The 2017 Close, If It Was On Steroids

The Irish staff closed the previous recruiting cycle with a flurry of activity; they busted their tails to snag a few key guys late and avert disaster. That close was impressive, but the way the staff closed elite prospects early and then snagged some potential contributors on the regular signing day was truly outstanding. If Kelly ensures that this kind of effort is the new norm, we should see improving returns over the next couple of cycles. The 2018 recruiting class should set the bar going forward.

The early signing period was certainly a major boon to Notre Dame this year, as all 21 at-the-time commits signed during the period. That allowed them to place intense focus on the handful of prospects still on the board. The period also came at a point in the cycle that was about two weeks before when the Irish lost Elijah Hicks last year. And about three weeks before they lost Elijah Hicks and Jordan Pouncey. And about four weeks before they lost Paulson Adebo. Obviously there were other factors in play during 2016, but the early signing period at least would’ve given the staff a clearer picture of how shaky some kids were.

Unusual Defensive Strength

The class didn’t include a five-star – more on that below – which was definitely a downer, but even so the strength of the defensive class is unmatched during Kelly’s tenure. There are four top 100 defenders in this class, counting #106 overall Derrik Allen (fair because Allen was stupidly dropped after the Army All-America week, when he saw his first action since breaking his hand during the season). To put that in perspective, coming into this year Notre Dame had signed just seven top 100 defensive players in seven full recruiting cycles under Kelly.

The four defenders are Houston Griffith (#70), Shayne Simon (#90), Jack Lamb (#99), and Derrik Allen (#106). Jayson Ademilola (#128) would’ve been the highest ranked in either of the last two classes, beating out Darnell Ewell (#147) in 2017 and Daelin Hayes (#133) in 2016. He would’ve just missed Shaun Crawford (#112) in 2015. Fifth.

The defensive class also features seven Opening finalists – in addition to the five mentioned above, Ovie Oghoufo (#546) and Ja’Mion Franklin (#570) got the call. That’s easily the most under Kelly and a good sign that defensive recruiting is at least trending in the right direction.

Coach Speak

If you have a few minutes, I highly recommend you at least scan the transcript of Brian Kelly’s signing day press conference. There’s a lot of good stuff in there, but a could of Kelly quotes caught my eye:

On Jeff Quinn and Terry Joseph closing guys with minimal contact:
Often real people, real people make a difference late. If you’re shallow and are not presenting yourself as genuine and authentic, you’re going to get squeezed out late in this process… Our why here is to develop our players holistically, and then prepare them for whatever that next step is. We use the Elmer Stanley representation on the offensive line. At the same year one guy takes his talents to the NFL, the other young man takes his talents to Washington, D.C. So that’s our model on the offensive line. Jeff is able to articulate that. Jeff is able to talk about that in homes in terms of building that relationship, and Terry is, as well, on his hand.

On targeting John Dirksen:

We’re looking for offensive linemen… that will fit into the culture of our offensive line room. That’s a huge piece for us. Our offensive linemen are eminently involved in the recruiting process. They give us thumbs up and thumbs down on a lot of the guys that we’re recruiting. They are part of this recruiting process.

They first and foremost have to fit that room, and then we look at their potential, the developmental potential of that player, and John fits that for us.

The Dirksen quote was in the context of a question asking about specific guys who seemed to be lower-rated – Dirksen, Tommy Tremble, and Ja’Mion Franklin. What I thought was interesting about it was that current linemen are involved in the vetting process for recruits. Interesting HR-like approach there.

You can also check out the official Notre Dame signing day coverage at – they have bios and videos of all the players, interviews with the coaches, etc.

Class Rankings by Service

247 Composite: 10th (13 four-stars, 14 three-stars, .9005 average rating)

247: 10th (11 four-stars, 16 three-stars, 89.6 average rating)

Rivals: 11th (12 four-stars, 15 three-stars, 5.8 average rating)

ESPN: 8th (16 four-stars, 12 three-stars, 79.9 average rating)

Class Composition

Here are the number of signees by position.

