Notre Dame Football Recruiting: Looking Back & Forward with ND Insider

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Last week we had a great Q&A on Notre Dame recruiting and the state of the Irish program with Blue & Gold’s Bryan Dryskell.  This week we had a chance to have a similar Q&A with ND Insider Recruiting guru Tyler James.  Tyler was kind enough to answer a host of questions on the class of 2017 that Notre Dame wrapped up just two weeks ago and on the suddenly exploding class of 2018 that the Notre Dame coaching staff has been locking up.

Tyler gave us his thoughts on some hidden gems in last year’s class and insight into how big the class of 2018 might be and his thoughts on whether or not Notre Dame will land that elusive pass rusher this year.

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Notre Dame Class of 2017 Q’s

Q: Which 3-star recruit do you think ends up making the biggest impact for Notre Dame four years from now?

A: Prior to signing day, my go-to answer for this question was linebacker Drew White. His ranking from the start has been a bit curious to me, and he may very well end up being a better linebacker than David Adams. But two additions on signing day jumped ahead of White: safety Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and defensive end Kofi Wardlow. Both have high ceilings and should have plenty of opportunities at Notre Dame.

If I’m only picking one, I’ll take Owusu-Koramoah. He could end up filling a number of different roles on the Irish defense from safety to linebacker to special teams. I’m a fan of his versatility and physicality. Wardlow’s more of a boom-or-bust recruit — he probably has the higher ceiling but also a lower floor.

Q: Of the decommitments and recruits that Notre Dame appeared to have locked up (ie: Thomas Graham) who was the biggest loss?

A: Rather than ranting on the ridiculous concept of silent commitments — they’re not the same as verbal commitments — I’ll focus on a recruiting loss early in the cycle and another one late in the cycle.

In terms of overall talent, defensive end Robert Beal is the toughest commitment loss. He’s better than Donovan Jeter (and was committed much longer) and appeared to be a dependable answer for Notre Dame’s pass rush problems. But because he left the Irish class almost a year before signing day, the coaching staff had plenty of time to get over that loss.

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In terms of the most painful, I’d have to think cornerback Paulson Adebo takes the cake. He was committed to Notre Dame all the way up to the final month before signing day when he flipped to Stanford. Not only did the Irish lose a terrific talent, his departure resulted in a big void at cornerback in the class, and he’ll be lining up against Notre Dame in years to come.

Q: How differently do you think the class of 2017 would have been had Notre Dame had 10 wins as opposed to 4 in 2016?

It might be surprising, but I’m not sure the class would be dramatically different. Notre Dame probably would have been able to keep guys like linebacker Pete Werner and cornerback Elijah Hicks in the class. And I believe the wide receiver position may have finished in a stronger spot with a better record.

But if you’re giving Notre Dame 10 wins in 2017, you’re also likely keeping Brian VanGorder as defensive coordinator. I’m not certain that brings Notre Dame many big recruiting wins on defense, unless that hypothetical season included a magical defensive resurgence. And now this is starting to feel like recruiting inception.

From a rankings standpoint, Notre Dame would have probably finished comfortably inside the top 10 classes following a 10-win season. The final months wouldn’t have been a roller coaster of decommitments and late decisions. Yet there would still be questions about some of the three-star recruits in the class.

Q: Of Russ Yeast, Mac Hippenhammer, and Deon Jackson – which recruit will Notre Dame be kicking itself over most for not offering earlier four years from now?

This one’s easy for me: Russ Yeast. I knew he had a big year down at Center Grove because of my interest in Indiana high school football. But I hadn’t watched any of his senior film before seeing him in person at the Under Armour All-America Game. It didn’t take long for him to impress in practice. When I looked up his jersey number on the roster, I started to wonder again why Notre Dame never went after him.

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Sure enough, the Irish did just that a couple weeks later. I had more questions about which position he would end up playing — cornerback, wide receiver and running back all felt reasonable — than if he was talented enough to play at Notre Dame. He’s simply a playmaker.

As for Hippenhammer and Jackson, it made more sense to me why Notre Dame waited to offer both recruits. I didn’t see either as can’t-miss prospects. I was surprised that Hippenhammer didn’t end up in South Bend following the offer, and that Jackson never made an official visit.

Notre Dame Class of 2018 Q’s

Q: How many total recruits do you expect Notre Dame to have in the class of 2018?

This is always a tough question to answer, and it seems doubly so this year. There aren’t many fifth-year candidates for 2018 that you can easily knock off the scholarship chart. At the same time, the change in defensive scheme could accelerate some attrition.

At this point, I forecast the class to be a smaller one. My half-educated, half-clueless guess would put the class ceiling around 20.

Will this be the year Notre Dame finally lands a highly ranked pass rusher?  If so, who should Notre Dame fans be looking at closely in the Irish’s quest for a pass rusher?

A: I’ll say yes, but I’d be foolish to say it with any confidence. The biggest reason — aside from the obvious recruiting pitch on playing time — this should happen is the combination of Mike Elston moving back to defensive line coach and defensive coordinator Mike Elko joining the program. I believe Elston’s run as recruiting coordinator should help him successfully recruit his position. And Elko brings an enthusiasm to defensive recruiting. The two should be able to work in tandem to find what they need.

All eyes should be on Malik Vann as the top combination of talent and interest in Notre Dame. He doesn’t have ideal size, so I’m interested to track how his ranking fluctuates. Tyreke Smith is another talented defensive end from Ohio who has already been on campus. And just to see if Notre Dame can continue to be a nuisance to Penn State on the recruiting trail in Pennsylvania, it will be interesting to watch if the Irish can get five-star commit Micah Parson on campus for a visit.

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Q: How much of a factor do you think its been in Notre Dame’s early success in having an elite QB on board so early?

A: It certainly helps. Just throw on Phil Jurkovec’s highlights. Recruits know how important quarterbacks are to team success. But I’m not sure Jurkovec has made a truly significant impact on the 2018 class yet.

The other three offensive commits in the class — running back Markese Stepp, offensive lineman Cole Mabry and wide receiver Micah Jones — all probably end up in Notre Dame’s class regardless of the quarterback. Jurkovec could still play a major role in the Irish landing more offensive skill players in the coming months.

Q: What are your thoughts on the new assistant coaches on the recruiting trail?  Are they better/worse than the coaches they replaced?

A: It’s still way too early to tell from my point of view. The recruiting industry loves to throw around praise, but I’d prefer to see more results first before I cast my votes on who is better or worse. But I’ll make one exception: Mike Elko is a recruiting upgrade at defensive coordinator. I have little doubts about that.

Recruiting comes down to consistent effort, so I’d like to see how that plays out for each new coach. They should all be great recruiters right now. I can’t imagine a coach having more energy for recruiting than when he first starts out at a new school. That’s part of why we’re seeing a flurry of offers.

Each coach hired by Brian Kelly this offseason has the ability to be a quality recruiter at Notre Dame. You can spin them all positively. An older coach can lean on his experience. A younger coach can relate to recruits well. A coach who played in college knows what it takes to succeed.

But four things matter most in evaluating a recruiter: identifying talent, getting a kid on campus for a visit, receiving a verbal commitment and maintaining that relationship through signing day. A full recruiting cycle will better reveal the impact for each coach.

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