When the 2023 Notre Dame football schedule gets underway, the roster will include a player who was on the opposite side during the Fighting Irish’s opener. That player is edge rusher Javontae Jean Baptiste, whose 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame arrives for his final collegiate season after spending four years with the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Below is a look at what Notre Dame is getting with Jean-Baptiste:
Hailing from Spring Valley, N.J., Jean-Baptiste played for Bergen Catholic High School, with his efforts at outside linebacker resulting in First Team All-State accolades as a senior. During his junior year in 2016, Jean-Baptiste offered a hint of his promise by racking up 59 tackles, which included a trio of sacks and five stops behind the line.
Jean Baptiste then took his game to a new level the next season, helping lead Bergen Catholic to a state title. He finished with 88 tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss and 11.5 sacks, numbers that got him plenty of recruiting attention. Despite spirited bids from schools like Texas A&M, Nebraska and Virginia, Jean-Baptiste cast his lot with the Buckeyes.
Javontae Jean-Baptiste’s Career at Ohio State
The strong depth of the Ohio State defensive line made it difficult for Jean-Baptiste to have an impact. During his first season with the Buckeyes, he was situated behind Chase Young, who ended up being the second overall pick of the 2020 NFL draft. As a redshirt freshman in 2019, Jean-Baptiste finished with 14 tackles, including six solo stops and 1.5 sacks.
During the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, Jean-Baptiste played in four of Ohio State’s eight games. Despite the limited action, he still managed to make two stops behind the line of scrimmage and also had a sack in a road win against Penn State. He also recovered a fumble in the regular season finale at Michigan State.
In 2021, Jean-Baptiste competed in seven contests and finished with 12 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks, while also knocking away a pass. Though Young had moved on to the NFL, Jean-Baptiste again found himself battling for playing time behind Zach Harrison, who’s likely to be a second-day selection in the 2023 NFL draft.
This past season, Jean-Baptiste had his most productive season for the Buckeyes, who narrowly missed springing an upset against Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinal. In that contest, he had two tackles and shared a sack, the sixth multiple-tackle game of the year. In addition, his pass-rushing potential was displayed with four sacks for the season.
One likely catalyst in leading Jean-Baptiste to Notre Dame is defensive line coach Al Washington. Prior to joining the Irish staff, Washington was the linebacker coach for Ohio State during the first three seasons of action for Jean-Baptiste, who was recruited by the Buckeyes as a linebacker. Despite his position shift, it’s clear that Washington sees potential benefits from this addition.
Notre Dame’s Need on the Defensive Line
Even with the available players returning up front next season, Notre Dame desperately needed an infusion of talent in this area. That’s because of the departures of the Irish’s new all-time leader in sacks, Isaiah Foskey and Justin Ademilola. Rylie Mills does have experience at Edge, but depth issues at tackle may place him there in 2023.
At the Vyper spot, Justin Botelho figures to hold down that position, which leaves the issues on the interior. A player like Howard Cross can handle the nose but unless a quality successor to Ademilola’s brother, Jayson, emerges, Mills seems destined to be used inside.
The annual infusion of high school talent brings players such as Brenan Vernon, who has the size to play inside but could offer Jean-Baptiste a challenge. Other top recruits such as Boubacar Traore and Armel Mukam also bring plenty of skills but may need more seasoning than Vernon
Javontae Jean-Baptiste’s Ceiling
With two key departures, there’s not really much standing in the way of Jean-Baptiste finally making a true impact at the collegiate level. The Irish coaching staff would be delighted if he’s able to come close to the numbers that Foskey delivered during the past two seasons, a stratosphere that’s nearly impossible to manage for any newcomer.
In reality, simply applying regular heat on opposing quarterbacks would go a long way toward validating his addition to the 2023 unit. One interesting comparison about Jean-Baptiste’s potential comes from former Notre Dame director of strength and conditioning Mickey Marotti. Now in a similar position at Ohio State, Marotti noted that Jean-Baptiste’s size was reminiscent of a player he worked with during his days with the Irish, former NFL All-Pro Justin Tuck.