QB – 1
RB – 2
WR – 4
TE – 2
OL – 4
SDE – 0
WDE – 1
DT – 2
LB – 4 (incl. Rover)
CB – 4-5
S – 2-3
K/PK – 0

The staff clearly wanted a strong-side end in this class, chasing first Thomas Booker, then Malik Langham, then Derrick Eason. Missing there is a potential problem for the 2019 season, which will be Khalid Kareem’s last. As of today there’s nobody to back Kareem up in 2019; Ade Ogundeji could bulk up, and DT signee Jayson Ademilola could possibly stay outside, but still, not great. The staff will need to hit the position hard in the 2019 cycle. The good news there is that Notre Dame is already in great shape with a number of four-star DL prospects for 2019.

The weak side is always a concern, of course, but I think they did OK there for the time being. Daelin Hayes, Julian Okwara, Kofi Wardlow, and Ogundeji all have multiple years of eligibility left. Signee Justin Ademilola will get a shot at WDE, and it’s entirely possible that one of the linebacker recruits will bulk up and move down to end. I wouldn’t cry about an instant impact guy in the 2019 cycle here either, though.

Otherwise, the balance in this class is outstanding. The staff addressed every position of need, including hitting a home run at defensive back.

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
Brendan 87.1 87.4 87.3
Eric 85.8 85.0 85.4
Jaden 86.6 86.7 86.7
Tyler 86.4 86.0 86.2
Overall 86.5 86.3 86.4

We noticed an interesting statistical item – we all think this class is better than last year’s, but our overall grades are lower across the board. I think we were probably just harder graders this year, but it caught my eye.

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.

Offense Signees

247C Score 18S Grade Player City/State Ht/Wt Pos Stars
.9601 95 Kevin Austin Pompano Beach, FL 6-3/198 WR * * * *
.9593 93 Phil Jurkovec Gibsonia, PA 6-5/215 QB * * * *
.9174 93 Braden Lenzy  Portland, OR 6-0/175 WR * * * *
.9031 87 George Takacs Naples, FL 6-7/242 TE * * * * *
.9026 84 Lawrence Keys New Orleans, LA 5-10/160 WR * * * *
.8912 86 Jarrett Patterson Mission Viejo, CA 6-5/285 OT * * * * *
.8902 81 Micah Jones Gurnee, IL 6-5/206 WR * * * *
.8797 86 Tommy Tremble Norcross, GA 6-4/225 TE * * *
.8776 83 John Dirksen Marla Stein, OH 6-5/305 OT * * * *
.8776 82 Luke Jones Little Rock, AR 6-5/292 OT * * * *
.8721 86 Jahmir Smith Sanford, NC 6-0/205 RB * * *
.8655 83 Cole Mabry Brentwood, TN 6-6/275 OT * * *
.8456 84 C’Bo Flemister  Zebulon, GA 5-11/197 RB * * *

Defense Signees

247C Score 18S Grade Player City/State Ht/Wt Pos Stars
.9651  91 Houston Griffith Chicago, IL 6-1/192 CB * * * * *
.9567  96 Shayne Simon Pittsburgh, PA 6-1/224 ROV * * * * *
 .9547  93 Jack Lamb Temecula, CA 6-4/220 ILB * * * * *
 .9516  91  Derrik Allen Marietta, GA 6-2/211 S * * * * *
 .9453  93 Jayson Ademilola Jersey City, NJ 6-3/290 DT * * * * *
 .9015  83 Matt Bauer Erie, PA 6-2/222 ILB * * * * *
 .8916  86 Noah Boykin Washington, DC 6-2/170 CB * * * * *
.8843  85 Tariq Bracy Milpitas, CA 6-0/170 CB * * * * *
 .8802  84 DJ Brown Washington, DC 6-1/185 CB * * * * *
.8755 83 Ovie Oghoufo  Farmington, MI 6-3/215 OLB * * * * *
.8742  84 Ja’Mion Franklin Ridgely, MD  6-1/295 DT * * * * *
.8709  79 Justin Ademilola Jersey City, NJ 6-3/240 WDE * * * * *
 .8636 82 Joe Wilkins  Fort Myers, FL 6-2/180  CB * * * * *
 .8552  79 Paul Moala Mishawaka, IN 6-0/200 S * * * * *

Grading Out

Addressing Needs: B+

The lack of a strong-side end keeps this grade from being an A-. With a solid SDE and a tailor-made left tackle, I would’ve given it an A.

