Restocking the Trenches – A Look At Notre Dame’s DL Recruiting Part I

Louis Nix & Stephon Tuitt
Notre Dame has buitl a dominant defense by stockpiling elite talent on the defensive line. How well the Irish restock that talent will determine how long they can field a dominant defense. (Photo: Mike Carter / USA TODAY Sports)

Recruiting momentum for the Class of 2014 has been strong for Notre Dame, with head coach Brian Kelly and staff securing the verbal commitments of two 5-star high school recruits (running back Elijah Hood and offensive lineman Quenton Nelson) prior to season’s kickoff, in addition to currently possessing the 7th overall recruiting class in the nation.  The biggest test for Notre Dame’s recruiting priorities resides along the defensive line, with the potential existing for the Fighting Irish to lose both Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt to the NFL at season’s end.  How, then, has ND fared with defensive recruits within the Class of 2014?

Defensive recruiting has been humming along during the summer football doldrums, with two verbal commitments in less than two weeks.  Linebacker Jonathan Bonner, a 3-star commitment from Chesterfield, Missouri, chose Notre Dame over offers from Illinois, Michigan State and Missouri.  Shortly after the 4th of July, 3-star defensive end, Grant Blankenship, brought his recruitment to a close by selecting Notre Dame over Oklahoma, Arkansas and Oregon.  Blankenship, a native of The Colony, Texas, adds to an ever-expanding list of Texan talent dotting the Notre Dame roster, as Kelly and staff continue their push to establish a recruiting pipeline to the Lone Star state.

But how has Notre Dame fared along the defensive line, specifically?  Such a question holds even more potency after Louis Nix’s heir-apparent – and former 5-star defensive line commitment – Eddie Vanderdoes transferred to UCLA before enrolling at the University of Notre Dame.  The best approach to answering this question is to compare how Notre Dame’s current defensive line class stacks up against other programs with top ten recruiting classes this cycle.

Notre Dame’s Current DL Class Comparison
Program # of DL Commits Avg. Star Rating
Florida State 2 3.50
Michigan 2 3.50
Texas A&M 2 3.50
Notre Dame 4 3.25
Texas 5 3.20
Kentucky 3 3.0
Tennessee 1 3.0
Miami 5 2.80
Alabama 2 2.50
Clemson 0 0.00

The above table examined the number of defensive linemen committed to each program currently listed within the top ten recruiting classes.  Each program was ranked based on their average star rating, which is calculated by taking the star power of each recruit and dividing it against the total number of defensive line commitments.  Defensive line commitments were determined by their current position label, which could potentially influence results.  For example, recent Notre Dame commitment Jonathan Bonner is listed as a defensive end and is included in this table, though he will likely play linebacker in Notre Dame’s 3-4 defensive scheme.

There are several problems with examining defensive line recruiting for the Class of 2014, and one of the easiest to locate in this table involves a lack of numbers.  Florida State, Michigan and Texas A&M are all tied for the highest average star rating, but they each only have two verbal commitments along the defensive line.  Should an average star rating of 3.50 with two commitments be ranked higher than a 3.25 average star rating with four commitments?  Would the defensive line recruiting picture for 2014 look different if only those with 4 or more committed recruits were examined?

Notre Dame’s Current DL Class Comparison
Program # of DL Commits Avg. Star Rating
Notre Dame 4 3.25
Texas 5 3.20
Miami 5 2.80

Only studying programs with 4 or more defensive line commitments – which are high numbers, with ND likely to take only one, perhaps two, more defensive linemen – removes the bias of programs with only 1 or 2 commits, but the largest problem still exists: time.  Even if the second table makes a stronger and more accurate case that Notre Dame currently possesses the best defensive line class in 2014, the key word is “currently.”  Committed recruits won’t make their decisions official until February of 2014, which is still seven months away.  And a lot can happen in seven months (not to mention many of the very best high school athletes have yet to make their decisions).

Michigan is in strong contention with Da’Shawn Hand, a 5-star defensive end and the #1 overall high school player in America for the Class of 2014.  Naturally, landing such a coveted recruit would strongly increase the Wolverines’ defensive line class, if they manage the coup.  And, on the other hand, Alabama is lagging in 9th place.  In fact, one of the two defensive linemen committed to the Crimson Tide is only a 2-star.  Come February, Alabama will be sitting near the very top with yet another elite haul of defensive linemen, despite their slow start to date.  And does anyone really think Clemson will walk away with zero defensive line commitments in the next seven months?

