An Irish Zen Koan
With tight numbers and the same staff aggressiveness with the early signing period as last year, the final stretch for the Notre Dame 2019 recruiting class almost completely lacked drama. On the upside, the staff closed early on a bunch of guys they really liked. On the downside, there was no room to chase a couple of guys at the end. All things considered this was a very solid class, with a couple of guys who the services clearly underrated. Still, it would’ve been nice to see a few more consensus top guys given the product on the field the last couple of years. Perhaps the staff will prove to be right about the diamonds they think they saw; regardless, the 2020 class really needs to have some clear elite recruits in it. 18S recruiting stalwart Tyler Hack will post a write-up soon on his best guess at the 2020 class, which [spoiler alert!] will include some of those guys.
The little bit of drama we had this year centered almost exclusively on Washington signee Asa Turner. Turner played safety in high school; Washington recruited him at safety, while every other school recruited him at linebacker. Turner committed to Washington last summer and was supposed to sign with them in the early period, but couldn’t bring himself to put pen to paper. He then decommitted, played linebacker at the Army All-American game and hated it, played safety in the Polynesian Bowl and loved it, and recommitted to Washington. Clark Lea built a strong relationship with Turner and it very nearly paid off, but ultimately Turner couldn’t resist Jimmy Lake’s promise to let him play his favorite position. Whether that promise to the large-framed prospect will actually be kept remains to be seen. Not that we’re bitter.
Notre Dame’s sole signing day addition was DE Isaiah Foskey, but there was zero drama in his recruitment. Rumors floated that he committed or perhaps even signed silently back in December. He talked about taking official visits to other schools then but those visits never materialized, so there wasn’t much mystery about where he was headed. As you’ll see in our grades below, we believe the Irish got a great player at a position of constant need. The drama-free recruitment was quite welcome.
For the first time I can remember, there was no signing day press conference. With 21 of 22 recruits signing in December this cycle, there wasn’t much of a need for one. Instead, the Observer interviewed the Brians, Kelly and Polian, and got some good stuff from them. Here are a couple of nuggets that caught my eye:
Kelly on finding the right fits:
“Like any good operation, you have to have the skills, so certainly they have the skills to play national championship-quality football. They have to have the skill set to compete in one of the premiere academic institutions… They have to understand this is the preeminent Catholic institution in the world. They have to understand, you’re coming in to get a wholistic education where you’re going to develop in all manners… We have to find young men who understand what our community is about and when you do that and couple it with the skills, you find the right fit.”
Kelly on the early signing period:
“I think for schools like ours, the early signing date is good. The guys that want to be at Notre Dame want to get it done. We don’t have very many prospects who are going to take the thing all the way out because they like the recruiting process so much or like to be a part of the drama. I think the guys that pick Notre Dame know exactly what they’re looking for.”
You can also check out the official Notre Dame signing day coverage at UND.com – they have bios and videos of all the players, interviews with the coaches, etc.
Class Rankings by Service
247 Composite: 14th (16 four-stars, 6 three-stars, .9055 average rating)
247: 12th (1 five-star, 16 four-stars, 5 three-stars, 90.5 average rating)
Rivals: 12th (12 four-stars, 10 three-stars, 3.55 average stars)
ESPN: 10th (17 four-stars, 5 three-stars, 80.7 average rating)
The Composite is a funny animal. The 2017 class ranked 11th in the Composite while being ranked 13th by 247, Rivals, and Scout and 16th by ESPN. This class ranks 14th in the Composite while being ranked 12th by 247 and Rivals and 10th by ESPN (Scout merged with 247 a couple of years ago).
Here are the number of signees by position.
QB – 1
RB – 1
WR – 2
TE – 0
OL – 4
SDE – 1/2
WDE – 1
DT – 2/3
LB – 4 (incl. Rover)
CB – 2
S – 2
P – 1
The zero at tight end isn’t a concern, as the Irish nabbed two good ones last year who redshirted (George Takacs and Tommy Tremble) and have two blue-chip commits in the 2020 class (Michael Mayer and Kevin Bauman).
Cross is the swing SDE/DT prospect; if he does grow he could play on the edge, if not he’ll likely be in the interior. NaNa profiles to the strong side (eventually), while Foskey will likely stick on the weak side.
The staff has added eight linebackers in the last two classes – for a defense with three linebacker spots. That feels like a lot. Some, like 2018 signees Ovie Oghoufo and Jack Lamb, could end up at DE eventually. It almost looks like Notre Dame has returned to a “Big Skill” profile for the second level – just grab athletes with size and figure out where to put them later. How all that shakes out will be very interesting.
