The Overlooked: Class of ’11 Edition

Brian Kelly and staff reeled in a recruiting class on Wednesday in their first go round coaching the Fighting Irish.  Mixed in with headliners like Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt, and Ishaq Williams are a number of players who have flown under the radar.

ben koyack notre dame
Ben Koyack is one of the nation's elite tight end recruits, but is one of several recruits who have been over looked this year. (Photo - Icon SMI)

Here’s a look at some players who haven’t gotten as much attention on the blogs and forums over the last few months, but could have a big impact on the Fighting Irish in the future.

Ben Koyack (TE) – It’s amazing that a player of Koyack’s caliber could be overlooked, but after committing early, fans seemed to forget about him.  Simply put, Koyack is one of the nation’s elite tight end recruits who should be the next in line of great tight ends at “Tight End U”.

Even before he eventually takes the reigns from Tyler Eifert, Koyack will give Kelly some exciting possibilities in two tight end sets.   Kelly loved what he saw from Eifert almost as soon as he took over and he gave Koyack a ringing endorsement Wednesday as well.

“We loved Ben Koyack from the very beginning. Great size. If you’re going to compare him to anybody, Tyler Eifert, has the ability to split out as a wide receiver, can lock in, put his hand on the ground and base a five technique or a nine technique,” said Kelly.

Matthias Farley (S) – Farley didn’t get much attention because he was an early commitment and didn’t waver at any point.  He is still very raw, but with the right coaching, Farley has the tools to be a playmaking safety.  He only played two years of high school football so he has a lot to learn, but physically is a very gifted athlete. Brian Kelly practically gushed over Farely’s athleticism on Wednesday.

Because of his lack of experience, its possible he could end up playing somewhere other than safety after the staff gets a look at him in camp.  Wide receiver and cornerback are two other possible destinations, but after working with Chuck Martin for a couple of years, Notre Dame could have themselves a really dynamic member in the defensive back in Farley.

Nick Martin (OL) – Martin got lost amid the crazy two week period that saw Notre Dame add Aaron Lynch back into this year’s class, pick up Ishaq Williams, and then lose Stephon Tuitt only to add him back a day later.  Martin was a key addition to this year’s class, however, and like his older brother, 2010 Notre Dame offensive lineman of the year, Nick Martin, he could turn out to be a very underrated recruit for the Irish.

If you watch Martin’s film, you’ll see a nasty offensive lineman who finishes his blocks.  He’s a very physical player who likely projects as a right tackle but he could also slid inside if necessary.

Jarrett Grace (ILB) – Grace gets overlooked because of the haul Notre Dame had at outside linebacker, but it seems clear that Notre Dame added a top flight inside linebacker to compliment the impressive group of outside backers they signed Wednesday with Grace.

“Those guys that play inside for us have to take guards on them. So they’ve got to be big, strong and physical,” explain Kelly on Wednesday.  He would add, “Be able to leverage offensive linemen out and cancel out gaps. He’s certainly somebody that we see that can do that.”

Notre Dame finally has some depth at inside linebacker with Manti Te’o and Carlo Calabrese returning as starters and Anthony McDonald and Kendall Moore providing some depth so Grace will have some time to develop.  When he does, he should be more than a capable starting inside backer for Notre Dame.

Anthony Rabasa (OLB) – Most Notre Dame fans have focused primarily on Ben Councell and Ishaq Williams at outside linebacker, but Rabasa is a big time prospect at the position as well.  Notre Dame pulled Rabasa out from right under Miami’s nose and when Al Golden took over for Randy Shannon, the former Temple head coach make a push for Rabasa.

Rabasa is a relentless linebacker who plays with a non-stop motor.  He is going to need a lot of work with his coverage since he does not have a great deal of experience dropping back, but he’s got the tools to be an impact player at the position.

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  1. I love seriour ND fans. They have their facts right at least 90% of the time. I can’t wait to see the TE listings in another decade or so.

  2. after some quick research, counting Kyle Rudolf we have had 7 TE’s drafted since 97′, not bad and warranting ‘te u’ in my book. i challenge someone to find a team with more te’s drafted in the same time period:

    Pete Chryplewicz 5th round pick 1997 (135th overall) short 3-year stint in the league; Jabari Holloway 4th round pick 2001 (118th overall) short 2 year stint in nfl; John Owens 5th round pick 2002 (138th overall) still on active roster for oakland after 9 years in the league but not great stats; Jerome Collins 5th round pick 2005 (114th overall) not much action in nfl after 4 years; anthony fasano 2nd round pick 2006 (58th overall) starting for the Miami Dolphins; john carlson 2nd round pick 2008 (38th overall), starting for seatle seahawks; kyle rudolf, projected 1st or second round pick 2011.

    1. Ask and you shall receive. After some quick research of my own, I have University of Miami having 8 TE’s drafted since 2000.

      Bubba Franks – 1st round of the 2000 NFL Draft; Mondriel Fulcher – 7th round of the 2000 NFL Draft; Jeremy Shockey – 1st round of the 2002 NFL Draft; Kellen Winslow – 1st round of the 2004 NFL Draft; Kevin Everett – 3rd round of the 2005 NFL Draft; Greg Olsen – 1st round of the 2007 NFL Draft; Jimmy Graham – 3rd round of the 2010 NFL Draft; Dedrick Epps – 7th round of the 2010 NFL Draft

      1. fair enough, i didn’t include Dan O’leary who was drafted in 2001 technically listed as TE/longsnapper…so we can call it a tie.

        but miami has had more prolific TE’s in the same period so credit is due…i didn’t realize shockey went to the “u” and four first round picks is impressive in itself

      2. Bnieves,

        I love the research.

