How Notre Dame’s 2015 Class Hit and Missed on Needs

Brian Kelly - Notre Dame HC v. Northwestern
Notre Dame Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly leads the team onto the filed before the against the Northwestern Wildcats at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

As Brian Kelly and staff started forming the recruiting parameters for 2015, there were obvious needs that had to be addressed, followed by what we would classify as great additions to the class, but not a necessity. There were a number of factors that played into specific target areas for the Notre Dame program, including suspensions, injuries, and transfers; but those are pretty typical factors for any program.

One of the bright spots that came from the injuries and suspensions during the 2014 season, was the ability to see young recruits in action. The Irish staff were forced to fill gaps, often, and it got no easier as the season went along. That early playing time, along with a sound game-plan, paid off with a victory over LSU, in the Music City Bowl. The Irish staff finally caught a break, a huge break, when both Ronnie Stanley and Sheldon Day decided to return for the 2015 seasons.

While it’s fun to look back on the bowl win, it is obvious the time to look forward is here. Now that signing day has come and gone, we want to  take a look at how the Irish did in filling in some gaps for the 2015 season, and beyond. The best place to start, for us at least, is at the quarterback position. That conversation begins and ends with the commitment of four-star QB, Brandon Wimbush.

Brian Kelly was not shy about what Brandon brings to the table.   “What we love about him is obviously he has great arm strength. He’s got escapability. He’s got a calm and that cool, collected presence about him,” said Kelly on Wednesday.  With the addition of Wimbush, the Irish now have as deep and talented  stable of quarterbacks as any program in the country. Conventional wisdom will have Zaire as starter, Golson will assume the role of back-up(assuming he doesn’t transfer), and Kizer and Wimbush will be waiting in the wings. We struggle to remember an era of Notre Dame football that was as solid from top to bottom, as we expect the 2015 group to be.

With the quarterback position seemingly in great shape, we focus on the running back position. The Irish currently have a duo of talented backs already in South Bend, in the likes of Tarean Folston, and Greg Bryant. But without a single running back commitment in 2014, the Irish coaching staff needed to put in some work for 2015, and that is exactly what they did. Securing the commitments of four-star Dexter Williams and Josh Adams, the Irish will have a deep group going into next season. Not only are these four backs very talented, combined they can an awful of different, but positive things on the field. Don’t be surprised to see the two newcomers, in Williams and Adams, see the field often in some capacity.

So the Irish have the quarterback and running back situation sewed up, but what about wide receiver? Well we happen to think the Irish did a solid job here also. Already a point of strength for 2015, the additions of Miles Boykin, C.J, Sanders, and Jalen Guyton will only further that notion. Less we forget the commitments from Aliz’e Jones and Equanimeous St. Brown, there will be plenty of talented targets available for the foreseeable future, in South Bend

In regards to the offensive line, it’s simply a matter of quality, and not quantity in 2015. It’s pretty typical for any given program to secure four to five offensive line commitments a year, but given how well the Irish have recruited this position the last few years, they had the luxury of narrowing that down. Tristen Hoge, a four-star center from Idaho, is considered the best of the two, but don’t sleep on three-star guard from Illinois, Trevor Ruhland. In fact, the Irish are so confident in the offensive line group that resides at Notre Dame right now, they have the luxury of moving Jerry Tillery,rated one of the best offensive tackles in the country,  to the defensive side of the ball.

It’s common knowledge how strong the Irish program has recruited the offensive line recently, but we are just as impressed with the additions to the front seven over the last few years. The 2015 class will see the likes of four-stars Jerry Tillery  and Elijah Taylor, and three-star Micah-Dew Treadway, and Brandon Tiassum. Some would have liked to see Kelly and his staff secure another high profile defensive line recruit for 2015, but given their success over the last few years, Notre Dame is in fine shape here.

The Irish also knocked it out of the park at the linebacker position, securing the commitments of the three extremely talented players, that when combined, give the Irish one of the best linebacker classes in the nation. The linebacker position should be back at full strength in 2015, but adding the likes of Tevon Coney, Josh Barajas, and Asmar Bilal should add some much needed depth to position that desperately needed it in 2014.

The one area in which Notre Dame didn’t hit on all needs was in the secondary where they failed to land the 3rd safety that they had been desparately trying to land all January long.  Thankfully they were able to secure a commitment from Mykelti Williams in December.  Without his addition to the class of 2015, Notre Dame would have landed just a single safety.  As is, safety was one of the biggest needs coming into this class and Notre Dame came up short.

