Notre Dame set out to land a difference making set of offensive skill position players this recruiting cycle and after Friday’s commitment from Xavier Watts, they can consider that goal mission accomplished. In Watts Notre Dame has added yet another dynamic playmaker to a group that was already among the most explosive signed during the Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame.
Let’s get the basics on Watts out of the way. He’s a 6’1″, 185 playmaking wide receiver out of Omaha, Nebraska. While he may only carry a 3-star ranking, he held offers from Michigan, Nebraska, and Wisconsin among other lesser power 5 teams like Iowa, Northwestern, Louisville, and Purdue. Greg wrote extensively about him earlier in the week when it seemed pretty clear he was going to be the cherry on top of this year’s offensive class.
— Xavier Watts (@xavierwatts6) July 5, 2019
While I was a bit leery about all of the flyers Notre Dame has taken in the secondary, wide receiver is one position where Notre Dame’s staff has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to reconciling recruiting rankings and cohort lists compared to who they target. Watts was one of Notre Dame’s top targets, along with Jordan Johnson, over several other highly rated recruits from the services like Michael Redding.
During Brian Kelly’s time we’ve seen him and his staff zero in on similar players like Will Fuller who was a 3-star recruit when he committed who have turned into stars. Kevin Stepherson should be in that category too, but he wasn’t able to stay out of trouble off the field. Chase Claypool didn’t have a huge offer list when Notre Dame zeroed in on him either. Michael Young is very likely going to join those ranks this year if he breaks out as expected.
In short, this staff – regardless of the wide receivers coach or offensive coordinator at the time – has shown it knows wide receivers. And this staff made Xavier Watts a priority ever since they added Jordan Johnson earlier this year. That should be all you need to know. Yes, Notre Dame would have absolutely loved to pair Johnson and Watts with an AJ Henning or Jalen McMillan; but Watts was still one of their top priorities even when both were still in play.
With Watts joining Johnson and recently offered and committed Jay Brunelle at wide receiver, the Irish are done recruiting the position. That is, unless, they were able to flip McMillan between now and December. I’d be shocked if they didn’t keep trying to turn over that rock in hopes of at least securing a visit in the fall.
Notre Dame is now actually done recruiting on the offensive side of the ball completely and they could not have done much better than what they ended up. Here’s just a quick recap.
- QB: Drew Pyne – was the staff’s top target
- RB: Chris Tyree – was the staff’s top target and better damn well get his 5th star back after his performance at The Opening
- WR: Jordan Johnson, Xavier Watts, Jay Brunelle – top to bottom, it might be the best crop of receivers in a single class for Notre Dame under Kelly
- TE: Michael Mayer, Kevin Bauman – Notre Dame’s top 2 targets this year
- OL: Tosh Baker, Michael Carmody – a top 100 and a top 200 OL in what was expected to be a small OL class during a bit of a down year for OL this cycle
Really the only place Notre Dame didn’t land their ideal targets would be in missing on Henning/McMillan and maybe offensive line where they originally had Jimmy Christ higher than Carmody, but Carmody is still a top 150 overall prospect. That is recruiting at a very high level folks. The defensive side of the ball might not have fared as well this cycle, but the offensive staff hit this one well out of the park.
Back to Watts for a second though. There is just so much in his game to like. He’s explosive with the ball in his hands in the open field, he’s already an excellent route runner, he’s got great hands, he makes contested catches.
If there’s a knock on his game it’s just that he is just really good at everything and maybe not over the top at one thing. That might not excite recruiting evaluators but receivers that are good at everything generally turn out to be damn good college wide receivers.
Just like with Notre Dame rarely going into Mississippi like they did for Caleb Offord, the Irish don’t venture down into Nebraska very often. With all of the hype surrounding the Cornhusker program with Scott Frost in charge now, pulling Watts, the top rated player in the state, out from under Nebraska’s nose is a huge win for Notre Dame and Brian Kelly’s staff.
There are now only a handful of spots open in Notre Dame’s class of 2020 with all of those spots expected to be filled on the defensive side of the ball – specifically in the secondary where the Irish lack a true safety at this point. Offensively though, consider Notre Dame all but done barring any last ditch attempts to flip McMillan like they did with Asa Turner last year.