Notre Dame Recruiting: Can Brian Kelly Solve His Five Star Problem?

Last week Rivals ranked their top 50 schools in terms of recruiting from the last five years. The methodology was simple: they averaged all the final class rankings and ordered the teams from the highest rank to the lowest over the five year span. Easy peasy.

Notre Dame finished 8th, with an average rating of 10.2, which should be surprising to no one who has followed Irish recruiting under Brian Kelly. His teams are generally in the 10-15 range, with his best class coming in 2013 (they finished 3rd on Rivals), which aided their overall ranking for this exercise. The following four seasons were 11, 11, 13, 13.

Speaking of 2013, that was the last time Kelly brought in any composite five star players (Jaylon Smith, Eddie Vanderdoes, Max Redfield). The word composite is key here. Notre Dame has recruited players with five star ratings on a site or two–Daelin Hayes and Quenton Nelson, for example–but when combining all the ratings from all the major recruiting sites, as 247 Sports does, a five star player has not been in the Irish fold.

This isn’t damning information on it’s own. You don’t need to sign a number of five star players every season to be a title contender. Washington was a playoff team last year and zero five stars and was 29th on the Rivals list. But, Notre Dame isn’t trying to be a title contender every now and then. They want to be in it every year. And to do that, they need to start landing more big fish.

The Problem Isn’t Who Notre Dame Gets

There is something I want to make clear here: the players on the roster are not the problem. Notre Dame isn’t 8th on the list because they signed a bunch of bad players and they weren’t 4-8 last season because they lack the talent. That’s nonsense. Brian Kelly is not a bad recruiter.

No, they went 4-8 because Brian Kelly the coach didn’t see that his defensive coordinator was killing them and his strength program had become a detriment to success on the field. He recruited good players, but not good enough to overcome a shoddy operation and coaching decisions.

He’s also identified players who were much better than their rankings would suggest–Will Fuller, Josh Adams, Matthias Farley, Nick Martin–that could retroactively go down as “five star” talents. That’s the problem with recruiting rankings, it’s not that they are meaningless, they just suppose there are only X number of five star players every year. And we know that isn’t true.

But, that also doesn’t mean obviously elite players aren’t elite players. And Notre Dame needs to get some.

The Problem Is Who Notre Dame Doesn’t Get

Back in February I wrote an article about the need for Notre Dame to be more forward thinking in the way they do things. Some of the reaction to that amounted to “Notre Dame is just fine with the way they do things, they just need to win” with the stellar class of 2013 being evidence of that.

The problem with that is, Notre Dame did plenty of winning in 2015 and a similar recruiting boon did not follow.

They signed the 13th ranked class that year and while they did add their usual number of highly rated prospects–Tommy Kraemer, Daelin Hayes, and Javon McKinley–they missed out on some very high profile players on signing day.

Five stars Ben Davis, Caleb Kelly, and Demetris Robertson all had Notre Dame in the final two on signing day only to choose other programs when the time came (Alabama, Oklahoma, and Cal respectively). Kelly registered 36 tackles, four tackles for loss, and a sack as a freshman last year while Robertson posted 50 catches, 772 yards and seven touchdowns. Ben Davis didn’t play because, well, he’s at Alabama and Reuban Foster didn’t even play as a freshman at Bama.

Point is, it would have been nice to have those guys on the team last year. And those are three scholarships that were lost, given to walk-ons later. It’s not as if Notre Dame missed on those three while signing others.

And that has been the story the last four years for Brian Kelly. They’ll get a visit or two, but when the times comes, it’s someone else. Over and over again.

What Of 2018?

That leads us to the current situation. At present, Notre Dame is 12th nationally and if things end up going the way it looks like they will, Kelly and co. will probably finish as they usually do, around 10-15. They’ve got a couple very highly rated prospects–Derrik Allen and Phil Jurkovec–a rising prospect, Jayson Ademilola, and a number of varying opinions about the other nine players.

As of now, there are two really big fish that appear available to the Irish: receiver from California Amon-Ra St. Brown and Georgia offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer.

St. Brown is simply spectacular, think Odell Beckham Jr., and his older brother is the leading receiver on the CURRENT IRISH TEAM! Given that, conventional wisdom is Notre Dame has some work to do with St. Brown. Opinions are plentiful as to why that is, but everyone is telling the same story and that is Notre Dame is behind. They’ve had St. Brown on their radar for four years (if not longer) and his older brother on campus for the last three, and there is work to do. If they miss here, there needs to be some soul searching in the Gug.

Salyer has become a name much more recently. He visited last month and said he is going to visit for the Georgia contest, unsurprising for the Georgia native. He has no siblings on the current Irish team and is thought to be a tough pull out of the South. He’s a lineman, and Harry Hiestand has some magic, so I’m only skeptical instead of extremely skeptical.

