The great programs win with line play, a lesson Notre Dame fans learned rather painfully in the BCS National Championship game last month when Alabama gashed its way through the Irish defensive line. While Notre Dame’s defensive front is the best it’s been in many years, Brian Kelly and staff were given a clear example by Nick Saban on how much more work is left to be done to raise the crystal trophy, both on and off the field. The Crimson Tide has secured a Rivals 5-star commitment from defensive end Jonathan Allen, and continued their dominant line push this weekend by hosting 5-star defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes from California. The fact Notre Dame has entered the Vanderdoes sweepstakes illustrates the message was received.
This was to be a light but effective recruiting year for Notre Dame along the defensive front (next year the Irish will likely recruit three-to-four linemen). The Fighting Irish took only two defensive linemen in 2013 in Rivals 3-star Jacob Matuska from Ohio and 4-star Georgia native Isaac Rochell. And while the position may be low in number, it certainly isn’t low in quality. Matuska chose Notre Dame over offers from Michigan, Nebraska and Oklahoma, and Rochell possessed offers from nearly every SEC program, including Alabama. With Vanderdoes’ decision date looming, and uncertainty surrounding his eventual destination, many Irish fans have begun lamenting what a significant blow it would be if the Irish lose out to USC, UCLA or Alabama for his services, given his 5-star status. While securing a commitment from the California native would be a major coup – Vanderdoes’ offer sheet is as lengthy as they come – the actual history of 5-star defensive end recruits is rather uninspired.
Since 2006, there have been 16 Rivals 5-star defensive line recruits.
Eddie Jones, DE, Texas (undrafted)
Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma (1st round, 3rd pick)
Robert Rose, DE, Ohio State (undrafted)
Ricky Sapp, DE, Clemson (5th round)
Brandon Warren, DE, Florida State (In 2012 played his final year of college football at Northern Alabama)
Al Woods, DT, LSU (4th round)
Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina (2nd round)
Torrey Davis, DT, Florida (undrafted)
Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida (2nd round)
Everson Griffen, DE, USC (4th round)
Ben Martin, DE, Tennessee (undrafted)
Martez Wilson, DE, Illinois (3rd round)
Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson (2nd round)
Marcus Forston, DE, Miami (undrafted)
R.J. Washington, DE, Oklahoma (Not on draft boards)
Omar Hunter, DT, Florida (projected 6-7th round)
In 2006, there were six 5-star recruits. Out of those 6, only 3 made the NFL. Eddie Jones and Robert Rose went undrafted, though Rose had a few stints on NFL practice squads and in the CFL. Brandon Warren from Florida State exhausted his final collegiate eligibility this fall at Northern Alabama. Al Woods was drafted in the 4th round by the New Orleans Saints and has been a journeyman in the NFL ever since, and Ricky Sapp, a 5th round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles, was just recently bumped up from the Jets’ practice squad. Only Gerald McCoy has been an NFL mainstay, making the Pro Bowl this year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The 5-star recruits from 2007 enjoyed better success, as 4 out of the 6 have moved on to the NFL and are solid contributors, though none have emerged as stars like McCoy. Ben Martin went undrafted and Torrey Davis left the Florida football program after an arrest stemming from a violation of his probation for driving on a suspended license.
The 2008 class had only four 5-star defensive linemen, with many Notre Dame fans likely to recognize the one-time Irish commitment and eventual Florida signee, Omar Hunter. This class was rather anemic in stature. Though Bowers was a 2nd round pick, Forston was undrafted, and R.J. Washington from Oklahoma is not being discussed actively by draft experts. Omar Hunter, according to one NFL draft website, is projected as a 6th or 7th round draft selection.
Overall, out of 16 Rivals 5-star defensive linemen, only 8 have been drafted into the NFL, four of which were 2nd round selections or higher. Gerald McCoy of Oklahoma is the only 1st round selection.
Make no mistake, adding 5-star recruit Eddie Vanderdoes would be a major victory for Notre Dame’s program, but not because he possesses five golden stars next to his name.