Brian Kelly is Building a Notre Dame Football Monster with 2020-21 Recruiting Classes

On the field, Brian Kelly 2.0 has been an objective success. They are 27-5 in the last 32 games with losses to Georgia twice, Miami, Stanford, and eventual national champion Clemson in the playoffs last season. The collective record of those five teams is 53-11; in other words, not cupcakes. He has them again in the top 10 this season as we approach November, ranked 8th with a big matchup against #20 Michigan next weekend. The program is in excellent shape.

That being said, it is fair to wonder how far the program can go at the current trajectory. They are ranked 15th in total team talent, according to 247 sports analysis of the roster, with the teams they are competing with all in the top 10. (For example, Georgia is 3rd this season, USC is 4th, and Clemson was 7th last season.) To compete with those teams rosters, they’ll need to acquire more top-end talent, specifically at the skill positions.

Among the top offensive skill players on the Notre Dame depth chart, just three–back up wide receiver Javon McKinley, and tight ends Cole Kmet and Brock Wright–were ranked in the top 150 in their recruiting classes, and only Chase Claypool was in the top 200. That’s four out of the 15 players to have run the ball or caught a pass for the Irish who were top 200 talents (It’d be five if you count Phil Jurkovec, six with the suspended Kevin Austin). There is a similar trend in the back end defensively. Notre Dame currently has two players–Kyle Hamilton and Houston Griffith–who were ranked in the top 200 of their recruiting classes.  Obviously, they are not the Sisters of the Poor at these positions; they’ve won plenty of games with the players they have. But, in each of the losses of the past five seasons, there has been a sizable gap at the skill spots.

Fortunately, Notre Dame is loaded with top 200 talent on the offensive line and in the front seven, which is the key to playing winning football. And coupled with what they are bringing in, that trend will continue in the future. But, what about the skill positions? That tide looks to be turning as well.

Offensive Boom

Having brought in just two top 200 offensive skill players in 2018–Austin and Jurkovec–Notre Dame currently has commitments from eight in 2020 and 2021 (two quarterbacks, one running back, three wide receivers, and two tight ends). The running back, Chris Tyree, is a five-star player and ranked #26 overall on 247’s composite rating scale.

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The wide receivers are ranked #29 (Jordan Johnson, 2020), #51 (Deion Colzie, 2021), and #102 (Lorenzo Styles, 2021). They also happen to be perfect compliments to each other. Johnson is the do it all, 6-2 receiver who has that deep speed, but also the size where he’s a matchup issue. Colzie is 6-5 and fluid, with Styles the slot type who can be used like Chris Finke or Lawrence Keys and is a good enough athlete to be a top 100 defensive back. As you can imagine, Notre Dame didn’t back into these commitments; these three were front on center on the wishlists of every program you can imagine.

Colzie is out of Athens, Georgia, so obviously the Bulldogs were a significant player for him, as well as a little school named Alabama. Styles hailed from Pickerington, Ohio, otherwise known as Buckeye country. Not only that, but his father is an Ohio State legacy. Pulling those two players out of those two regions is as impressive as their star ranking. Jordan Johnson doesn’t have a local tie out of Missouri, but the #29 player nationally attracts lots of suitors.

To go along with them is #52 overall tight end Michael Mayer in 2020 and #86 overall tight end Cade Berrong in 2021. Not only are these folks in the top 200, but that’s also five receivers/tight ends in the top 102 in two cycles.

And of course, #184 quarterback Drew Pyne in 2020 and #76 quarterback Tyler Buchner in 2021 to deliver this group the ball. This is the type of skill talent Notre Dame can make a run with.

Still Strong Inside

In 2019, Notre Dame signed five top 200 players on the offensive line or front seven, and they currently have another six–out of 24 total–commitments that fit that bill in 2020 and 2021. That’s 11 upfront in two cycles, with a lot more to go in the 2021 class with only seven commitments total. Notre Dame has already been loading up inside–all of their starting offensive linemen, as well as the top backup, are top 200 players with eligibility remaining. That group will be good for a long time.

The two upcoming classes are highlighted by #70 in 2020 Tosh Baker and #53 in 2021 Blake Fisher. Add them into the four top 200 who signed in 2019, and Notre Dame will be a force on the offensive line for the duration of Kelly’s tenure.


Notre Dame has needed top-line talent on offense for a few cycles, and they are getting it in the next two recruiting classes. We often talk about Notre Dame closing the gap with the top programs and moving from being competitive to being favored. They still have some work to do at defensive back, but the gains they’ve made upfront, and some strong prospects at safety, should mitigate that some.

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It took Kelly some time to figure out how to build his program, more time than people wanted. It looks as though he has finally found the formula in recruiting as well.

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  1. As I said below, the the teams at that ‘next level’ all plan to get better, too….to wit:

    “LSU now has 15 ESPN 300 commitments, four of whom are ranked in the top 50 of the rankings. Those 15 commitments are tied with that of Clemson…”

    Not a bad haul for an interim guy that the LSU brass all dithered for 2 months before naming him the permanent HC…because he didn’t have the “polish”, the “eloquence”, or the “media skills” they wanted.
    And it’s mighty impressive how much better they’ve gotten in the 2 seasons since ND beat them in the Citrus Bowl.
    ND was ranked 11th then….LSU was 18th.