Depending on who you talk to, the Irish staff did a solid job recruiting for need, and hopefully addressed some glaring holes, in regards to depth. Here is a quick breakdown of what areas were addressed for the class of 2015

  • QB – 1 (Winbush)
  • RB – 2 (Adams, Williams)
  • TE – 1 (Jones)
  • OL – 2 (Hoge,Ruhland)
  • DL – 5 (Wallace, Dew-Treadway, Tiassum, Tillery, Taylor)
  • WR – 4 (St. Brown, Guyton, Sanders, Boykin)
  • LB – 3 (Coney, Bilal, Barajas)
  • DB – 5 (Crawford, Coleman, Willaims, White, Fertitta)
  • K – 1  (Yoon)

Most people would consider Brian Kelly a pragmatic recruiter, and there is nothing wrong with that, and it has proved to be a solid approach during his tenure at Notre Dame. Of course there is always going to be a counter-narrative to Kelly’s style of recruiting, but other than the secondary, the Irish coaching staff has to put together a class that should be able to help  immediately, and in the future.

It’s a fair assessment to say that the final collective recruiting class of 2015 is a bit lacking, but overall, a group that should be very productive during their time in South Bend. The biggest miss of 2015 is clearly the lack of secondary help, and while there were some key additions, this is an area that needed more attention.  The Irish will finish outside the top ten with the recruiting class of 2015, but that doesn’t mean the group is void of talent. As always though, these young athletes still need to develop on the field, in the classroom, and in life. No matter what evaluation star each of these kids are branded with, there is a lot of work left to be done.

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  1. In some ways the rankings give us a good barometer of our talent matched up against other top programs but there are a lot of variables that ultimately determines how good a class turns out. Injuries,tranfers, decommitments, coaching,developing and utilizing the talent for maximum productionetc.

  2. I think this group warrants a better “grade” than C+. Losing Alford might have some impact on recruiting, but, time will answer that. It would appear we didn’t do as well as securing the safety position for the 2015 recruiting group but things could be worse. If ND can start winning and maintaining a better win/loss record each year, you’ll see us get those recruits we salivate about to come to ND but go elsewhere in the end because of this issue of “winning” or lack of better winning. Winning seems to do that for any team in getting the higher rated players to sign N.L.O.I.

    Go Irish

  3. Having lost Cooks and Alford would seem to be a “downer” recruiting wise from comments on recruiting services regarding their abilities on that front. Alford in particular has developed great relationships with coaches on the high school level in Florida in particular. It seems every Kelly year just when it looks like things are beginning to fall into line “another” drama comes along. I am still not 100% sure Golson will be back in Sept. and if that happens there goes all that experience and depth etc and hello 8-5 again. Alford makes 3 former ND coaches now on Urban Meyer’s staff as he continues to pick the eyes out of other teams coaches and recruiting guru’s to lead him to NC paradise while we keep muddling along with 8-5’s. Not sure any of this will change as long as the one constant denominator eg BK is calling the shots. RE the whole class ranking scenario I look at places/coaches at Kansas St. and Michigan ST. classes and where those schools end up year after year and that tells me their coaches are doing GREAT jobs skilling up all their 2 and 3 star kids into excellent college players so it should not be that hard to do the same with the kids ND attracts if the coach was a Bill Snyder type.

  4. Alford was popular among recruits there is no denying that. But his recruiting is no better than any of the other assistants when Notre Dame has a down year. He recruited Folston and Bryant in 2013 when we went 12-0. In 2014 when Notre Dame struggled all year he got no running backs to sign with us. Before Dexter Williams gave us his pledge on signing day he only had Josh Adams who on some recruiting services was ranked as 82nd running back in the country. I’m not suggesting he won’t be missed but we would have ended up with Elijah Hood last year and Soso Jamabo this year if he was the recruiter everyone thinks of him as. If we go 10-2 or 11-1 next year we will recruit well including the running back position just fine with or without him. The current players are going to miss the comoradiery he instills for sure. Bring on Autry Denson and Todd Lyght and lets move on. Next year I think is going to be special.