So, what does it all mean?  Is Notre Dame in second place behind FSU, Michigan and Texas A&M, or does ND currently have the best recruiting class for defensive linemen?  No one can definitively say, and, truthfully, it doesn’t really matter.  The important thing to take away from the current results is that Notre Dame’s defensive line recruiting class is healthy and top ten worthy, which will go a long way toward making the Fighting Irish a consistent winner once again.

Next week in Part 2, we will take a look at how Notre Dame can improve upon the already rock solid foundation they have laid recruiting along the defensive line this year.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles as well as co-founded a nationally-featured non-profit organization. In his spare time he takes his NCAA Football ’13 online dynasty way too seriously and alienates those around him by discussing football 24 hours a day. Scott can be reached at

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  1. I hate to admit it (because I hate ND losing to Michigan at anything even recruiting), but if Da’Shawn Hand signs with Michigan they will absolutely have the best DL class in the country.

    The already have a top 5 DT and a top 15 WDE on board and an additional 3* DT for good measure. They are virtually a lock to land Malik McDowell a consensus top 4 SDE and 5*. If they land Hand as well it will be pretty obvious that they’ll have the best class.

    That said if we were to land Holley or Elam and Lorenzo Carter, then it would be pretty close.

  2. Excellent points Scott,

    Coupled with an excellent working hypothesis based on the ‘National’ five-star accepted methodology. Look forward to Part II.


  3. Evaluating the actual defensive linemen who have verbally committed to ND — and analyzing how their particular skills will fit in the defense and satisfy ND’s particular needs — would be more helpful than just comparing the average number of stars. Pops is right. Those of us who follow the team know the star rating of our recruits and, at least in a general way, how our star ratings compare to other top programs at any given time. Sober analysis and evaluation of ND’s needs and of our recruits’ talents would be more helpful.

    1. Those are indeed interesting and important topics, though they were not the focus of this article.

      A great way to measure how well ND’s recruiting is going is to compare it to the competition. I found it interesting (and encouraging) that ND has done better in DL recruiting than Texas and Miami at present. If knowing ND is besting the Longhorns and Hurricanes along the defensive trenches isn’t your cup of tea, to each his own.

      All the best.


      1. I guess my point is that an article aiming to compare NDs average star rating to other programs with no further analysis does not belong on this site. It belong’s on the quantity machine of Bleacher Report / Huffington Post.

        That’s why my comment was more directed at the site editors than your writing, Scott. It’s not necessarily a bad article, I just don’t feel it’s appropriate for UHND’s audience as I hold them to be more knowledgeable of ND football than this article gives credit for.

      2. The Huffington Post isn’t exactly known for its sports coverage, so an article like this wouldn’t be there anyway.

        You’re more than welcome to not like the content or the direction of this article, but the comparisons are valid. It’s worth knowing how Notre Dame is doing for defensive line recruiting so far in this class, and Notre Dame is doing quite well (which should make you happy).

        The “weakness” of this content really belongs to how early it is in the process. Many top flight defensive line recruits have yet to make up their mind, so these rankings will shake up quite a bit between now and signing day. But that’s why this is part one of the series — the second part involves analyzing which defensive line recruits ND is still targeting for the rest of this recruiting class. And for what it’s worth, it was the very talented editors at UHND that suggested the second part of this series.

        All the best.


  4. I’ve always loved this site…. but I need a five minute rant here… skip if thats not your thing.

    In nine paragraphs, this article essentially says nothing. This is a great example of the new Huffington Post / Bleacher Report crowdsourcing article strategy that emphasizes quantity of posts over quality.

    The author’s entire research consisted of a 15 minute lookup of star rankings from one year and regurgitating the simple math outputs.

    The lack of specificity on anything “Notre Dame” is my biggest issue. Beyond reciting the names/offer lists of players, there is no expansion of their fit in the defense scheme or how the depth adds to / complements previous DL recruiting classes.

    ND fans looking to kill time with 5 articles a day can turn to BR / HP to satisfy that need, but I hold UHND to a similar standard of the BGS/ND Nation blogs that produce(d) posts offering the reader more than what can be garnered from analyzing the homepage.

    I highly respect the actual writers for this blog, and hope they can find a way to add their touch to these outside contributions before they’re published.

    … end rant. P.S. Scott, I’m trying to hating the game here, not the player. Please take this as constructive feedback and keep writing.

  5. I know I am asking for it but “Avg. Star Rating” as a topic, just how accurate are the “star rating systems”??

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