    Orgeron has been on the job 3 years. And LSU is now ranked #2.
    So….there’s that.

    But Kelly’s got polish and media skills in surplus…so there’s that.

  2. I love brian kelley as our coach! He usually over exceeds with the players he has. We could be like usc always having top recruiting classes but not the record to show it!

  3. I have a question for everyone that doubts Brian Kelly. Since y’all hate him so much, what college coach do ya thInk could do a better job at ND? Nick Satan couldn’t handle ND & neither could Urban Liar.

    I’m happy with Brian Kelly at ND. I don’t see a better
    coach for our school.

    Keep doing what you’re doing BK. You got my support.

    1. “I’m happy with Brian Kelly at ND. I don’t see a better
      coach for our school.”.

      In an odd way, I am somewhat envious of you. You have accepted being less than excellent, and embraced it.
      To hell with Lou Holtz and his BS…. good is good enough!

  4. Brian Kelly 2.0…for gawdsakes, marketing gibberish for movie sequels and software updates.

    Kelly is a shadow of his former self….medicated, plateaued out on the career curve, and plotting out his eventual next gig.
    He’s gone from COO to CEO to Executive Chairman. Figurehead. A financial drain on the company.
    His legacy includes no signature wins, getting destroyed in the very biggest games….not even a coaching tree to celebrate.

    Thanks for not being the embarrassment that Willingham and Weis were.
    But time to move on, dude.

    1. There is a psychological malaise called “projection” in which the accuser heaps his own problems on the accused.

      Now, I’d like a poll of the board denizens on several questions:

      Is David “projecting?”

      IF your answer to the first poll question is yes, than which of David;’s projections is the most severe:

      (1) shadow of his former slef

      (2) plateuaed out on the career curve

      (3) medicated

      (4) potting out his eventual next gig.

      I am fascinated by the “no signature wins.” It is evocative of the Monty Python “She’s a Witch! shtick”

      If Kelly wins, he’s a witch, NO WAIT! it CANNOT be a signature win. Voila!! .

      We report, you decide!

      1. You write your opinions. I’ll write mine.
        Why is that so unacceptable ?
        Why does it bother you so much ?

        I want to see ND back on top, and under Kelly, it never will.
        So why are you insecure as to accept mediocrity, and silence those who won’t?
        FYI….I don’t actually care if you answer, or what you’ll likely say if you do.
        I’ll just post what I think, just as this forum permits.

      2. Southside: You appear to have mistaken me for someone who owes you something. I will write what I want, when I want.

  5. The thing that has impressed me most about the current team is the discipline. With a culture of discipline and the players that we’re bringing in, I’d say that our chances of making it to the next level in the next couple of years are pretty good.

  6. I am pleased and I dont mean to be a downer but unless Pyne Phil and Buchner are heisman trophy level quarterbacks Notredame will not be able to win a national championship and beat the Ohio State Alabama Clemson Oklahoma LSU etc. Despite how others feel Notredame last year and this year could go toe to toe with the above mentioned teams if they had Fields Tua Lawrence Burrow Hurts. Notredame has good skilled talent if you had a star qb that could get them the ball and a great o coordinator who could scheme them open.

    1. With respect, I believe that you’re suffering from recency bias. Before Lawrence, Tagovailoa/Hurts and Watson, there were Jake Coker and Cardale Jones, two good-not-great quarterbacks who got the job done with the team around them.

      It certainly helps to have a great quarterback, but a good quarterback with a great offensive line can get the job done.

      1. Bob, I would argue that Coker, Jones and McElroy are the exception rather than the rule. Yes you can do it without an early round draft pick (McElroy went in the 7th and don’t think the other guys were drafted). But you have to be so good in other areas, especially on the D-line to pull it off. Notre Dame, I argue, will rarely if ever have an elite D-line across all 4 positions because the 5-star talent in those areas are often not academic fits for the school.
        The formula for ND is be exceptional on offense and “good enough” on defense. I believe they will win a title before the 2024 season, and I expect Kelly to still be the coach when it happens.

      2. Recency bias. Wow.
        That happens to be the exact, diametrically opposite affliction of what y’all suffer from.

      3. I think you both make good points. I would come down on the side of needing a truly dynamic QB to win it all.
        All pre-Tua Bama QB’s – including Hurts – were just cogs in an almost unstoppable machine. Jones was truly amazing for those 2 games plus had a great O Line and a historically great RB in Zeke.
        Bob Rodes, I agree a dominant team around a good QB can win as well – I am just not optimistic that the Irish will ever have an overall talent gap better than the Bamas and Clemsons of the world. Praise the Lord if they do!!
        I think back to the first time Clemson played Bama and the clinic DeShaun Watson put on in defeat (then duplicated that effort in the win the next year). That single player – surrounded by a very good team just about took down the Tide. I am not myopic enough to think the Irish would have won but imagine last year’s team with a Watson type. People remember 30-3 but I remember 9-3 with less than 2:00 less in the half in a game that was clearly beyond the abilities of Ian Book. The 2019 Irish were as talented a team as we have seen since Holtz but the next step requires a true difference maker at QB who cannot be stopped.
        It takes a total team, not just a QB as Mayfield and Murray painfully learned. However, in the current climate which doesn’t look to be changing any time soon I believe you must have a stud at QB to win it all unless you are so loaded it does not matter.

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