Notre Dame wide receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. will return for a fifth season with the Irish, he announced this week.
Wilkins, who has two years of eligibility remaining, has caught 11 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns over the last two seasons, including four catches for 61 yards and a score in four games in 2021. He missed the final seven games of the '21 season after suffering a torn ACL against Cincinnati.
"Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny," Wilkins wrote in a social media message announcing his decision to return. I’m back for mine."
Wilkins has not been super-productive in his time in South Bend, but his return is an important development for the Irish offseason. Due to injuries to Wilkins and Avery Davis and the mid-season transfer of Lawrence Keys III, Notre Dame was thin at wideout by the end of the year and dressed only three scholarship receivers with any real experience for the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State. The lack of depth at the position was compounded when the Irish saw two of their receivers in the 2022 recruiting class decommit just before the Dec. 15 National Signing Day, leaving Tobias Merriweather as the only player at the position in the class.
Since the end of the '21 season, however, the picture has gotten somewhat less bleak. Although the Irish lost top pass-catcher Kevin Austin Jr. to the NFL, a significant blow, Davis and Wilkins have now decided to return, giving Notre Dame seven scholarship receivers to work with next season, even if it does not dip into the transfer portal (which it likely will).
Wilkins will get every opportunity to start at wideout in 2022, but will have to fight for snaps with Braden Lenzy and possibly Davis, though the latter could move back inside to the slot. Sophomore-to-be Lorenzo Styles Jr. had the look of a future star in 2021 and is likely penciled into one of the wideout spots and veterans Wilkins, Lenzy and Davis will also get pushed by Styles' fellow '21 recruiting class signees Deion Colzie and Jayden Thomas.