Brian Kelly has mentioned how vital getting “6-star” recruits (players with eligibility who otherwise might leave for the NFL or other options) are each year. On Friday, the Irish got one of their biggest such players for 2020 when cornerback Shaun Crawford announced he would be back next year. The return of Crawford means the Irish will not be as reliant on true freshmen at a critical position like corner.
Notre Dame is still going to be remaking its secondary in 2020 with Alohi Gilman headed to the NFL despite having a 5th year of eligibility along with Troy Pride and Jalen Elliott, who both exhausted their eligibility this year. That’s three out of five starters (considering the nickel position as a starter). Crawford would have made it four of five if he hadn’t decided to come back.
— Shaun Crawford (@ShaunCrawf20) January 10, 2020
No one could have blamed Crawford if he didn’t come back either. In fact, for a while, Crawford had said he had no plans on coming back for a 6th year, but that changed towards the end of the season. You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who has battled through as many significant injuries as Crawford, who returned to still play at a high level. After two ACL’s and one Achillies cost him three full seasons over his first four years at Notre Dame, no one knew what to expect from him in 2019. Despite a nasty elbow injury that sidelined him for a few games, Crawford was back to his ball-hawking self this year.
Throughout his career, Crawford has only seen action in 25 games because of those injuries but still has managed to intercept four passes, forced two fumbles, recovered another fumble, and collected 2.5 tackles for loss. When he’s on the field, he makes plays.
With Crawford back, he figures to start opposite Tariq Bracy in 2020 with Bracy stepping into to Troy Pride’s starting position. Behind them, the Irish have almost no experienced depth. Sophomores Isaiah Rutherford and KJ Wallace both retained a year of eligibility in 2019 while classmate Cam Hart made a mid-season switch to corner from wide receiver. After that trio, all Notre Dame has at corner are the four incoming freshmen: Landen Bartleson, Ramon Henderson, Caleb Offord, and Clarence Lewis.
That’s seven reserves who will all be freshmen eligibility wise in 2020. Had Crawford left, one of them would have been an opening day starter for the Irish.
With Elliott and Gilman gone as well, Notre Dame has to replace both of its starting safeties as well. Between Kyle Hamilton, Houston Griffith, and Ohio State grad-transfer Isaiah Pryor, though, the Irish at least appear to be in better shape experience-wise, but not so much numbers-wise. Outside of those three, Notre Dame’s only reserve safeties right now are Ajavon Litchfield and DJ Brown. Don’t be surprised if someone from that deep group of inexperienced corners gets a look at safety. Crawford’s return offers Notre Dame more flexibility to move some players around.
As has been the case, the problem for Crawford in 2020 is the injury bug. There might not be a player in Notre Dame history who has been plagued by it as Crawford. After his second ACL injury cost him all of 2018, he returned this year and played in 10 games, but missed three after dislocating his elbow against Virginia. He amazingly returned a month later, though, and was strong down the stretch. Here’s a full recap of all the injuries that Crawford has overcome.
- 2015: Missed entire season after tearing ACL in camp
- 2016: Played two games before rupturing his Achilles
- 2017: Played all 13 games in only fully healthy season
- 2018: Missed entire season after tearing ACL in camp
- 2019: Played in 10 games missing three with an elbow injury
His ability to come back after all of those injuries and still play at a high level is remarkable. There are not many cornerbacks who could tear 2 ACLs and rupture an Achillies and still come back and win a starting job, but that is what he did in 2019. Those are the kind of injuries that generally rob players of all of their explosiveness, and while Crawford has been affected by the injuries, he is still a very good corner.
At this point, there are very few remaining question marks regarding players returning in 2020. We know Ian Book, Ade Ogundeji, and Daelin Hayes will be back along with Crawford while Gilman, Tony Jones, and Cole Kmet are headed to the NFL. It’s been assumed that offensive line Liam Eichenberg and Tommy Kraemer are coming back, so we might not see an official posting from either stating their intentions. Javon McKinley is the only player remaining whose future seems uncertain.