  5. Recruiting is very important, yes. I agree with the article, this was a solid class. There were a few misses, especially with the secondary, but still, a lot of players that can contribute. But now it comes down to development. I always said Charlie Weis was an good recruiter, but he could never develop the team. BK has shown signs he can develop a team. Next year will tell the tale on whether he can be an elite coach or not. Last year should have been better, but at many in CFB land gave him a bit of a pass because of all the off the field issues and injuries. Next year they should have the depth that short of every starter getting injured, a 10-2 record should be very attainable.

  6. Major blow to ND recruiting going forward with Alford joining Oh. State’s staff. One of ND’s few recruiting advantages is now gone.

    1. Agree. Alford was the one guy I was glad BK kept from Weis’ staff, mostly because he is such an amazing recruiting (good coach too, but his recruiting prowess will very much be missed).

  7. Less stars than we all want and unusual without any 5s. But as we all know it’s more art than science and development is also huge. I would rather have bunch of solid 4s and 3s with potential at the right positions than go for the four 5s and leave the team barren all over the lines and positions of need the way Weis did with some of his top rated classes. Go Irish!

  8. It is a very good class, but far from the best
    We only got. 2 of the top 100 recruits. Is there any way to
    Compare recruiting now with holtz, Devine, etc . Thanks

    1. Bruce it depends on what recruiting service your looking at. For all you people bitching about recruiting rankings explain Stanford and MSU being ranked in the top ten and beating teams that recruit better than them. Recruiting rankings are beauty contests, let’s see how it translates to the field.

  9. Mike I can not get over your infatuation with 5 star recruits. Fist of all there are very few players that are designated 5 star players. Also if you haven’t noticed most of those 5 star players come from the south. Kelly can not even dream about recruiting 50 to 60 percent of those players due to scholastics and lacking in GPA and test scores. Sorry Mike but we are not a SEC school. So that leaves roughly around 50 percent of 5 star kids that can be recruited by Notre Dame. Sure a roster full of 5 star players would be excellent but just not possible.

    Calling this class a C+ is nothing short of asinine. The number 1 TE, the number 1 kicker, the number 1 center, arguably the best 3 LB group, the second best QB, studs at WR that are all (except for one) tall and fast, A stud DB taken away from Michigan, a athlete (return man) that has the genetics of a former NFL star with blazing speed and a pair of superb RB’s.

    Even though I get tired of hearing you complain about 5 star this and 5 star that I continued to read your comments. But after seeing you grade a 10 to 14th ranked class as a C+ I will no longer waste my time being dumbed down by silly crap like that.

    Go ND!

  10. We should have added a 4 star safety and at least 1 more O lineman.
    Having said that, I’d grade the class and easy B+

  11. I honestly believe that we are going to be fine on defense. If some of our new recruits can step in on the D-line and become the pass rushers of there potential who needs a 5 star safety? Our pass rush will take care of that. With the couching staff we have ,I am confident that they will have them boys more than ready. There track record speaks for it`s self. Look at last year when the suspensions came in right before the season started. The coaches put young players in there that normally wouldn’t had a chance of playing other than an injury. Our defense wouldn’t have gave up the points that they did if our QB hadn’t turned the ball over every way known to man! And so what if they do get burned from time to time our offense is more than capable of making up the difference. WE ARE ND!!!!!!!

  12. I think you are sadly mistaken if you think Zaire is the heir apparent after one game when the O-Line managed to block…at least when Malik was in their. One game.

    A C+??? Holy Mary, mother of Jesus…their is a pretty obvious reason UCLA and USC beat us out on some kids…sunshine and skirts. Lets be honest, these kids are trying to acquire something other than reps at their position.

    It takes a diligent young man to want to come to ND and no coaching staff in the world can force somebody to come to their college.

  13. Definitely an A- class. C+ is just flat out insane. Even for a top 10-11 class, it’s still severely underrated. A lot of players should be higher than where they’re ranked, like Wimbush, Crawford, MDT, Coleman, etc.

  14. New addition to 2015 recruit class is Todd Lyght ! Now quit worrying about the secondary. No de-commits down road for Irish–looking solid. Matter of fact Irish hopefully keep eyes open for de-commits from other schools–if open spots left on roster. NCAA Basketball—Go Irish beat Duke Saturday/tomorrow Feb 7th. Nationally televised of course.

  15. Bob Kollars , 2015 class “is a bit lacking.” Why , because ND doesn’t get a “safety” in this class ? You say “biggest miss of 2015 class is not getting help in secondary.” I think Kelly/staff recruited 5 d-backs. There’s no such thing as a “safety specialist” coming out of high school. I liked your article , till you went “safety position and lack of secondary help.” I would like to have you explain more “what attention this area needs” and who/players on roster can play at safety position. So ND didn’t get a “safety specialist” from high school—well shiver me timbers lads. May the Saints O’ Ireland be with us !