Bramblett wasn’t the only specialist who signed with Notre Dame this cycle. PK Harrison Leonard also did, as a preferred walk-on. Kohl’s Kicking Camps, one of the two major nationwide programs, ranked Leonard as the #8 placekicker in the 2019 class. He’s not part of our rankings but he’s a great addition to the class and, with all-time scoring leader Justin Yoon moving on, a nice insurance policy for Jonathan Doerer.
The Super Official 18 Stripes Class Grades
As a reminder, here’s our standard grading scale for this exercise:
95-100: Truly elite prospect with All-American potential
90-94: Multi-year starter with All-conference level potential
85-89: Eventual starter with chance to play as underclassman
80-84: Raw prospect with decent potential but a couple years away from impact
75-79: Likely a backup
70-74: Reach by the coaching staff
|Staff||Offense Grade||Defense Grade||Overall Grade|
Just going to copy and paste a comment I made last year on these overall grades:
Also, I’ll note that Eric was the low man, as he is pretty much every year. Yet further evidence that the people out there (ahem) who think he’s a sunshine-pumper probably never actually bother to read his stuff. Which isn’t that surprising, really.
|247C Score||18S Grade||Player||City/State||Ht/Wt||Pos||Stars|
|.9578||95||Zeke Correll||Cincinnati, OH||6-4/285||OG||*||*||*||*||*|
|.9472||87||Quinn Carroll||Minneapolis, MN||6-6/295||OT||*||*||*||*||*|
|.9254||89||Andrew Kristofic||Gibsonia, PA||6-5/282||OT||*||*||*||*||*|
|.9242||83||John Olmstead||Metuchen, NJ||6-6/300||OT||*||*||*||*||*|
|.8918||89||Kyren Williams||St. Louis, MO||5-10/200||RB||*||*||*||*||*|
|.8796||82||Brendon Clark||Midlothian, VA||6-2/217||QB||*||*||*||*||*|
|.8789||86||Kendall Abur-Rahman||Edwardsville, IL||6-1/180||WR||*||*||*||*||*|
|.8710||82||Cam Hart||Olney, MD||6-3/190||WR||*||*||*||*||*|
|247C Score||18S Grade||Player||City/State||Ht/Wt||Pos||Stars|
|.9700||96||Kyle Hamilton||Atlanta, GA||6-3/190||S||*||*||*||*||*|
|.9304||89||Jacob Lacey||Bowling Green, KY||6-2/285||DT||*||*||*||*||*|
|.9171||82||Isaiah Rutherford||Carmichael, CA||6-0/192||CB||*||*||*||*||*|
|.9164||90||Isaiah Foskey||Concord, CA||6-4/233||WDE||*||*||*||*||*|
|.9163||89||Osi Ekwonu||Charlotte, NC||6-2/220||ILB||*||*||*||*||*|
|.9126||81||Litchfield Ajavon||Alexandria, VA||6-0/189||S||*||*||*||*||*|
|.9017||86||KJ Wallace||Atlanta, GA||5-10/187||CB||*||*||*||*||*|
|.9014||91||NaNa Osafo-Mensah||Fort Worth, TX||6-3/224||WDE||*||*||*||*||*|
|.8964||80||Hunter Spears||Sachse, TX||6-4/280||DT||*||*||*||*||*|
|.8958||81||Howard Cross||Montvale, NJ||6-2/265||SDE||*||*||*||*||*|
|.8918||80||JD Bertrand||Roswell, GA||6-1/220||OLB||*||*||*||*||*|
|.8880||82||Jack Kiser||Royal Center, IN||6-2/215||OLB||*||*||*||*||*|
|.8842||82||Marist Liufau||Honolulu, HI||6-3/210||OLB||*||*||*||*||*|
|.8338||89||Jay Bramblett||Tuscaloosa, AL||6-2/175||P||*||*||*||*||*|
Addressing Needs: B
I wrestled with this one a bit, with my thoughts ranging from B- to B+. I think it’s a very balanced class with a good mix of likely front-line and two-deep guys, and a handful of well-calculated risks. But there are no sure-fire gamebreakers on offense, which was a need in this class. Not a dire need, but a need, and that depresses the grade a bit on a class that otherwise was very solid.
Home Run Factor: B
Kyle Hamilton is the first five-star on any service that the Irish have signed since Tommy Kraemer, who was a Composite five-star, way back in 2016. That helps this grade. Zeke Correll looks like a future monster at a traditional position of strength, and Isaiah Foskey and NaNa Osafo-Mensah look like future monsters at a traditional position of, well, not strength.
