Notre Dame’s run towards the College Football playoffs this year has been fueled by a defensive line that generates pressure with just its front four. The Irish made a big push towards making that trend commonplace for the Notre Dame defense by singing a monster class in the defensive trenches today during the early signing period.
When all of the ink dries today, Notre Dame will sign four 4-star defensive linemen in the class of 2019. In some years past, landing one 4-star defensive linemen would have had Notre Dame fans jumping for joy. This year though, the lowest rated defensive lineman in the class is 4-star Howard Cross III. Cross, the son of former New York Giants great of the same name, also happened to be named the Gatorade Player of the Year in New Jersey in addition to NJ.com’s player of the year. That is the recruit who is the lowest rated defensive lineman in this class. That’s how good this class is.
Joining Cross in this star studded haul are:
- NaNa Osafo-Mensah (WDE) – #138 overall, #7 WDE
- Jacob Lacey (DT) – #157 overall, # 10 DT
- Hunter Spears (DT) – #292 overall, #20 DT
- Howard Cross (SDE) – #335 overall, #25 SDE
From top to bottom it is a complete class that perfectly fills out a depth chart at least for now. Unlike some other years in which Notre Dame loaded up on linemen but at similar positions, this year’s haul perfectly rounds out a front four with NaNa Osafo-Mensah on the weak-side, Cross on the strong-side, Lacey on the nose, and Spears at DT at least to start their careers.
All but Cross from this group will also be enrolling early which in the case of Spears will be particularly beneficial since he is coming off back to back ACL tears in his left knee. Spears initially tore the ACL in April of 2017 in a Rivals camp and missed his junior season. He came back in 2018 though and was having a standout senior year before getting caught up in a pile in practice and tearing it again in early November. The prognosis for him says he’ll be ready for the 2019 season, but what will be the most important for him initially, is being able to rehab. Prior to his injury he had 24 TFL and 5 sacks in 9 games for Sachse’s HS in Texas.
Lacey got the ball rolling for not just Notre Dame’s defensive line class, but the class as a whole as the first commitment overall all the way back on July 29th in 2017. Almost seventeen months later, he will sign his letter of intent with the Irish and next month will enroll early. Because of his early commitment, Lacey didn’t have a ton of offers along the way, but in the short time his recruitment was open he did pick up offers from Clemson, Michigan, and Penn State.
Notre Dame went into Texas to steal NaNa Osafo-Mensah away from the Longhorns and Tom Herman. He also held offers from Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Georgia. An offer list for a defensive end like that tells you almost everything you need to know about how good he has the potential to be. After striking out at WDE in the class of 2018, landing Osafo-Mensah early in the spring was a huge win for the Irish.
The reason Cross comes in as the lowest rated as of now has a bit to do with his height. Currently listed at 6’2″ and 265 lbs, he could ultimately end up moving inside. If he does, his height could be a limitation. Notre Dame’s had shorter defensive tackles make huge impacts like Sheldon Day recently too though, but that is why Cross is more of a low 4-star prospect right now despite the accolades he comes in with.
Aside from being a very talented group, this is also already a pretty tight group. Spears, Osafo-Mensah, and Lacey all visited Notre Dame together on the same weekend over the summer and immediately hit it off.
Even though three of the four will be enrolling early, none will be forced into early action. The extra time in the program though, will pay dividends down the road as Notre Dame has finally built some defensive line depth. They have added to it in a big way today.
More Help Could Be Coming In February
While Notre Dame is set to sign four 4-star linemen today, they are still actively recruiting defensive end Isaiah Foskey. Foskey, yet another 4-star lineman is not expected to sign anywhere today during the early signing period, but Notre Dame is still actively recruiting him and would love to add him to their haul. Should they do so, this would easily be the best defensive line class of the Brian Kelly Era and well beyond.
Foskey is listed at 6’5, 233 lbs currently and is the kind of long, lean pass rusher you could never have too many of on a roster.
Even without adding him in February though, Notre Dame did a fantastic job of addressing it’s needs along the offensive line and continuing to stockpile quality defensive lineman. Considering where this program was 10 years ago at the position it seems almost unthinkable now that this this is where we are at it, but it is in fact exactly where we at and it’s a good place.