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Player Projection: DaVaris Daniels

This article is a part of our 2012 Player Projections series. During the summer months will be evaluating each player on Notre Dame’s projected two-deep depth chart — reviewing their careers to this point and discussing expectations for the year to come.

DaVaris Daniels is far more prepared to play as a sophomore after learning the ropes as a freshman.

DaVaris Daniels — Wide Receiver
Height: 6-foot-2 Weight: 190
Experience: None
Stats: None.

While linemen Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt were projected as the instant impact freshman players for Notre Dame on defense in 2011 (which they were), quarterback Everett Golson and wide receiver DaVaris Daniels were also labeled with similar potential on offense.

However, whereas the two linemen played immediately, Golson and Daniels were kept off the field for basically the same reasons.

First, they needed much more development physically, with both graduating from high school in the 170-to-175-pound range. Both also were standout basketball players — Golson made all state in South Carolina while Daniels was a four-year starter for the Vernon Hills (Ill.) varsity — so their time in the weight room was limited.

Second, the duo needed far more work on adapting to the mental aspects of the college game. At Vernon Hills, Daniels played in a Wing-T offense that had a limited number of plays, and he was an “athlete” more than a polished receiver. As a senior he caught as many passes (23) as he threw, and most of his damage was done while averaging 10.8 yards per his 59 carries, scoring 10 times off rushing plays. When it came to reading coverages route running … blocking? … Daniels was not yet primed to play at this level.

Another setback followed Daniels this spring when a hamstring injury sidelined him approximately two weeks. Nevertheless, he had a couple of quality practices to begin the spring. He closed the final week of drills with a flurry and found himself in virtually a co-starting role with junior and good friend TJ Jones at X receiver (the longer side of the field from the hash mark). The position combines Jones’ receiving savvy, 19 career starts and 61 catches with Daniels’ larger ceiling and big-play potential.

With 6-2 height, a 38-inch vertical jump this winter (it was measured 42.5 in high school), a 10-5 broad jump and 4.5 speed, Daniels boasts the physical wares to compete at this level — especially after elevating his frame to 190 pounds. The light also began to at least flicker when it came to grasping his position and the overall offense.

“It’s confidence in a lot of things,” said Daniels of his progress. “Learning defenses, knowing the right routes, what plays work against a specific coverage, where the quarterback is going to be looking — everything just kind of ties in.”

The first objective is to maintain a consistency in his tempo and attitude toward competition, including daily practices. During an April 14 seven-on-seven drill that was open to the media, Daniels was sternly reminded by offensive coordinator Chuck Martin that he has to run and sell his pattern with much more effort after one play nearly resulted in a pick six for the defense.

“He doesn’t know how to practice yet … he’s just got to learn how to play the game,” said head coach Brian Kelly afterwards. “… I think he’s going to get it. It’s just that it’s taking a little time.”

In the final week of spring drills, Daniels’ playmaking skills began to come to the surface with greater frequency.

“Once you make a couple of plays, that’s the igniter,” Kelly said. "Then he made a ton of plays. We know it’s there. Now we’ve got to get it from him. We feel really good about going into the summer as it relates to Daniels.”

2012 Role
The two returning veteran receivers on the outside, Jones and fifth-year senior John Goodman, both averaged less than 10 yards per catch last season, something you will seldom find in any major college program. Jones’ 38 grabs averaged 9.6 yards and Goodman’s seven catches averaged 9.3 (and 9.7 on 15 catches in 2010).

Even Michael Floyd was limited to 11.5 yards per his 100 receptions after averaging 15.0, 18.5 and 13.0 his first three seasons. This data is not necessarily all on the receivers. It was a byproduct of the overall offense that had limits in what it could run.

Notre Dame set a school record with 302 pass completions last year, but only two went for more than 40 yards. One of them was a 45-yard dump-off pass to Theo Riddick in the final minute of the regular season finale at Stanford when the Irish were trailing 28-7.

“Our plan offensively will include trying to stretch the field a lot more than we have the first couple of years,” said wideouts coach Mike Denbrock. “We have to create more chunk plays … hopefully one of those guys is already here in the program.”

On paper, Daniels could be that individual. He caught two passes in the Blue-Gold Game, a 29-yard fade over his shoulder from Tommy Rees and an 18-yard bullet across the middle from Andrew Hendrix. We’re not saying Daniels needs to average 23.5 yards per catch like he did in the spring contest, but a legitimate downfield, vertical threat is something he needs to offer to this offense.

“His numbers are off the chart … he tested comparable to a number of wide receivers at the NFL Combine,” said Kelly of the way Daniels excelled in the Irish Combine this winter. “…We know he’s got the physical ability. Now we’ve got to be able to see that translate.”

What's A Good Season?
All-America tight end Tyler Eifert and slot/running back Theo Riddick (eight catches in Blue-Gold Game) are expected to be the prime targets, but they should provide Goodman, Jones and Daniels some opportunities for other routes to open up.

Ideally, you’d like to see the kind of jump from Daniels that 2007-09 wideout Golden Tate made from his freshman year (6 catches) to sophomore (58 catches, 18.6 yards per catch, 10 TDs), but that’s uncommon. Even two-time All-America Jeff Samardzija (2003-06) went from only seven catches as a freshman to 17 (no TDs) as a sophomore.

Reality could be somewhere in between for Daniels. Maybe 25 to 35 catches (about two to three per game) with two or three TDs would be a conceivable base from which to work, but more telling will be yards per reception. If he can provide a vertical threat, we’d like to see it at maybe 15.0 yards — while fully mindful that the uncertainty at quarterback could be the fly in the ointment.

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