Ultimately, though, there’s not much consensus top talent in this class. There are a lot of guys that everyone agrees are really good, but only two – Hamilton and Correll – who are top 100 recruits. By comparison, last year’s class had five – Houston Griffith (#70), Kevin Austin (#82), Phil Jurkovec (#83), Shayne Simon (#90), and Jack Lamb (#99). The average Composite rating is actually slightly higher this year than last, .9060 to .9005, but the top and the bottom of the class are closer together than last year.
Basically this class is more Ichiro Suzuki than Adam Dunn. Which, hey, Ichiro was (is?) a great player! But home runs are still fun, so hopefully we’ll see more in 2020.
Immediate Impact: B+
There isn’t that much need for immediate impact players in this class, but where there is the Irish did a good job of landing a couple of key guys. I’d put money on Kyle Hamilton being in the two-deep for the season opener. Kyren Williams and Jacob Lacey bolster somewhat thin position groups, and both enrolled early to boot. KJ Wallace has excellent technique and could be ready to challenge for reps in a very muddled corner situation. An instant impact linebacker would’ve been nice, but there are maybe one or two of those in a cycle. It’s not an easy task for a freshman, as evidenced by top-five prospects Manti Te’o and Jaylon Smith having up-and-down rookie campaigns.
More Defensive Strength
The 2018 class was loaded defensively. It was weak at end, with just Justin Ademilola and the potential for one or two linebackers to grow into the role, but otherwise it was stacked. That trend continued in 2019, as the Irish added ten four-star defensive players. The headliner was clearly Hamilton, who is ranked #60 overall in the 247 Composite, and #15 overall and #1 at his position by 247. That makes him the lone five-star on any service in this class. When Hamilton committed in April 2018, he was ranked #992 overall in the Composite. One look at his junior film would make you suspect those evaluators were on drugs, because his talent was clear. He dominated at the Opening, dominated in his senior season, and dominated at the All-American Bowl. He should’ve been a Composite five-star, but hey, you can only do so much about the stupidity of Rivals (#75 overall) and ESPN (#165 overall) (?!?).
The other four-star defenders are Lacey (#172), Rutherford (#208), Foskey (#211), Ekwonu (#212), Ajavon (#230), Wallace (#295), Osafo-Mensah (#298), Spears (#328), Cross (#337), and Bertrand (#364). Some are very likely underrated (like NaNa). Some are very likely overrated (let’s not go there). No matter how you slice it, though, this is a good group of prospects with quite a bit of upside.
I’ll Flip You For Real (Or Not)
The flip ledger this year was pretty tame. Notre Dame lost QB Cade McNamara, who reportedly grew very concerned about being behind Jurkovec, to Michigan. They also “lost” WR TJ Sheffield to Purdue, but that was a weird situation as he announced a commitment to Notre Dame without having been recruited in a while. It was a clumsy miscommunication between Alexander and the Sheffields, but it wasn’t a true loss in the usual sense.
Notre Dame gained a couple of flips this cycle too. Bertrand decommitted from Georgia (where he was reportedly pushed out) before falling in love with the Irish. Clark decommitted from Wake Forest between visits to Clemson and Notre Dame and committed to the Irish a few weeks later.
Much like the cycle overall, the flip landscape this year was pretty boring. It may be a while until we see another cycle as eventful in both directions as the 2017 class, and that’s just fine with me.
Jeff Quinn Can Recruit
Jeff Quinn entered the picture late in the 2018 cycle. He came thisclose to landing Nick Petit-Frere, hung on to Luke Jones despite a late push from home-state Arkansas, and beat UCLA for Californian Jarrett Patterson. Those were all promising indicators of his ability on the trail. He followed that up with an excellent 2019 group: Correll (#95 overall), Carroll (#118), Kristofic (#183), and Olmstead (#185).
Correll and Kristofic in particular have generated a lot of buzz as potentially elite anchors of future lines. The Irish are also in good shape with a number of top line prospects in the 2020 class. Hopefully we’ll see better results on the field in 2019 with a group that now has a lot more seasoning, but Quinn has already proven that he can get it done in recruiting.
Earlier Days for Many
This class features easily the most early enrollees Notre Dame has ever had, with a whopping 10 prospects enrolling a semester early. What’s even better is that most of those early enrollees are linemen, which gives them such a critical head start on their development. Correll, Carroll, Lacey, Kristofic, Olmstead, Osafo-Mensah, Spears, Williams, Kiser, and Bramblett all chose to begin their college journeys in January. In addition to the linemen it’s great to see Kiser enroll early, as he came from the smallest level of Indiana football and has the biggest competition adjustment to make in this class.
