With the early signing period closing without a hitch for Notre Dame with 18 letters of intent signed including those from seven recruits who begin their Notre Dame careers next month as early enrollees, the Irish staff can now turn their focus on their “6-star” recruits. Those would be all of the players on the roster currently with eligibility remaining whose return isn’t certain at this point.
Here’s what we know right now.
- Jonathan Jones and John Shannon are both expected to leave the program – Jones for a graduate transfer and Shannon to pursue a career in law enforcement.
- Daelin Hayes announced he is returning following his early-season injury
- Notre Dame added graduate transfer, Isaiah Pryor, to the roster, and he has moved to South Bend to enroll next month.
The Irish staffed joked us bloggers don’t need to obsess over the scholarship numbers so we won’t go into too much detail, but just know that after the four mentioned above, there are nine possible players right now who have eligibility that might not return. If Notre Dame returned everyone plus the 18 recruits signed Wednesday and Pryor, Notre Dame would be at 90 scholarships. So in short, not all of these guys will be back, and there could be more transfers along the way.
The biggest “recruit” left for Brian Kelly and staff is quarterback Ian Book. Throughout the season, it was reported that a return for Book was a foregone conclusion, but Book has not yet committed to a 5th year. Given his current resume, leaving for the NFL does not seem like it would be wise at this time. Book might get drafted if he left, but it would be late, if at all right now. It makes much more sense to play a 5th-year and hope for a Joe Burrow like 5th-year rise with a new offensive coordinator.
Book also has the option to graduate transfer if he wants, but the departure of Chip Long allegedly makes a return to Notre Dame much more likely. There have been a lot of rumors that Book would definitely not be back if Long was as well.
For all of the faults in Book’s game, he probably gives Notre Dame the best chance to win in 2020. Should he return, he’ll finish his Notre Dame career second only to Brady Quinn for pretty much every major Notre Dame passing record. If he doesn’t, there will be a quarterback competition in the spring between Phil Jurkovec, Brendan Clark, and Drew Pyne.
Prediction: Book returns
As of right now, it seems much, much more likely that Kmet leaves than Book even though Kmet said during the season that he plans on returning in 2020. Some draft experts have Kmet listed as the top-rated tight end in the draft this year. If that is true, it’s hard to imagine Kmet coming back for a senior year. Reminder: Will Fuller said he planned on returning for his senior season in 2016, too, before changing course after the season.
If Kmet leaves for the NFL, his career will be very comparable to Kyle Rudolph. Both have had elite physical traits from day one, but both had their problems with injuries throughout their careers, so we never got to see either dominate every week for the Irish. Kmet finished with 41 receptions for 482 yards and 6 touchdowns this season. He entered the season with just 176 yards and 0 career touchdowns.
Should Notre Dame have to replace Kmet, Tommy Tremble figures to be elevated to TE1 with Brock Wright continuing the play the role of TE2. George Takacs will likely have some role in the offense as well. Notre Dame also justed a pair of stud tight ends in Michael Mayer and Kevin Bauman. Notre Dame is stacked at tight end.
Prediction: Kmet leaves for the NFL
It seemed like a forgone conclusion since last year that Gilman would head to the NFL after this season instead of returning for a 5th year, but it appears as if there is some momentum building for a potential return. Leaving after the Camping World Bowl is still more likely than not for Gilman, but the door is at least open now.
One area of Gilman’s game that he won’t be able to improve upon by coming back is in the speed/athleticism department. What he could improve upon is his impact plays. Gilman was wherever the football was in 2018. That wasn’t the case in 2019 as his number of big-impact, game-changing type plays plummeted this year.
If Gilman does leave for the NFL, Notre Dame is still in great shape at safety in 2020 with Kyle Hamilton, Houston Griffith, and Ohio State transfer Isaiah Pryor.
Prediction: Gilman leaves for the NFL
Earlier this year, it was reported that Crawford had no intention of coming back for a 6th year by applying for a medical redshirt. Something changed during the season, though, and now it looks very likely that Crawford will return. Unlike with Gilman at safety, Notre Dame is not in as good of shape at corner should Crawford decide to leave after the bowl game.
If Crawford does indeed return, he will start opposite TaRiq Bracy with KJ Wallace and Isaiah Rutherford backing them up. Notre Dame just signed four corners in the early signing period as well, but all are expected to be developmental prospects who might not be ready to play from day one. Both Caleb Offord and Ramon Henderson are early enrollees, though, so they’ll have the spring to start that development process.
Prediction: Crawford returns
Notre Dame has four offensive linemen who could potentially leave for the NFL if they wanted to, but most don’t think Aaron Banks or Robert Hainsey are seriously considering it. Senior Liam Eichenberg, though, has a decision to make after the bowl game, although he has already indicated he plans to return for a 5th year.