That’s the list of five stars Notre Dame has a chance with in 2018. It’s hard to see Notre Dame get to where they want to go under Kelly if that list doesn’t grow and become signees in the near future.

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  1. Brain Kelly sabotaged his program with Brain Vangorder. That defense won’t recover in time for him to save his job. The recruiting wasn’t the problem, besides about half of those 5-star are bust anyways. Just a complete lack of development, and poor play calling with a lackluster scheme.

  2. The offensive coordinator calls the offense.
    The defensive coordinator calls the defense.
    The head coach primary responsibility is to attract 5-STARS STUDS.
    Screaming lunatic Kelly is abhorred by ALL 5-STARS STUDS.
    5-STARS STUDS will NOT play for Notre Dame, while a purple faced lunatics is verbally abusing them.
    Should Notre Dame fire Kelly now and bring in a HOF Celebrity (Bruce Smith, Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, Lawrence Taylor) as head coach to attract 5-STARS STUDS.
    Currently, Notre Dame CANNOT compete in the top 15.

  3. Kelly is incompetent. Kelly calls stupid plays. Kelly verbally abuse Notre Dame players. Kelly is abhorred by 5-STARS STUDS whom would NEVER allowed such racist vitriol directed towards themselves. Notre Dame requires a HOF Celebrity (Bruce Smith, Lawrence Taylor, Deion Sanders) to attract 5-STARS STUDS. Tebow

  4. F (forget) the whole star-system. When BK started at ND, he was all about RKG’s. (Right Kinda Guys) He had the Irish in the BCS Champ Game 3-years thereafter. Since then the focus has turned more traditional. (#-of-stars) That’s Bull Spit. RKG’s are what Notre Dame must have.

  5. Donovan Jeter explains the Irish problem perfectly:Talking to BK wasn’t fun. It wasn’t cool. You have to make an appointment just to go to his office vs Harbaugh and all his coaches have an open door policy. That coach is likable and I am sure the same can be said for OSU PSU FSU Clemson and other coaches of top programs. Who wants to play for a coach that blames everyone but himself. ND will be lucky to get to 8-4 and will have to find a new coach going into 2018. The glory days are at least a few years and one good coach off.

    1. I have read that BK has made some changes on that front, making himself more available to the players. We’ll see if that bears fruit. But I have heard much the same thing as you in the past. Hopefully he’s making an effort to change all that.

      I have my doubts about BK, but I hope these changes bear fruit.

  6. At least three of you guys noted that we need better D line play. I agree 100% on that…and I think Elko’s packages will deliver in that department.

    Bruce G. Curme ’77 ’82

  7. I wish to see Notre Dame return as a bona fide Top 10 Team, rather than a hollow log coached by a screaming lunatic whom disrespects his players on National TV. NO 5 STARS Athlete will come near Kelly. Someone incorrectly stated that speed can be coached (that’s an absolute lie). Everyone in college football is strong, due to legal and illegal steroids. However, the SEC has signed the FASTEST players in college football. It’s NOT an accident that Alabama owns college football for the next 100 years … UNLESS Notre Dame hires an NFL Hall of Famer as head coach and attract 5 STARS athletes with blazing speed. SPEED SPEED SPEED WINS college football games. Win Notre Dame has Team SPEED comparable to Alabama, then we shall WIN BCS Games. Do NOT look for a winning season under the current screaming lunatic whom CANNOT possibly sign a 5-STAR athlete.

  8. Notre Dame has much in place to return to the top 10, except the key ingredient … celebrity coach.
    Notre Dame requires a Hall of Fame head coach ( Joe Montana, Lawrence Taylor, Jerry Rice ) to attract 5-STARS athletes comparable to Alabama’s talent. College football is just like horse racing. The fastest horse wins the race. Notre Dame has 10 very good players with good speed. Notre Dame has another 50 players with NO speed. Notre Dame lacks a talented bench to relieve their starters in the 4th Quarter. Presently, Notre Dame CANNOT possibly compete with the top 15 teams in college football. When Notre Dame becomes serious about winning (NOT talking), then a Hall of Fame celebrity coach ( Joe Montana, Lawrence Taylor, Jerry Rice ) will attract the 5-STARS athletes and WIN BCS Games. The nation wants to see Notre Dame win again and NOT get stepped upon by every top 15 team. Lou Holtz was easily the greatest coach in Notre Dame history. They should NEVER had fired him.

