Just as we did on the offensive side of the ball, we are taking an in-depth look at all of the defensive recruits who signed letters of intent with Notre Dame today. Heading into today the Irish had locked up 9 defensive recruits, but added a 10th to their 2013 recruiting haul on Wednesday when 5-star super recruit Eddie Vanderdoes selected Notre Dame over USC, UCLA, and Alabama.
That final piece of the puzzle has now pushed this from a great class, to an elite class with 5-star talent on the defensive side of the ball at every level – defensive line, linebacker, and defensive back.
As we did with breakdown of the offensive recruits, we are going to start off with the headliner on defense as well – 5-star super recruit Jaylon Smith.
Analysis: The headliner on the defensive side of the ball in this year’s class. In all honestly, possibly the headliner on the defensive side of the ball in the last 20 years as the highest rated defensive recruit to enrol at Notre Dame since recruiting rankings became all the rage 10-15 years ago – higher than Manti Te’o, higher than Stephon Tuitt, and higher than Aaron Lynch.
Smith has a rare combination of speed, athleticism, and size at the linebacker position. While Te’o was bigger and stronger coming out of high school, his athleticism is just not on the same level as Smith’s.
For Smith, the question is not going to be if he will make an impact, it’s when. Given his 215 lbs current frame, he will need to bulk up big time in the off-season to see the field from day one. Still, Smith showed that even at 215 lbs, he could be a force as a pass rusher when lining up at defensive end in the US Army All American Bowl. In that All American Bowl it was clear that Smith was simply on another level than most of the other recruits on the field that day.
Smith will most likely project as an outside linebacker for the Irish behind Prince Shembo initially, but it is going to be really hard to keep him off the field in 2013 much like it was with Te’o in 2009. Smith has the ability to be a truly game-changing linebacker for the Irish for the next four years.
Oh yeah, he also has all of the makings of a future captain too.
Competition: Alabama, USC, UCLA, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma
Analysis: Notre Dame picked up a huge piece to its recruiting puzzle on Wednesday night when Eddie Vanderdoes faxed in his LOI to Notre Dame as the 24th and final member of this year’s recruiting class. Earlier in the day Notre Dame inadvertently listed Vanderdoes as a signee on their official release before Vanderdoes announced his decision, but by day’s end, it was official that Notre Dame was adding a 5-star defensive tackle to this year’s class.
Only Rivals from the major recruiting services has Vanderdoes not ranked as the top DT in the country and even there he is still listed at #2 making it very clear that all of the services agree that this is a very, very talented recruit. Every major program in the country wanted Vanderdoes but it came down to USC, UCLA, and Alabama on Signing Day. Once a commitment to USC, Vanderdoes picked the Irish in the evening hours east coast time to cap off the best recruiting class Notre Dame has signed in many years.
Vanderdoes will likely see the field early because of his size, strength, and immense talent just as Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch did two seasons ago as true freshmen along the defensive line. Look for big Louis Nix to take Vanderdoes under his wing once he arrives on campus. The two hit it off throughout the recruiting process and Vanderdoes will be groomed to eventually replace Irish Chocolate when he leaves for the NFL either after this season or next.
Notre Dame needed a DT of Vanderdoes’s caliber for this to truly be an elite class and to really start to close the gap between them and the elite SEC programs like Alabama. Well, they got their man at DT and will now have a ton of momentum as the recruiting cycle for the class of 2014 starts to heat up.
Analysis: ESPN and Rivals both list Butler as a 4-star, top 200 prospect while Rivals is a bit more bullish on Butler’s rankings mainly because Butler could project as either a corner or a safety on the college level because of his size. This ambiguity has led some to believe he could be a bit of a tweener. Butler, however, fits the exact profile Brian Kelly and Bob Diaco are looking for in a corner – big, tall, long, and rangy.
Butler is made to play corner in a defense like Notre Dame’s where his physicality and size fit in perfectly with Bob Diaco’s scheme. He may lack blazing straight line speed, but he plays the position well and has the ability to disrupt routes allowing the pass rush to do its job.
Butler committed to Notre Dame back in the spring and comes to Notre Dame from a high school that has very much prepared him for life at Notre Dame. Gonzaga HS in Washington, DC is a Catholic school and gave Butler a familiar feeling when he visited Notre Dame originally.
Analysis: One of the more under the radar recruits in this year’s class, Deeb is the only true inside linebacker in the class and joins a position that is lacking depth compared to other positions on the defense. ESPN was the only service to rate Deeb as a 4-star prospect but part of that is because Deeb lacks some flash and blazing speed. What he lacks in flash though he makes up for with tough, hard nosed play. In fact, Deeb is the kind of linebacker that Boston College or Stanford gets that after four years of terrorizing us we are all asking ourselves why we didn’t offer him in the first place.
Because Deeb is joining position with the least depth on the defensive side of the ball, he be thrust into some playing time earlier than some of his more highly touted defensive classmates out of necessity alone – especially on special teams since Notre Dame will unlikely be able to use many inside backers on special temas in 2013 due to depth concerns.
Analysis: Similar in build and profile to Devin Butler, Rashad Kinlaw is an athlete that is coming to Notre Dame projected as a cornerback. Like Butler, Kinlaw is a tall, rangy, physical corner prospect that will likely man the weak side of the field and disrupt receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Kinlaw is a versatile athlete who could potentially play multiple positions on the college level. He played as a wildcat quarterback in high school before suffering a broken leg over the summer that cost him his senior season. Some also project Kinlaw as a potential wide receiver who can make plays in the open field. One thing that ESPN and 24/7 at least agree on is that Kinlaw is a 4-star prospect based on potential.