  16. #1 TE, OC, & K. #4 QB. Then you have Tillery, Sanders, St. Brown, Williams and Barajas. No way this is a C class. There is something to be said about RKG’s. We all know ND will never fully compete with the likes of the SEC, USC, Ohio State/Michigan, and the like because they are fighting with the perverbial academic arm tied behind their back. How many 5* athletes can’t even get admitted? With that being said, you consistently get high second tier, low first tier recruiting classes and coach your a$$ off(run the ball BK)! I’m not saying this is an A class, but for sure it’s a B to B+.

  17. This is a good (if not very good) class. The C+ comment? Blah. I often think of our 2009 haul (roughly 12-15 rated) and reflect on our 8th best recruit that year (as per the stupid star ratings): Zach Martin. He was a consensus low 4 or high 3 star recruit. I am starting to trust what BK is doing with his recruits, too, and some of his similar recruits (low 4, high 3) have proven to be our best. I would give this class no worse than a B+ and wouldn’t be surprised if time proves it out to be an A- or better.

  18. I’m going to give this class a solid B. We aren’t ever going to get the so called studs with our high academic standards until we start consistently winning 10+ games a year. Friends of mine will tell me Notre Dame’s record has little to do with their recruiting results and I disagree to some extent. These kids that are top ten at their respective positions are highly impressionable and pay attention to standings, wins and losses, etc. If we had gone 10-2 or even 9-3 plus a bowl victory over LSU we would have pulled down more than our share of so called studs. Records matter.

    1. Most accurate comment of them all. “Studs” want to play for championships, like they have all of their life. We start stringing together 10+ win seasons, we will get the 4* and occasional 5* RKG that we all crave. In the meantime, I will take a solid class like this all day long. I thank these gentlemen for joining the ND family.

      GO IRISH!

  19. I’m one to speculate on this year’s addition for 2015. One pertaining to the secondary. If Kevarie Russel returns this year as he should that would solidify are secondary with Ishaq Williams as well. Don’t assume that this years class is second guessed by any assumption. With the talent returning as well as these young guys coming in, I believe this team is well set for the next for years. In saying this, I do think Brian Kelly did a great job in securing the spots necessary for this University at this time at hand. Never is it to easy to get the right personnel to commit to ND. But he has always come close every year on who he believes fits the bill to play for our University. I give him a lot of credit in doing just that. Alls good at ND for now, it’s just a matter of time that reach the top once again!

  20. If ND picks up 2 more recruits that are 3 or 4 stars then they are a top 10 class. If they pick up 2 4* they finish probably about 8 or 9th in the rankings. Most teams right above them are close in total points but ND has 2 or 3 less recruits. Look at the whole picture. Great class for the Irish, just missed out on a couple recruits. Wisconsin over ND? Really!

  21. I think you are giving this class a C+ based on the grade of “needs” rather than overall. We got the #1 kicker, #1 tight end, some stud receivers and one of the best qb recruits as well. Kicker and tight end alone were huge needs for us and we came through with #1s for each.

    On defense, it sounds like we didn’t do as well from a needs standpoint but still got some good linebackers and a decent DE. Yes, we may not have pulled in high end secondary guys but overall this was definitely better than a C+ grade for this class.

    1. You need context and perspective when dealing with Mike. He is generally not happy with recruiting and has been complaining for months that this class was no good.

  22. It should be noted that over 60% of the players in the Super Bowl were three stars or less. That includes the DB that made the winning interception. Remember Todd Lyght switched from receiver to DB when he came to ND. Tillery was recruited as an offensive lineman but will be moved to defense. Jpe Schmidt is a walk-on. What the coaches see is not what you see which is only STARS.

  23. The Irish added a great class. They have a very spotty record with elite recruits staying in the program, but have an excellent track record of developing 3 and 4 star talented athletes. When I saw Justin Brent jumping on Kelly after the LSU win, I realized that even those not starting have bought in, even after a really bad series of losses. This article addresses the overall talent in the program and we are very, very solid.

  24. I would say that it is way too early to grade a class.

    But if we look strictly at the position that the “experts” have put the Irish, they care in the top 10% of all 134 D1 teams. I know I am no genius, but I was rarely found in the top 10% of my peers and I was a better than C+ student.

