With Monday’s addition of CB Nick McCloud from NC State, Notre Dame now has three graduate transfers on its roster for the 2020 season, and the Irish could still be in the market for a fourth. The additions have the potential to shape the roster more so than graduate-transfers ever have for Notre Dame.
Notre Dame hasn’t had the best of luck with graduate transfers over the years. Cody Riggs played well in 2014 for the Irish, but later grad-transfers like Cameron Smith and Freddy Canteen never made much of a mark even when it looked like they might in 2017 when both were listed as starters for Georgia’s visit to South Bend.
Injuries have plagued most of the grad-transfers that have enrolled at Notre Dame over the last few years. Avery Sebastian looked like he might impact the Notre Dame secondary in 2015, but injuries derailed his time at Notre Dame. Injuries were the demise of Smith and Canteen’s Irish tenures as well.
Notre Dame is hoping this year’s pool of graduate transfers has more of an impact on the depth chart and less of an impact on the training staff’s time. Especially considering where Notre Dame’s efforts have been with adding grad-transfers.
Notre Dame lost three starters from its secondary and two from its starting wide receiving corps to graduation/the NFL. So far Notre Dame’s added two defensive backs and a receiver from the grad-transfer pool. If Notre Dame adds a fourth it would be at another position of need – running back.
Nick McCloud Could Start at Corner
Of the three graduate transfers already on the roster, Nick McCloud might have the best chance to start. Notre Dame is really short on experience at cornerback for 2020 with just two players returning with any sort of meaningful experience – Shaun Crawford and Tariq Bracy.
None of the other corners on the roster for 2020 have played enough to even us a year of eligibility. KJ Wallace, Cam Hart, and Isaiah Rutherford all redshirted in 2019 as true freshmen and have all four years of eligibility left. Caleb Offord and Ramon Henderson signed with Notre Dame in December and enrolled, but participated in one practice before the coronavirus shut down spring practice. Clarence Lewis will report to Notre Dame this summer – whenever freshmen are able to enroll.
Add all that up and McCloud walks into a situation where he is one of the most experienced players in the room. His injury in 2019 is a bit concerning given Notre Dame’s luck with some grad-transfers with prior injury concerns, but assuming he is fully healthy and stays that way, he could start this fall. At a minimum, he is posted for a lot of playing time.
Isaiah Pryor In Line for Serious Playing Time Too
Sticking in the secondary, Ohio State grad-transfer Isaiah Pryor could challenge for a starting spot at safety alongside Kyle Hamilton although he has some fierce competition from junior Houston Griffith who moved back to safety during the 2019 season.
Pryor came to Notre Dame with two years of eligibility unlike the other grad-transfers Notre Dame added this year. Pryor played in 29 games for Ohio State over the last three years but ended up getting passed on the depth chart by Ohio State’s ridiculous recruiting machine. Don’t forget though that Pryor was a top-100 overall recruit as a prep player four years ago.
Because Notre Dame likes to play three safeties a lot, Pryor will be on the field a lot in 2020 whether it be in a full-time starting role or as the third safety. With two years of eligibility left, Pryor could make a sizable contribution to the Notre Dame defense before leaving for the NFL.
Bennett Skowronek Has Skillset WR Corps Is Lacking
Rounding out the current graduate transfers for the Irish is the only one, for now, on the offensive side of the ball. Bennett Skowronek decided to transfer to Notre Dame right after the New Year, and when he did, he brought with him a skillset the current wide receiving corps for 2020 was lacking – a big, physical target who can make contested catches.
In 2018, Miles Boykin was a big-bodied receiver that Chase Claypool trusted to just throw the ball up to knowing he’d probably come down with it. In 2019, Chase Claypool filled that role. In 2020, the only returning receiver who might be able to fill that role is Javon McKinley, but before COVID-19 shut down spring football, Brian Kelly hadn’t stated that McKinley was fully approved for a 5th year just yet.
Enter Bennett Skowronek. While Braden Lenzy and Larence Keys can hopefully take the top off a defense and Kevin Austin can hopefully live up to the hype that has been building around him as an all-around, go-to target, Skowronek can fill the role of the tall, big target that makes the tough third-down and red-zone catches.
Of the three, Skowronek’s path to playing time isn’t as certain, but his skill set will offer him an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way in 2020.
Could Notre Dame Backfield Add Grad-Transfer Too?
Notre Dame is still in the running to add a fourth graduate transfer this year. Former Stanford running back Trevor Speights entered the transfer portal after the 2019 season and has been linked to Notre Dame ever since because of his connection of Lance Taylor. Notre Dame’s second year running backs coach held the same position at Stanford when Speights was recruited.
With Tony Jones Jr pursuing an NFL career instead of a 5th year at Notre Dame, there are questions at running back for the Irish in 2020. Can Jafar Armstrong be a go-to, every down running back? Does one of the younger backs emerge? Will Chris Tyree be ready to play a huge role in 2020 or will he need more time in the weight room?
Notre Dame doesn’t have any answers to those questions right now and that uncertainty could create an opportunity for a back like Speights at Notre Dame. Lance Taylor knows exactly what Notre Dame would be getting with Speights and the Irish have been players for his services since he entered the transfer portal.
With the three grad-transfers on the roster now, the Notre Dame scholarship count sits at 88 so adding Speights would push it to 89 meaning there would have to be quite a bit of roster attrition between now and whenever the season starts. As is, there will need to be at least three players currently on scholarship who won’t be by kickoff of the Navy game – or whatever opponent the Irish face first this year if there are major changes to the schedule this fall.
Regardless of how many graduate transfers Notre Dame ends up taking this year, grad-transfers should be a source of solid contributors and impact players each year for the Irish. Notre Dame is an attractive destination for players looking to get more attention in their final seasons if the NFL is their ultimate destination.