In a lot of ways, Kinlaw is a very stereotypical Brian Kelly type recruit – versatile, athletic, and capable of playing multiple positions. How he develops and where he ends up playing is now up to Kelly and coaching staff.
Analysis: Of the three corners that Notre Dame is expected to sign today, Luke is the most “pure cover corner” of the group. Luke, however, does not possess the same size that Kinlaw and Butler currently have . He has plenty of room of fill out once he hits Longo Beach upon arriving on campus. Size and bulk can be added though. The instincts, range, and cover skills that Luke has coming out of high school can’t be taught.
Notre Dame battled Oklahoma and Michigan for the services of Luke and the Arizona native actually saw the Irish win three games in person this year by visiting Notre Dame for the Michigan game, seeing the Irish in Dublin thanks to a high school game of his own in Ireland, and then visiting Oklahoma when the Irish were in town at the end of October.
Once Luke adds some weight, he will challenge for playing time regardless of who is ahead of him on the depth chart. That might not happen from day one, but it will happen sooner rather than later. In fact, it would not be surprising to see Luke line up in nickel and dime situations where his smaller size won’t be as much of a concern very early on. If Butler and Kinlaw are penciled in for the weak side of the field as the physical corners, Luke is the shut down, cover corner of the future for Bob Diaco and the Notre Dame defense.
Analysis: Recruited by some as a tight end, as evidenced by most of his recruiting ranking, Matuska was recruited by Notre Dame as a strong side defensive end. Another “profile” recruit for Brian Kelly and staff – a prospect who will need to be developed and taught the position but who has all of the physical tools needed to excel there.
Matuska is another recruit that doesn’t get talked about much because he committed so long ago, but he is a versatile “big skill” athlete that can make an impact at a few postions once he arrives on campus and the staff gets a hold of him. Matuska is similar to that of Chase Hounshell coming out of high school – another Ohio native. Kelly made a career out of identifying recruits like Matuska who had the profile needed to grow into different positions at his previous stops and he continues to identify recruits like this every year at Notre Dame.
Competition: Arizona State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, UCLA, USC
Analysis: Getting a commitment from Redfield at the Under Armor All American Bowl was a huge win for the Irish given the relative lack of playmakers they have recruited at safety over the last few years. Numbers haven’t been the problem here for the Irish with a roster full of potential safeties. The problem has been that they have recruited a lot of very good players at the position but lack a true, ball-hawking, impact safety. Well, the Irish are not lacking in that department anymore.
Redfield is an elite talent who will challenge for playing time from day one even with Matthias Farley back after a strong first season at the position and a host of candidates to step in for Zeke Motta such as Austin Collinsworth, Chris Badger, Nicky Baratti, Elijah Shumate, CJ Prosise, Eliar Hardy, and John Turner.
Redfield is a very athletic safety who has the ability to play wide receiver in college at a very high level. In fact, some felt that he would a 4-star wide receiver prospect as well if he we to be graded out as a receiver. Safety is his home at Notre Dame though where he will add a lot of range to the Notre Dame defensive backfield. If he can pick up the defense quickly, it would not surprise anyone to see Redfield playing a prominent, if not starting role, for the 2013 Notre Dame defense.
Competition: Alabama, Boston College, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, South Carolina, Virginia Tech
Analysis: In most years a 4-star, top 150 caliber defensive end from Georgia would have most Notre Dame fans doing cartwheels. Rochell committed to Notre Dame so long ago though and never waivered in his commitment that he is often overlooked when examining just how strong this class is. Overlooking Rochell, however, would be a huge mistake as he is one of the most pivotal recruits in this year’s class.
The BCS Title Game taught us just how wide the gap between Notre Dame and Alabama is in the trenches and the only way to narrow that gap is to load up on defensive linemen like Isaac Rochell. A consensus 4-star and top 150 prospect across the recruiting services, Rochell fits the profile Notre Dame is looking for in a strong side defensive end to a tee. Big, tough, and powerful, Rochell looks like he could be the heir apparent to Stephon Tuitt should the fellow Georgia native leave for the NFL following his junior year as most speculate he will have the option to do.
Rochell will need some time in the weight room before he is ready to see the field, but a fall camp working with Paul Longo and an off-season in the strength and conditioning program should have Rochell primed for a prominent role as early as 2014.
Competition: Boston College, Stanford, Virginia
Analysis: Randolph is listed as an outside linebacker by most recruiting services, but given is size, a future at inside linebacker does not seem out of the question for the Virginia native either. In fact, given the relative depth that Notre Dame has at outside linebacker right now, his quickest path to playing time might be on the inside as well.
Randolph was US Army All American for the East team and was originally committed to Stanford between switching his commitment to Notre Dame in September. He is also high school teammates with Greer Martini, a junior inside linebacker who is already committed to Notre Dame for the class f 2014.
Randolph very likely could stay at outside linebacker where his pass rush skills could be fully utilized – especially since he could use some work with his coverage. As a senior, Randolph flashed his versatility and athleticism by playing a little bit of wide receiver. Something tells me his career as a collegiate wide receiver might last as long as Tate Nichols’s did even though the mammoth tackle once lined up as a receiver in high school as well.
Considering the glut of outside linebackers Notre Dame is stock piling though, someone will need to move inside and Randolph has the frame to support the weight needed to man the inside.
Now that you’ve read about the defensive recruits, jump on over to our post that profiles all 14 of the offensive recruits Notre Dame is expected to sign on Wednesday.