    So by the reasoning that it was a C+ class, does that mean that just about every other school failed?

    1. As I replied to Ron, you gotta have some perspective.

      This is a C+ for ND. This would be an A+ for Army.

      This is all moot if BK can coach them up.

      1. Perspective of what? Looking at the ESPN rankings and imagining how Alabama would view the ND class? Or ..?

        Perspective depends on what takes place on the field. Assuming your perspective of taking Alabama, FSU, etc., and looking down the class rankings, we reach an issue.

        TCU’s classes would be somewhere in the D to C- range with that logic. Yet they blew out Ole Miss (and arguably should have been in the playoff)? Oregon is not a recruiting juggernaut, yet they seem to be in the national title hunt every year. This list can go on a while. Michigan State? We can throw them in there.

        My point is you, me, ESPN, Rivals, can throw out grades all we want. But that doesn’t mean they are worth anything until the recruits get in the system, start playing, etc.

  25. Would have been better if they could land some playmaker, top-50 talent, but this is a solid class. Most of these guys are 4 star players. Some of the 3 stars will step up too. Some may evolve into real playmakers. Particularly like that they got the #1 kicker, which is in my opinion extremely underrated. Lots of talent and starters returning too. Should be a very good year against a less difficult than average schedule. 2015 could be special.

  26. Mike,

    C+ is too low, even taking into consideration your well-thought out points, all of which I agree with, by the way. Nevertheless, I’d give this class a solid B. The O recruits especially bring in a lot of skill and depth. Next year, assuming BK gets another season, BK needs to bring in some studs to the DL and CB positions.

  27. Kelly is doing a much better job than his 3 predecessors did. The important thing is that he is stringing together strong classes in each of the years he’s been HC. DL is the area where all his predecessors struggled and Kelly has landed depth every year. Maybe not 5 star guys, but guys who can hold the line. So kudos to coach. ND recruiting is back where it should be – top ten every year.

  28. This class is hardly a C+. An A? Not quite, but not far off. Let’s check back in 2-3 years and see how it played out.

    But I wouldn’t define a class littered with 4 star players and speed on both sides of the ball – a C+.

    1. Why a C+? Half the class is 3 stars, there are no 5 stars. Too few Top 100 guys. No stud DL and you always need that. Tillery switched to DL but his high rating was more for his OL play than his DL play. Lack of studs and numbers at CB/S.

      This is a solid and decent class but not great for the numerous reasons I just gave. Now if BK coaches these guys up, it’s a whole different story. Time will tell.

      1. You gotta learn about context, Ron.

        For ND, this was a C+ class. For Wyoming, this would be an A. This was a quantity over quality draft. 24 recruits is a huge total. One of the 2-3 largest since they’ve started rating classes. ND has ranked higher with less kids in the past. You would expect ND to rank 11-13 if they brought in 18-20 recruits. When ND brings in 24, you expect a top 5 class. They fell short of that which means they fell short of expectations. A C+ is a fair and reasonable grade for a class that fell short of expectations.

      2. Who cares how many they signed. FSU signed 20 and is ranked #3. Texas signed 29 and is ranked behind ND. The class is basically ranked somewhere between 10-12 based on what site you look at. How is that a C+?

  29. I’d give this class a grade of C+. In short, it was a class of quantity over quality. There are some good players and they brought in a lot of depth. But they didn’t have enough studs, particularly at positions of need. This class ranks somewhere between 11-13, depending on who’s rating them. Rank isn’t the be-all, end-all however. You can have a rank of 20 or worse, but if you’re addressing the positions of need then that class was a good one. Let’s hope BK can coach these guys up.

    1. I’m going to have to disagree with you on this. A C+? That’s underselling the quality of this class, big time; especially when you consider that ND landed what, 9 players on ESPN’s Top 250, including 3 Parade All-Americans? Not to mention, 16 players who participated in All-American games. Personally, I love this class, and what they potentially bring to the table; I’d give them at least a solid B+, if not an A-.

  30. What they desperately need, and failed to get, were a couple of blue chip pass rushers. They have not had a pass-rusher in ages and cannot seem to recruit that skill set. They do great with the offensive skill guys and O-line. They aren’t able to get the ferocious D-lineman, pass-rushers, and top corners. This defense still needs more speed to compete at the top level.

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