  9. Bruce , I understand your caution on predictions — holding Irish to a 9-3 season and a bowl game. A loss in a bowl game means 9-4. Will that bring in the elite recruits? Can you further your prediction to a 10-2 season — and a win in a top 6 tier bowl game — puts Irish at 11-2. That’s what is needed to save Kelly , the program and lure top recruits. I can’t accept a 9 win season — it’s mediocre . Forget about the 4-8 2016 season –and thinking 9 wins is acceptable in 2017. It is not. This is not a “rebuilding year” in 2017. I to , remain cautious , as we all do on what this 2017 team will do. But , I won’t accept a 9-3 season under Coach Kelly and a Music City Bowl in Nashville.

    1. Southside – I certainly can see us at 10 – 2…we’d have to play a good game at Boston College to get there. As for the bowl… I would not try to predict it without knowing who we are playing in it, of course. I will say this though – we won’t get blown out the way we did against Alabama and Ohio State (and others before that).

      I feel about 8 – 4 the way you feel about 9 – 3 Southside…so there is not that much difference between us…I just would give the new assistants a second year at 9 – 3 while you need 10 – 2.

      The only thing I can see where we really disagree is about what kind of bowl we’d get at 9 – 3… I think it would be one of the major bowls, unless two of our losses are ACC teams (Miami and BC).

      Bruce G. Curme ’77 ’82

      1. Bruce , we’ll know after September –and hopefully Irish escape with a 5-0 slate. Wow , that means beating a loaded Georgia team , A pissed off Michigan State team trying to make amend from last season and the pesky rival Catholic Boston College. May the Saints of Ireland be with us lad.

  10. 5 stars, 4 stars, what does it matter if the head coach mismanaged the assistant’s! The team just did not get out of shape last season! Kelly was not doing the job, and the assistant coaches let things slide! Being the Notre Dame head coach used to mean something. Rockne, and Leahy wonder what they would say about it! Subway Alum since 1947 Go Irish!

  11. We need good defensive linemen so that our front 4 or 3 cause havoc to opponents. We need more leaner Stephen Tuits and Kapron Lewis Moores. Aron Lynch types. Strong and fast. If not, hard to win games let alone a major bowl game.

  12. As a former player rare was it that any player came to Notre Dame and played a certain position in high school and ended up playing that position in college. If you can play football you can play multiple positions normally. The idea is to find the best 22 football players, put them in positions that best help the team and then teach and coach the hell out of them! Having coached high school football for many years it’s very difficult to tell which player will go on to star in college! Now, you can’t coach size, you must recruit size, speed can be developed but it never hurts to recruit fast people; however, coaches must develop the talent on hand, put them in the right spots, then teach them the game and how the winners play it! Big Time College Coaches make huge money today and maybe the rules only allow so much practice time but seems to me some schools and staffs do a much better job with the talent on hand then others do!

  13. It used to be that if you did not have the talent, you made it up in the weight room. I am glad a change was made, as ND 2nd half breakdowns are as big a reason as any for 4-8.
    ND recruiting 5 stars is a tough sell. Why go to a ND in Indiana, when you can go to Stanford in Pal Alto or go somewhere where they do not self report on tutors providing that little extra help.

    Whether a recruit signs, should not be tied to if his brother signed. These are top athletes looking to blaze their own path, not always follow big brothers.

    Washington, Wisconsin , Stanford are proof you can stay in the conversation. BUT CFP proves that the team with the most 5 stars are the ones more likely to win. Based on recruiting alone, a case could be made that Bama is underperforming.

    ND may need to get on a cycle of every 4 years, they can make a legit run and live with that.

  14. What a joke.
    How many 5 star players were here in 2012.
    If you forgot we made it to the Champ game.
    That year bama would have beaten some pro teams.
    Then just a few years back we lose to clemson on a questionable
    call in hurricane conditions. That team played for the champ.
    And won the next year.

    Same could be said about Fl. St. Had a similar
    Situation came close then they won the champ game.

    How soon we forget.

    Could we please get someone to cover ND that not only knows
    About ND. Moreover, someone that can remember
    The last 5 years.

  15. This has been a problem for BK. I’d say they are clearly recruiting above average players. But to be contending year after year you need to be pulling in excellent players. They can’t seem to take that last step. I do think the on filed performance has a definite effect on that. Start being a contender again and that should help pull a couple of those players to ND.

    I’ve always been a bit cautious on individual player stats. Some 5 star players turn out to be duds and some 2 or 3 stars end up being all stars (in previous stops BK had a good reputation for getting the most out of his players, sometimes not even in their preferred positions–not sure why he has not been able to replicate that at ND). But overall I do think ND has to bring in a couple 5 stars.

    This year there is a lot of new coaches. I think some of those recruits that have ND in their sites may take a wait and see approach to see if that translates into success on the field. Play well, have a good record and they may decide to play at ND.

