure off sophomore tight end Michael Mayer, Notre Dame's top returning overall yard-gainer in the passing game.

What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?

Four catches, 78 yards and a touchdown. Multiply those numbers by 12. Forty-eight catches, 936 yards and 12 touchdowns. The dozen scores might be the most lofty aspiration of the three for Davis, but imagine if he continues the trend of doubling his reception total year to year and comes within striking distance of a 1,000-yard season.

OK, the yardage total might be out of reach too. Notre Dame has only had one 1,000-yard receiver in the last five seasons — Chase Claypool in 2019. When breaking down those numbers as 12 sets of the same statistics, though, the end results don’t seem too outlandish. Four catches and 78 yards per game should be doable for the starting slot receiver at a powerhouse program like Notre Dame no matter how much the Irish are expected to struggle airing it out.

The point is Davis needs to strive to have the type of game he had against Clemson every Saturday. He should be getting open enough times to finish every game with a handful of catches. As a slot receiver, he should be making enough defenders miss to average somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 yards per catch — 20 if he’s feeling ambitious.

And maybe that’s just what this Notre Dame receiving corps needs. Ambition. Determination to prove doubters wrong. That mindset could start with Davis, a clear leader in a position group room that has much to prove in 2021.

Behind The Ranking

The top 25 was determined in the same manner as the Associated Press top 25. Five BlueandGold.com staff members submitted their ballots, and each position on the ballot was given a point value. The top ranking was worth 25 points, No. 2 was worth 24, No. 3 worth 23 and so on down until No. 25, which was worth one point. The players with the 25 highest point totals made the list.

Individual Rankings

Patrick Engel: 16

Tyler Horka: 14

Mike Singer: 24

Todd Burlage: 13

Steve Downey: 19

Prior Top 25 Rankings

No. 25: Jonathan Doerer

No. 24: Marist Liufau

No. 23: Drew Pyne

No. 22: Braden Lenzy

No. 21: Jayson Ademilola

No. 20: Chris Tyree

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