It sounds like Brian Kelly and his staff are making progress towards securing a commitment from one of his coveted “6-star recruits”. Oft-injured cornerback Shaun Crawford is reportedly leaning towards returning for a 6th year – assuming he is granted a medical hardship. The South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen reported over the weekend that paperwork has already been filed.
“Paperwork is being filed with the NCAA to petition for the sixth year of eligibility. Given that Crawford missed two complete seasons because of injuries (2015 and 2018) and all but two games of another (2016), there’s doesn’t appear any basis for resistance from the NCAA.”
Crawford tweeted something on Sunday that had some thinking he was announcing a return in 2020, but as of now, nothing is final or official.
Made a commitment to my faith, family, and teammates. Let’s get 1 more… Go Irish!☘️ pic.twitter.com/BFgnsqRvc0
— Shaun Crawford (@ShaunCrawf20) December 16, 2019
Throughout the season, it had been reported that Crawford was content to play out his 5th year and move on despite having a likely slamdunk case for a medical hardship waiver. Crawford missed all of his freshman season – after securing the starting nickel position in camp – with a torn ACL. A year later, Crawford again won a starting position but didn’t make it out of September before a ruptured Achilles ended his sophomore season. After a healthy 2017 season, another ACL injury in training camp cost Crawford all of 2018.
In other words, if there was ever a case for a medical hardship, it is Shaun Crawford. In fact, if the NCAA were to deny Crawford the waiver, they should just close up shop. This is the NCAA we are talking about, though – nothing they ever do makes sense, and hardly anything to do doesn’t come with a hint of corruption.
Let’s assume, however, that the NCAA isn’t inept, and they do the right thing here and grant Crawford a medical hardship. Getting him back for the 2020 season would be a massive boost for a secondary that figures to be very short on experience otherwise. Troy Pride and Donte Vaughn are both out of eligibility. The staff had tried to preserve a year for Vaughn this year, but it didn’t work out. Without Crawford back, Notre Dame would return just one cornerback with any extensive experience – TaRiq Bracy.
When healthy, Crawford has shown that he is a game-changer. Even this year after his third significant injury, Crawford had a nose for the ball and forced his way into the starting lineup when everyone assumed he would be a depth player after two ACL’s and an Achilles injury.
If Crawford does indeed return in 2020, Notre Dame would have the following cornerbacks returning: Bracy, Crawford, KJ Wallace, Isaiah Rutherford, and converted wide receiver Cam Hart. The last three of which were all true freshmen who didn’t see much action in 2019. Notre Dame will add at least three more corners to that group later this week during the early signing period – Clarence Lewis, Landen Bartleson, and Caleb Offord. They are hoping to add a fourth – Ramon Henderson – as well.
The numbers will be there next year with or without Crawford, but the experience will not. Bracy has flashed over the last two seasons, but after him, you’d have six, maybe seven, corners with hardly any experience competing for a starting position.
With Crawford, Notre Dame’s starting secondary probably looks a little like this:
- CB – TaRiq Bracy
- CB – Shaun Crawford
- SS – Houston Griffith
- FS – Kyle Hamilton
- Nickel – Isaiah Pryor (OSU graduate transfer)
Notre Dame has been comfortable playing a safety in the nickel, and after Griffith’s failed experiment at nickel in 2018 would make him winning the starting safety position a much more desirable outcome than trying him at nickel again since safety appears to be his most natural position. This is assuming that Alohi Gilman does not return for a 5th year in 2020, although it appears as there is some momentum suggesting he may after it was originally thought Gilman was surely headed to the NFL after this year when the season started.
Regardless of Gilman’s status, safety is in great position with the transition of Griffith, the transfer of Pryor, and the inevitable transcendence of Hamilton to stardom. Crawford’s return, though, would help solidify the cornerback position and put Notre Dame as Notre Dame looks to make the leap from great to elite defense in 2020.