Our 2017 signing day coverage continues with one of my favorite columns of the year, my look at the signees who I think will far exceed their recruiting projections and star for the Irish during their careers. Last year, Julian Love made this list on his way to also being my freshman of the year, so naturally one of these guys will also star on the field next season and make me an instant genius. Some people are saying it’s the “diamond in the rough” bump, I’m not saying that, but that’s what many people are saying.
To be clear, and all kidding aside, I don’t expect any of these guys to make a big impact next year, if I did then they would have made the instant impact column. However, I am expecting big things from these players down the line. Big, big things.
Kurt Hinish, Defensive Tackle
6-2, 283 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
247 composite ranking: .8671, ★★★
First of all, I refuse to believe a defensive tackle from Pittsburgh playing for Notre Dame isn’t going to succeed. That just doesn’t compute. Hinish is the exact type of player who’d normally play for Pitt, Penn State or end up at Ohio State and Notre Dame fans would sit on the couch grumbling, “why can’t we ever get a guy like that?” Well, Notre Dame got a guy like that.
It seems his star rating is likely affected by his lacking in any quality that someone would deem to be terrific. He’s not the strongest guy, he doesn’t have the prototypical build, he’s not the fastest guy, and he’s not super flashy in his style. He does, however, have a good instinct for how to slip through cracks in the defense to get through the line and after the ball carrier. Obviously, against some teams he can just use his physical ability to defeat guys, but he has the savvy when he needs it. He seemed to be very similar to Sheldon Day in that regard. Day was extremely crafty inside and found ways to defeat blockers in a multitude of ways and I see Finish possessing that kind of ability. Not many people remember Paul Grasmanis, most remember Jim Flanigan, and I see him being a similar type of player as both of those guys. If that ends up being the case, this is a huge win for the Notre Dame class.
Isaiah Robertson, Safety
6-3, 190 Naperville, Illinois
247 composite ranking: .8986, ★★★★
What is a four star doing on this list? Well, in the recruiting world, all four stars are not created equal. And right now Robertson is the 10th rated recruit out of the 17 position players currently committed. And I have a problem with that. Robertson suffers from the fact that he just isn’t that fast. There isn’t a ton of suddenness to his game, and that will tick anyone down a notch. Of course, I said the same thing about Will Fuller on tape, and turns out he ended up being faster than anyone predicted. The thing I like about Robertson is his size (he’s 6-3) and the fact that he is not a finished product physically. He’s not very muscular and doesn’t possess a ton of definition in his upper body. Combine that with the fact that despite those things, he is an extremely aggressive hitter who hits very heavy, meaning he seems to be packing something extra behind him when he hits guys. What is he going to be when he goes from 6-3, 190 to 6-3, 210 and 20 more pounds of muscle behind him?
I’m also salivating at the idea of a 6-3 safety roaming the secondary and showing the range that we never got to see from Max Redfield. The contrast between these two in terms of star rating highlights what can be the problem with ratings and how players are evaluated. Redfield was an incredible athlete who was playing football; a physical marvel. Robertson is a football player who lacks the athletic build of Redfield, but is much more natural playing the game. As we all saw, it may be better to build the body of a natural football player than try to teach the specimen how to play the game.
Drew White, Linebacker
6-1, 225 Fort Lauderdale, Florida
247 composite ranking: .8452, ★★★
It just so happens White is the lowest rated prospect among all position players in this Notre Dame class. Which is interesting for a player who played middle linebacker, and was a captain, for St. Thomas Aquinas high school, which finished 6th in the nation in 2016. Wherever he is ranked, he holds offers from LSU, Michigan, and Stanford, among others, so this is a highly sought after player. Upon watching his high school tape, it’s easy to see why major schools would vie for his services. Like the two players above him, he shows a knack and an instinct for playing the game that supersedes whatever physical limitations that may effect his star rating. Because really, that’s what’s holding that back right?
Interestingly, when White originally committed to the Irish defense, it’d be easy to see him as a wasted player, simply because of who was coaching him. There just hadn’t been a ton of development at the linebacker position, especially middle linebacker, under Brian VanGorder. However, with new defensive coordinator Mike Elko and the way he uses his middle linebackers, White’s skill set fits in perfectly. He may lack the size and strength to take on blockers directly, especially guards and centers, so he makes up for that by darting into the backfield before they get to him. Under the old regime, the middle linebacker and the words “darting” weren’t synonymous. Under Elko, it is featured. He’s also very comfortable in space, and is adept at eluding blockers to get to the ball carrier. For me, he is a bigger version of James Onwualu, who won’t be as good in coverage. Or if you prefer, a souped up version of Greer Martini.
Michael Young, Wide Receiver
5-11, 175 Destrehan, Louisiana
247 composite ranking: .8706, ★★★
The most obvious comparison for Michael Young and what he brings to the table is current slot receiver CJ Sanders. Both are on the smaller side, both work out of the slot and both are dangerous with the ball in their hands. I think long term Young will turn out to be the better player, who appears much more natural as a pass catcher and route runner. Sanders is electric with the ball in his hands and a guy I hope the Irish use much more of next season. But, he has struggled with some of the receiving aspects of the position, which allowed Chris Finke to over take him for playing time late in the season. Michael Young didn’t show himself to be the type of returner that Sanders was in high school, but he has a similar type of burst with the ball in his hands.
In high school, Young played both in the slot and out the outside and was a natural route runner. He accelerated at the right times, varied his release to disguise routes, and was very confident in catching the ball. He’s also extremely tough with the ball in his hands, especially for someone his size, and was more than willing to mix it up as a blocker. He’s a small guy, but he isn’t slight, if that makes sense. And as mentioned above, he is very comfortable handling the ball in space and making people miss.
Jonathan Doerer, Kicker
6-3, 188 Charlotte, North Carolina
247 composite ranking: .7902, ★★
A kicker! This guy literally came out of nowhere; one day no one had heard his name, the next day he was committed and the 18th member of the class. You might be thinking eh, who cares, Notre Dame has Justin Yoon for two more seasons, so this guy won’t be useful till 2019. You also might not have noticed the little tidbit that Yoon is dealing with some tendinitis in the knee, which will likely be cleared up by the time it matters, but is something that needs to be monitored nevertheless. At the very least, the coaches would likely prefer to take Yoon off of kickoff duties next season to reduce the number of kicks on that knee and all him to focus on place kicking.
Enter Doerer, who was previously committed to Maryland, and whose leg appears to be more than strong enough to handle the kickoff role, will likely arrive on campus as the guy designated to handle kickoffs from day one. Kickers are never terribly exciting, but he’s likely to play in every game, so a key addition nonetheless.