    The only other thing I will say, and I wonder if any others have noticed this trend, has to do with verbal commits. Has anyone else noticed that verbal commitments have become increasingly meaningless? It seems year after year more and more players change their minds later in the recruiting cycle. I’d almost rather a late verbal commit then an early one. It seems the ones that recruit the earliest are the most likely to change their schools. It’s too the point I almost don’t pay attention to early commits. Even the ones that have committed to ND for next year. I barely pay any attention to those. Really it’s not until about a week or two before commitment day that I actually start to tune in. And in this case it doesn’t seem to be just ND. It seems you hear about commits decomitting, changing schools, maybe changing again. Maybe I’m overstating it, but that’s how it seems to me.

  16. Our problem remains to be on the defensive line. Every other position recruiting wise has been good enough in opinion.

  17. Hey joe. its NICK saban not Lou saban NICK saban coached at Mus Lou saban coached the buffalo bills in the 60s and 70s second of all we don’t get 5 star recruits cause Kelly sucks and third of all kids would rather play at schools they don’t have to study at

  18. You have no idea of what the facts are. Take Lou Saban. From 1995-99 he was 34-24-1 at Michigan State before he left for LSU. CLEARLY he had No 5 star players. He took whatever Michigan didn’t want. Today Saban recruits very few players who aren’t at that level and look at the results….and he does it with high coaching turnover. By the way, I don’t hold Harry in the high regard you do. He had two future first round picks on last years squad and they couldn’t punch their way out of a paper bag. ….and if you remember, center play was horrid all season long. Did he fix the problem? No! I truly believe he would have been shown the door if they still weren’t in play for the lineman who eventually signed with Stanford….and Kelly…..he can’t even beat Urban for kids from Catholic schools in Ohio. I am 76 years old and a ND grad. I know I will never see a national championship in my lifetime.

  19. Just another gap filler for the off season. Player development off the field and player/coach performance on game day is much more relevant than an arbitrary assignment of recruiting numbers. Hopefully Kelly pulls it all together from this point forward.

  20. I agree, mostly about what you are saying. The bigger problems I see is the suspensions, transfers, decommitments, injuries. Yes every school has these problems but not to the degree Notre Dame has these past 7 years under Kelly. Also, agree coaching and strength and conditioning has been a big problem. Time will tell if those things are fixed. The biggest difference I see in comparing Notre Dames recruiting with Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Florida State are those schools and the other elite teams are recruiting the d line much, much, much better than Notre Dame. I think Notre Dame on offense and special teams recruits as well as anybody. But not on defense especially d line.

    1. I beg to differ on other schools don’t seem to have this same problem regarding suspensions, transfers, decommitments, etc. Just two years ago Alabama lost what 6 players to transfers alone. 3 of which were QBs, Urban has lost some 30 players since he took over at OSU. We could go on and on. Us ND fans cannot live in a bubble that we have it so much worse. We need to accept this as part of the game and move on. Support the next man up.

      I do agree the Defense and Condition was awful last year. I also agree ND needs to do better on the D line. It appears for 2018 class they have done a great job.

      Regarding Joe’s comment, when your strength and condition program was a piss poor as it was last year. Your O-line will eventually loss their hold. It also appears that the QB seemed to hold on to the ball too long, which didn’t help matters.

      1. Most of you have three things right:
        1. The new D coordinator will make a difference
        2. The new conditioning program will make a difference…watch Mike and Owen this year!
        3. There is a boatload of 4 star talent at ND (ARA, LOU and probably DAN too would be ripping most of our opponents new ones with the guys we have on campus right now).

        One thing is wrong though: the well intentioned line “only time will tell” is wrong, because time has run out for Coach Kelly. This year is do or die. Now it’s true that I’ve been critical of BK for the defense, the special teams, and occasionally for the offensive play calling. But I actually like BK for his recruiting, and especially because he believes we can win big at ND under the current rules of the university. There are some elite coaches out there who do not believe they themselves could win big here: and those men will never come here.

        Coach Kelly has literally done everything possible to right the ship:
        1. New D coordinator
        2. New O coordinator
        3. New Special teams Coach (Thank you Lord God Almighty – I promise I’ll never smoke pot again!)
        4. New Strength and Conditioning Coach
        And they are all accomplished well respected men.

        What more can he do? What more can we ask for? (I know … BJ would say we could ask him to resign!) But I think JS did the right thing…make some big time changes and give BK another year.

        So I’m going out on a limb and doing something I’ve never done before – I’m going to make a public preseason prediction: Notre Dame beats all the teams “we should beat” (whatever that phrase means). ND goes 2 – 2 against the four teams on the schedule that can match or exceed us in talent on paper. ND splits the two rivalry road games. We finish 9-3 and get a bid to a major bowl. Then, with a little good recruiting and a second year under our new coaching staff, Notre Dame fields a very dangerous team in 2018. Watch and see!

        I’ve got my Temple tickets lined up – see you there!

        Bruce G. Curme ’77 ’82

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