Home Run Factor: B+

Shayne Simon and Kevin Austin are both monsters with very high ceilings. Houston Griffith might be a bit closer to his ceiling, but he’s still really good. Jack Lamb and Jayson Ademilola have everything they need to be multi-year players. Phil Jurkovec could be legendary if it comes together for him. Braden Lenzy is potentially Will Fuller 2.0. There are no five-stars, which is what keeps this grade from being an A/A-, but the depth on the top end of this class is absolutely astounding.

Immediate Impact: B

This class is full of excellent players who might not get on the field in 2018 due to how much returning experience the Irish have. A big exception is Jahmir Smith, who will get a shot immediately given our RB situation. Otherwise, the class is full of good prospects who will get chance to get stronger and smarter before they’re pressed into action.

Class Comments

Corner recruiting returns with a vengeance.

The 2017 class notoriously included zero corners. The 2018 class didn’t just revert back to 2016 form, when the Irish signed Julian Love, Troy Pride, and Donte Vaughn, but it set a new standard. Swingman Griffith combined with Boykin, Brown, Bracy, and Wilkins to form a fantastic class. Boykin in particular was a a big win for Todd Lyght, who was relentless in his pursuit.

How did the flip battle end up?

In this cycle, we lost Kalon Gervin to Michigan State, Braden Lenzy to Oregon, Markese Stepp to USC, and Geordon Porter to Arizona State. On the other side of the ledger, we welcomed Lenzy back again, and took Griffith from Florida State, Boykin from Maryland, Brown from Virginia, Jones from Arkansas, and Flemister for Georgia Tech. I’d say it worked out pretty strongly in our favor this year.

The final couple of days were a real roller coaster. ‘Crootin.

After assuming forever that the Irish wouldn’t land #7 overall Nick Petit-Frere, there was late optimism right before signing day. Unfortunately it never materialized, as Ohio State won out and sent Irish fans into an existential crisis. Then there were reports that Jarrett Patterson was leaning to UCLA, and that SDE target and ND lean Derrick Eason might stick with his NC State commitment. Eason did stick with NC State, but that wasn’t really a huge loss. Patterson obviously chose wisely, Flemister, Brown, and Keys chose ND as expected, and Boykin provided the shock of the day when he surprised even the Irish staff by picking ND.

This stuff is not for the faint of heart.

How were Jeff Quinn and Terry Joseph on the recruiting trail?

First, in all fairness to them, they’ve been on the job less than a month. It would’ve been very difficult to show much in such a short time, but they did each show some promise. Quinn shored up Luke Jones’s commitment, stole Patterson from UCLA and Michigan, and took Ohio State down to the wire with Petit-Frere. He also hit the road hard to visit key 2019 OL targets. I’d say early returns are quite positive. Joseph, for his part, was a key part of closing Boykin and Brown; if that continues, he’ll live up to the reputation of a plus recruiter that he brought in.

Wrapping Up

Depending on how you look at it, this was probably either the best or second best class of Kelly’s tenure. The 2013 class, with Jaylon Smith, Max Redfield, and Greg Bryant (RIP), had more star power and was ranked higher, but this class has much more depth. I think this is far and away the best defensive class Kelly has signed at ND; Ademilola, Lamb, Simon, Griffith, and Allen give the Irish absolutely elite talents at each level of the defense. That just doesn’t happen.

The key now is to build on this. Recruiting effort and results since the post-2016 staff overhaul have trended upward substantially. The 2019 class is off to a great start, with three top 300 commits and possibly more on the way soon. The cycle’s first junior day a couple of weeks ago was a huge success, and the next one in a few more weeks should create a lot of buzz as well. Will the staff be able to capitalize on a 10-3, top 15 season and a strong 2018 close to carry momentum into the 2019 cycle?

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: Houston Griffith
  • Eric: Kevin Austin
  • Jaden: Shayne Simon
  • Tyler: Houston Griffith

Who has the highest upside?

  • Brendan: Shayne Simon
  • Eric: Phil Jurkovec
  • Jaden: Shayne Simon
  • Tyler: Phil Jurkovec

Who’s your favorite offensive player?

  • Brendan: Braden Lenzy
  • Eric: Kevin Austin
  • Jaden: Kevin Austin
  • Tyler: Kevin Austin

(What can I say? I’m a sucker for speed.)

Who’s your favorite defensive player?

  • Brendan: Shayne Simon
  • Eric: Jayson Ademilola
  • Jaden: Shayne Simon
  • Tyler: Jack Lamb