        I think the past couple cycles of Starting TE’s at ND have turned out fantastic and I hope we continue that trend. I’m also perfectly OK with Miami laying claims to that title. It’s just another thing for ND to rip from their grasp over the next couple years.

        I also think the idea that ND fans could consider that title is interesting when you consider the attrition at that position over the past few years.

        But when you boil it down, the title’s kinda meaningless. Since 2000, how many titles has Miami won? 2
        2001 & 2002.
        (for the record I absolutely refuse to recognize that Miami lost on that sham of a call in 2002. that call was Bull$#!+ and we all know it)
        Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have great players, but it’s not the title I’m interested in chasing.

      3. As a resident of the current white out here in Shoot-cago after the much hyped “Blizzard of 2011” i can say Greg Olson has done virtually nothing since being drafted by Da’ Bearsss. I would put a couple stale Polish Sausages from Maxwell Street up against an opposing D-Line before i put all the chips on that guy to protect Cutler. I’ve seen these hose jockeys from CFD open bigger holes through our 5 foot snow drifts in their off duty personal vehicles with the plow attachement than Olsen ever could on a 3rd and short.

      4. Not to stir the pot but ND had a few other tight ends worth noting that aren’t in the minds of current fans but were legends and pro hall of famers before Miami’s program was out of diapers…Leon Hart – All pro hall of famer – Dave Casper – legend – Ken McAfee – (all American good pro) – Mark Bavaro – best tight end in NYG history…there are a many more that had solid pro careers

        ND has been a citadel for TE’s since there has been football – Miami has been great recently, but ND has been great since God created football

      5. Dan, you are right on the money. Some fans forget that they played football before ESPN was invented, but Domers have no problem with amnesia. We realize that these last few years are just a little lull in the march of legendary football at Notre Dame. Forget Tight End U (6 All-Americans since 1970), you can add Quarterback U (9 in the College Football Hall of Fame), Running Back U (9 in the CFHF), Coach U (6 in the CFHF), and Guard U (5 in the CFHF and 23 All-Americans). Probably a few other “U’s” too, but I don’t have enough time to count all the All-Americans.

  3. The myriad of problems ND’s defense has had since I was in school (I graduated in 1981) with some small relief in the Holtz era, in a nutshell:

    1 – ND defensive line routinely got pushed around at the point of attack.
    2 – Despite one or two studs in the D-Line each year, ND lacked the inside push and outside speed to consistently collapse the pocket.
    3 – ND best backers often had to run around a host of lead blockers and hope like hell they catch a shoestring going by.
    4 – ND’s small fast corners were routinely overmatched by tall athletic wideouts and tight ends.
    5 – ND’s defense was gassed every 4th qtr after battling bigger bodies in the trenches all game.

    Whether three stars or five, it seems almost all of these guys have big frames and the extra athleticism that is needed to play aggressive college defense. The speed, size and flexibility of the entire class could easily translate into a defensive roster that has quality depth to keep a defense fresh (a must with Kelly’s offense) as well as overcome the injuries a college team inevitably has to endure that often crushed ND’s past defenses.

    Although it remains to be seen, for all of ND’s past problems, these kids look like they could be the solution once they have the stength and conditioning plus some experience in Diaco’s defense.

    I love Kelly’s master plan to get bigger, faster and more flexible on the defensive side of the ball – unlike Charlie, Ty and Bob, this plan makes a lot of long term sense and can be competitive in the weeks the offense doesn’t show up.

    Can’t wait for next season to see the new model.

  4. I think the most underrated player in this class is Jalen Brown. I also think it is very debateable to call ND “TE U.”

    1. ND has had 15 Tight Ends drafted by the NFL. 5 in the last Decade.
      Mark Bavaro, Dave Casper, Anthony Fasano and John Carlson to name a few. Kyle Ruduolf is ranked #1 this draft by some anylists.
      Currently at ND is Tyler Eifert and now Ben Koyack.
      I believe there should be little debate.

      1. you can go back to the 1950s – Jim Mustcheller (spelling) who was a key target for Johnny Unitas in their two championship years

  5. Good call on Rabasa. If I had to compare him to someone who played recently in college it would be David Pollack out of Georgia. The kid just flat out trucks every play and has been overlooked for good reason in this class because of Tuitt, Lynch, Ishaq and Councell. Don’t be surprised if Rabasa turns out to be the best when all is said and done. Heart goes a long way in college football.

  6. What I think gets overlooked in general is how good this year’s LB corp is when combined with last year’s group.

    If Kelly can have me thinking the same about the DBs next year, Notre Dame football may finally be back.

  7. I LOVE this class of guys coming in. I can’t wait till the spring game and also kickoff for the 2011 season. Next year I guess we go after a top notch rb, qb and db’s. More studs on the line is always good as well. My favorite kid coming in is Cam from Coppel,Tx. I’m telling you guys this kid can play and has the heart of a lion. I just hope he plays rb like he did in high school. I read were he may play slot but we have plenty of receivers so I wish he can stay at rb. As always I am super pumped about the IRISH and what awaits ND NATION around the corner.

    GO IRISH!!!

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