Heading into bowl season I was convinced Julian Love was going to leave for the NFL and had already started to come to grips with it. Then news trickled out that Love got a lower grade than expected and that it actually looked like he might be back for a senior season. That hope was short lived after Love announced on Twitter Friday evening that he will be leaving a year early to pursue his NFL career.
Love thee ☘️ pic.twitter.com/uZq2c0w1lo
And with that, Notre Dame must now replace their first consensus All-American cornerback since 2002. The world saw just how big of a task that will be for Notre Dame. When Love went out of the Cotton Bowl, Clemson immediately pounced and took advantage of the Irish defense. He left the game with the score tied at 3 and returned to find the Irish down 23-3. Trevor Lawrence zeroed in on Love’s replacement, Donte Vaughn, for two of the three touchdowns the Tigers scored in Love’s absence.
Love reportedly received a 2nd round grade from the NFL Advisory Committee and his performance in the Cotton Bowl should have only helped improve his stock since it was very evident that with him on the field, Clemson had a much harder time moving the football. How much he could improve his stock coming back was always questionable as well. The only knock on the consensus All-American is his top end speed and that won’t improve much with another year at Notre Dame.
Love rarely left the field for Notre Dame the past two seasons so not having the best on the fly replacement shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Vaughn having a tough time getting thrown into that position against Clemson’s athletic receivers shouldn’t have surprised anyone. The good news for defensive coordinator Clark Lea and Notre Dame is that they have an entire off-season to figure out how to replace him. The bad news is, much like Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey last year, they probably won’t be able to fully replace his production immediately.
Notre Dame has a lot of corners on the roster heading into 2019. Troy Pride returns for his senior season and will continue to lock down the field corner position. Shaun Crawford is going to attempt another comeback from his third major injury to compete at the nickel position. Who takes Love’s boundary corner spot though now becomes one of the biggest question marks of the 2019 off-season.
Here are the names that will get the first looks:
- Donte Vaughn – Despite the rough showing in the Cotton Bowl he has a lot of talent and has flashed at times. 2018 as a whole did not go well for the junior though so he’ll have some work to do.
- Tariq Bracy – Might be better suited for the field position, but he was the first freshman CB to see the field this year.
- Noah Boykin & DJ Brown – Both freshmen redshirted this year but will be in the mix in the spring
- Houston Griffith – He moved to safety in the spring but then played nickel after Crawford’s injury. With the influx of talent Notre Dame has at safety now, Griffith is a potentially intriguing option to replace Love.
None of Notre Dame’s 10 early enrollees for 2019 are at the cornerback position which might make it challenging for either Wallace or Isaiah Rutherford to seriously challenge, but both arrive this summer and will be in the mix as well.
Getting Love back for 2019 would have been beyond huge for Notre Dame and not just because he so irreplaceable from a talent perspective. He would have certainly been a captain and team leader next fall for the Irish as well and that leadership will be tough to replace as well. Alohi Gilman is almost assured of being a captain. Khalid Kareem will probably be in the mix as well.
From a talent perspective, missing out on cornerbacks in the class of 2017 haunted Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl when they didn’t have a guy like Paulson Adebo who was at one time committed to Notre Dame before flipping to Stanford to plug in. It could haunt them next year too. Notre Dame will have two upperclassmen corners in 2019 but six underclassmen corners. That kind of imbalance is obviously not ideal and is only highlighted by losing a player like Love early to the NFL.
Notre Dame has nine months to figure out who they will replace Julian Love in the lineup with. It might be years until they have another corner who can replace the kind of production we have become accustomed to from Love the past two seasons. One thing is clear: whoever does replace Love in the lineup has some mighty big shoes to fill.