Most of the discussion during the offseason regarding the Notre Dame football team revolves around Brian Kelly’s renaissance, his yoga schedule, the new coaching hires, and the miracle that is new strength coordinator Matt Balis. This has been for good reason; Notre Dame turned over a ton of coaches and staff following their dismal 4-8 season, and there was endless discussion about Kelly’s job security, rumors that he didn’t want to be the coach at all, and what he needs to do to retain his job past the 2017 season.
To be honest, it’s all pretty intriguing and exciting. Kelly is saying all the right things, there are new coordinators with new schemes, new positions, a young and seemingly talented team who is being built up under a new workout regimen that the players are already raving about. Kool-aid is available and ready to be consumed. As I love to say, it’s all happening.
What hasn’t been discussed as much is what kind of raw talent actually makes up this roster? We make so many season predictions based on the coaching changes, we don’t take into account what kind of roster this is from a talent standpoint. So lets go ahead and do that.
I went ahead and tabulated all of the composite scores for each player in each position group and averaged them together to get an idea as to how talented that group is top to bottom. What I found is at each position group, the starters are all somewhere around the mid to low for star range (between .9100 and .9400) with the exception of quarterback, which is just a single player, and Wimbush is the second highest rated quarterback on the entire team with a .9784 rating.
But, when you get into the two deep and beyond, the star ratings dip at some key positions, like defensive line and safety for example, and most especially so on defense. As we’ve seen throughout the last few seasons, offensive players have experienced injuries and the overall unit has been able to recover. When similar things happened on defense, the results were much more adverse. In related news the average composite rating for the offense comes in at .9188, which is a low to mid four star player. On defense, it’s .8904, a high three star, almost three percentage points lower. There just isn’t as much quality depth there.
This isn’t to imply Notre Dame is trotting out a bunch of bums on defense, not at all. It just puts a lot of pressure on the staffs ability to evaluate, develop, and hit on s0-called “diamonds in the rough.” The same is true on offense, especially at the skill positions. Obviously, the previous staff was not able to do it consistently. Time will tell if the new staff can.
Here are the groups ranked lowest to highest, with some commentary sprinkled in:
Number of scholarship players: 10
Average composite rating: .8709
This position is the quintessential diamond in the rough scenario. Notre Dame has struggled recruiting big time safeties since they signed Max Redfield in 2013, and they don’t currently have a composite four star prospect on the roster. In fact, the highest rated prospect is early enrollee freshman Isaiah Robertson at .8986. Notre Dame has a lot of youth in this group and players they feel really good about like Devin Studstill and Jalen Elliott, both of whom played a lot as freshmen. New defensive coordinator Mike Elko, who specializes in coaching this position, has a very important job with this group.
8.) Defensive Line
Number of scholarship players: 18
Average composite rating: .8867
Oh, the defensive line, always an enigma at this school. It should be noted I added Daelin Hayes and Julian Okwara to this group, even though both were recruited to be linebackers/rush ends. There is no sugar coating it, Notre Dame has struggled to land top end talent for this unit ever since the 2011-2012 recruiting extravaganza that was Stephon Tuitt, Aaron Lynch, Sheldon Day and Ishaq Williams. Development across the board has been scarce, consistency has been hard to find, both in play and in motivation. I don’t think there is another position on the roster where the biggest criticism is “x” player doesn’t play hard all the time.
Number of scholarship players: 10
Average composite rating: .8952
This is a situation where the top line talent is good–a combination of Morgan, Martini, Coney, and Bilal rates pretty highly, but there is a nice little drop off after that. Recruiting services don’t think much of either player Notre Dame brought in the latest recruiting class, nor the one previous. Josh Barajas was a very highly rated player who has shown little sign of ever panning out. In fact, I’d say if there is one player who needs the Body by Balis treatment the most, it’s him. This group will likely be a bigger concern next season when Morgan moves on, he is the only potential star as of this writing, but assuming Morgan stays healthy (knock on a tree) this is a pretty talented group.
6.) Wide Receiver
Number of scholarship players: 9
Average composite rating: .8971
It’s pretty shocking given Notre Dame’s propensity for throwing the ball and the success they’ve had turning their best players into very high draft picks that they don’t do better on the recruiting trail than they have. This rating is hurt considerably by the fact that Corey Holmes and Justin Brent are no longer on the team, but only Holmes figured to be a factor on the field this year. If there is any position where Notre Dame has shown the ability to both evaluate talent, and develop that talent, it’s receiver. No one was very big on Will Fuller or Kevin Stepherson or Chris Brown or….you get the point. Things tend to work out with this group.
Number of scholarship players: 5
Average composite rating: .9088
There have been some early raves about this corner group–as small as it is–so far in spring practice and it is sporting some nice overall talent. The lowest rated player might turn out to be one of its best in Julian Love, and if Shaun Crawford can finally fulfill his destiny to stardom this is a very talented group that a lot of people are very excited about. They are woefully thin on numbers, exacerbated by Nick Coleman and Ashton White moving over to safety, and them striking out at corner in the latest recruiting cycle, but health permitting, this should be one of the better units on the team.
4.) Running Back
Number of scholarship players: 4
Average composite rating: .9135
Some very good talent in this group and the lowest rated player, Tony Jones, seems to be one that people around the program are most excited about. Josh Adams has far outperformed his recruiting ranking and Dexter Williams looks prime to fulfill his recruiting promise. CJ Holmes rounds out the group with very good versatility who was rated similar to Will Fuller and DeShone Kizer coming out of high school. Fans should feel really good about this position heading into the season.
Number of scholarship players: 3
Average composite rating: .9173
A little bit misleading because, again, Brandon Wimbush will start and is the second highest rated player on the roster. There is a lot of talent and hopes rested on his shoulders this year and people are extremely optimistic. Ian Book is the guy people are wondering about. We need to know if he can play even though we hope he isn’t needed in a meaningful situation. He’s rated as a .8681 quarterback and, for reference, the player he is most closely compared to is now his coach in Tommy Rees, who was a .8641 prospect. Book is seen as more athletic for whatever that is worth to you.
2.) Tight End
Number of scholarship players: 6
Composite rating: .9330
The position that has seen a very high uptick in talent the last couple of years with the signings of Alize Mack, Brock Wright, and Cole Kmet. All are very high four star prospects and three of the highest rated players on the entire team. This position has ben woefully disappointing the few seasons, but there are reasons for optimism. First, Mack is slated to make his triumphant return after being academically ineligible last season. Second, Brock Wright and Cole Kmet are two freshman who weren’t a part of the past disappointments at the position. And third, new offensive coordinator Chip Long apparently has a fetish for tight ends. There really is no excuse for this group to underachieve in the years to come.
1.) Offensive Line
Number of scholarship players: 15
Average composite rating: .9340
So much talent. So much potential. This group has fifteen players on scholarship and averages a mid-four star rating. That’s incredible depth. It also possesses the highest rated player on the team in redshirt freshman Tommy Kraemer, who registered a .9819 rating last season, which is just under a consensus five star moniker. It’s no secret the offensive line was a disappointment last season and there are some valid reasons for that. There were several new starters, Mike McGlinchey switched positions, and people were banged up. It was a bit of a mess. But, given the way this roster is made up, that simply cannot happen again.
Let’s look at the top three units in terms of talent on this list:
4.) Running back
3.) Quarterback (in which the starter is known as an excellent runner)
2.) Tight End
1.) Offensive Line
I know it’s low hanging fruit to call for this football team to run the ball. But, come on, run the ball.