As Notre Dame’s starting left tackle the last two seasons, he’s played better than most Notre Dame fans give him credit for. That said, the play of the Irish offensive line as a whole disappointed and Eichenberg’s draft stock didn’t take off this year as a result.
Assuming Eichenberg sticks with his original plan to return, he will have a third year of starting experience in what figures to be an explosive offense in 2020, albeit under the guidance of a new offensive coordinator. That new coordinator could breathe life back into an offensive line that took a step back this year and enhance the draft stock of the entire unit.
Prediction: Eichenberg returns
Had Kraemer not gotten hurt in the middle of the season, the chances of him leaving would be a lot higher right now. Kraemer was ranked pretty highly on a lot of draft boards to start the season. The injury derailed any momentum he had towards the NFL, though, and it looks like a return to Notre Dame is in the cards for him. It would be a mild shock at this point if he didn’t return.
Like Eichenberg, Kraemer can greatly enhance his draft stock that had some projecting him as a potential first-round pick before the 2019 season.
Prediction: Kraemer returns
It has long been assumed that Ade Ogundeji would be one of the anchors of the 2020 Notre Dame defensive line, but the potential 5th year senior was non-committal about a 5th year towards the end of the season. There aren’t many indicators right now that he is leaning towards leaving, but at the same time, Brian Kelly, Mike Elston, and Clark Lea need to make sure that they get Ogundeji back for a 5th year.
Ogundeji blossomed this year in a reserve role behind Khalid Kareem but would step into a starting role next year opposite Daelin Hayes, who Notre Dame wasn’t planning on having in 2020 before an early-season injury cost Hayes his senior campaign. With Hayes and Ogundeji on the edges, Notre Dame’s defensive line would be in great shape again in 2020.
Prediction: Ogundeji returns
Tony Jones Jr
Notre Dame will have six running backs on the roster in 2020 if Tony Jones Jr returns but still won’t have any that have established themselves as a clear cut top back. Jones looked like he was trending that way at times in 2019, most notably in his 176-yard outburst against USC. From that game forward, however, Jones looked a step slower and less decisive after getting banged up against Michigan. He missed the Virginia Tech game the following week. He ran for a total of 165 yards the rest of the season following his career day against the Trojans.
Notre Dame returns Jafar Armstrong, C’bo Flemister, Jahmir Smith, and Kyren Williams, assuming there are no transfers in the running back and adds 5-star running back Chris Tyree to the mix. Jones could be a potential graduate transfer if he wants a clearer path to being a top back to enhance his draft stock.
Before his injury, Jones looked like a potential “thunder” back to go along with the “lightning” that Notre Dame is hoping Tyree adds. It will be interesting to see how he looks in the bowl game after getting plenty of time to rest. Jones brings something no other Notre Dame back has with his size/vision and could be an asset in 2020 if they can keep him healthy.
Prediction: Jones returns
Before the 2019 season, most wouldn’t have pegged Javon McKinley as a potential 5th year player for the Irish. He didn’t have a single catch in his career before this fall, and he had off the field issues that clouded his future at one point. He hauled in only 11 passes in 2019, but they accounted for 268 yards, and four of them went for touchdowns. He looked like a potential big-play threat in the Miles Boykin mold as he was gaining Ian Book’s trust. Despite those flashes, though, McKinley didn’t factor much into Notre Dame’s late-season offensive resurgence.
Looking at the wide receiver room for Notre Dame in 2020 is exciting even with the losses of Chase Claypool and Chris Finke. Notre Dame should get Kevin Austin back from his suspension in 2020. Braden Lenzy developed into a bonafide weapon looking ready to explode next year. And Notre Dame just added 5-star Jordan Johnson and criminally under-rated Xavier Watts who could be ready to play next year (they added Jay Brunelle as well, but he’ll need more time likely). That is on top of Lawrence Keys, Joe Wilkins, Micah Jones, and Kendal Abdur-Rehman.
Personally, I think McKinley could win a starting spot for Notre Dame in 2020 if he returns. At the same time, with just one more season left, it wouldn’t be surprising if McKinley explored a graduate transfer to a school where he would be the clear cut #1.
Given the journey McKinley’s had at Notre Dame, it would be a great ending to his story if he returned for a 5th year and locked up a starting role and exploded the way Miles Boykin did in 2018 after being an afterthought in this offense until his breakout in the Citrus Bowl to end the 2017 season, but one could certainly understand if he didn’t return.
Prediction: McKinley pursues a graduate transfer