Pushing the Envelope
I mentioned earlier that Leonard signed as a preferred walk-on. That’s not unusual for specialists; in fact it’s fairly common. Just in the Kelly era we’ve had at least three other PWO specialists – David Ruffer, Alex Wulfeck and John Chereson. So that doesn’t really register on the Hmm-o-Meter. What is definitely noteworthy, however, is the status of JD Bertrand and Marist Liufau.
Bertrand, as noted above, was once committed to Georgia. Even if he was in fact pushed out of their class, he had aside from Notre Dame he had sixteen other Power 5 offers. Sixteen! Certainly some if not most of those were committable scholarship spots, and yet he agreed to come to Notre Dame as a PWO and hope a spot opened for him in South Bend. I can’t ever remember landing a walk-on that was of Bertrand’s quality as a recruit. Not even close, actually. To bring in a legitimate four-star player under those circumstances is a tremendous boon in the 85-scholarship era.
Liufau, according to every reputable source, was told from the beginning that he might be asked to greyshirt, or enroll a semester late to help the scholarship situation, and his family was fully on board with it. (More on that in a bit.) In his case, aside from Notre Dame, he had five Power 5 offers and four Group of 5 offers. Certainly any of the G5 programs would’ve given him a scholarship, and we know USC wanted him on scholarship. And yet the staff, again, sold him on his Notre Dame well enough that he chose to eschew those offers. Like the ability to take Bertrand as a PWO, this is an unusual (for Notre Dame) and very helpful development for roster management.
As to Liufau’s “greyshirt”… As those of you who were in the thread on our article about it might have guessed, I take issue with even characterizing what’s happening here as a greyshirt. In a typical greyshirt situation, the school has promised the recruit a scholarship and yanks it near (or even on, in some cases) signing day, then tells the recruit they can enroll on their own dime in January and hope a spot opens later. Many are cut in that spring semester and now have to transfer after burning a year of eligibility. Liufau was told of the situation from the beginning (unless you think every paysite mod is lying, which I don’t) so he could make an informed choice, and promised a scholarship no later than January. The staff would never renege on that promise because the negative press – and negative recruiting – would be relentless and unanswerable.
Is it unorthodox? Absolutely. Is it pushing the line? Maybe. As long as the kid is allowed to make a fully informed decision, I’d rather call it creative than pushing the line. In the 85-scholarship era and having to compete with remorseless programs with limitless resources and no restrictions, the reality is that Notre Dame has to reap every marginal benefit it can. If the staff can find creative ways to get two or three more talented kids in each year, the on-field product will be better for it.
All things considered, this was a solid class. Over the last two cycles, Mike Elko and Clark Lea brought a ton of athletes into the defensive fold. Notre Dame’s defensive depth chart is more athletic top to bottom than it’s been in probably 25 years. I think we’ll start to see that pay off in continuity of excellent defensive performance.
The offensive skill position recruiting has been less inspiring, but there are signs of that trending up. Two significant obstacles are gone – the poor passing game performance of the 2017 and early 2018 team, which elite receivers absolutely noticed, and the less-than-ideal recruiting approach by Autry Denson. The Book-led offense has already helped get the attention of multiple top 100 WRs in the 2020 class, and there’s plenty of cause for optimism that Lance Taylor will be able to capitalize on interest from 5* 2020 RB Chris Tyree and other blue-chip backs.
We’ll leave you with a quick poll from the contributors to this post – a sort of mini-superlatives discussion.
Who will see the field the soonest?
- Brendan: Kyle Hamilton
- Eric: Kyle Hamilton
- Jaden: Kyren Williams
- Tyler: Kyle Hamilton
Who has the highest upside?
- Brendan: Kyle Hamilton/Isaiah Foskey
- Eric: Andrew Kristofic
- Jaden: Kyle Hamilton
- Tyler: Andrew Kristofic
Who’s your favorite offensive player?
- Brendan: Kyren Williams
- Eric: Kendall Abdur-Rahman
- Jaden: Kendall Abdur-Rahman
- Tyler: Kyren Williams
Who’s your favorite defensive player?
- Brendan: NaNa Osafo-Mensah
- Eric: NaNa Osafo-Mensah
- Jaden: Kyle Hamilton
- Tyler: Isaiah Foskey