How is Notre Dame going to build itself back into a perennial contender?
If you’re following Notre Dame recruiting lately, the answer is focus on fit, nailing the top of the board, and building on the offensive line and the front seven. The way the Irish are building their 2019 class should bring smiles to everyone who has been begging for a return to the power days of the late 80’s and early 90’s. It also means ignoring recruiting rankings, because if you don’t, you’ll probably be disappointed. Kelly and Swarbrick have been signaling since last year an emphasis on fit, which implies a de-emphasis on going after the very best guy. Time will tell if it’s going to be effective, but from a team building stand point, so far they are on the mark.
Devaluation Of Five Stars
Recruiting isn’t what it used to be when Notre Dame was a power year after year. Five star players are getting harder to come by, and Notre Dame has been more focused on their board than recruiting rankings the last few cycles. When looking at how the five star talents have fared for Brian Kelly during his tenure, it’s easy to see why.
Kelly has signed six composite five star players during his time at Notre Dame:
- Aaron Lynch
- Ishaq Williams
- Gunner Kiel
- Eddie Vanderdoes
- Max Redfield
- Jaylon Smith
Of those six, Jaylon Smith is the only unequivocal success, with second place being Max Redfield, who started a ton of games for Notre Dame, but was often in trouble and was ultimately kicked off the team and out of school following his arrest in the summer of 2016 for drug and gun possession.
Lynch transferred after one season, Williams was a serviceable player who was dismissed from the team for academic misconduct prior to his senior season, Kiel transferred after one season, and Vanderdoes never made it to campus. Between a 20% and 33% hit rate, depending on how you view Redfield. And this is not to mention all the time and resources spent on players who ultimately didn’t sign with Notre Dame. A good example is the 2016 recruiting season, which saw five stars Demetris Robertson, Caleb Kelly, and Ben Davis all come down to the wire with the Irish, only for them to finish second. A lot of work, for not a lot of payoff.
I don’t want to speculate on why five star players and Notre Dame haven’t been the best fit during the Kelly era, everyone has their opinions, but when you look at who Kelly and his staff have been heavily targeting this cycle, it’s obvious they’ve placed less priority to the top 40 in the nation. As of this moment, Notre Dame isn’t seriously involved with anyone in the top 50.
Crushing Their Board
If you’re going to evaluate Notre Dame’s success or failure on the recruiting trail to where they end up nationally ranked, you’ll likely be disappointed. Notre Dame appears to no longer set up their recruiting board in a way that lends itself to achieving a high national ranking.
A good example is running back. Notre Dame was on the verge of securing the commitment of Chez Melusi, running back out of Naples, Florida, a four star and the composite 208th ranked player in the country. However, the staff evaluated running back Kyren Williams from Missouri, a three star and 405th ranked player in the country, to be a better fit/prospect and canceled a planned visit with Melusi, who ended up committing to Clemson shortly after. Notre Dame appears to be on the verge of landing Williams on Thursday. So, would you consider this a success or failure on the part of the staff?
The question is how can we know who the staff has at the top of their board? This is a situation where you need to follow recruiting pretty closely and trust that the major sites are giving good info. Which in my experience they generally do.
Building Through The Offensive Line And Front 7
The 2019 class is right now strong where you want a team to be strong. Their top six commits are either along the offensive line or in the front seven (all four star players), and 10 of the 14 prospects also fit into that group. They have yet to sign an offensive skill position player, something that needs to happen (obviously), but if every class is going to play out this way, is it not the recipe for success at Notre Dame? We’ve seen Notre Dame put together good offenses with lesser rated skill players, but that has not been the case on the line or in the front seven.
As for landing players at the top of their board, offensive linemen Quinn Carroll, Zeke Correll, John Olmstead, and Andrew Kristofic were early, high priorities for the staff and they nailed them.
The same can be said along the defensive front, with Nana Osafo-Mensah, Hunter Spears, and Jacob Lacey high priority targets the staff was able to close on.
From the standpoint of targets and team building, 2018 recruiting has been a great success, with still more work to do.