Heading into the recruiting cycle for the class of 2021, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly’s stated goal was a top-5 class. It was a refreshing change from a coach who had routinely talked about having to shop in different aisles than other programs. Welp, the mandated recruiting dead period imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic threw those plans away, but there is still a reasonable path to a top-10 class for the Irish albeit with a razor-thin margin for error.
Notre Dame has a path to a top-10 class, given the prospects currently on their board that they have reasonable chances of landing. We’ll take a look at what that path is here.
I will caveat this by saying that this scenario does not involve any significant surprises. By that, I mean a surprise like securing a commitment from top-50 overall running back Donovan Edwards. Pulling off a coup like that would vault this class inside the top 10, but as of today, Notre Dame’s chances with Edwards appear to be very slim.
Add Rocco Spindler to complete OL class.
Notre Dame’s path to the top 10 really starts and finishes with Rocco Spindler. If the Irish secure a commitment from the top-50 overall prospect, they have a chance to finish strong. If Spindler picks Michigan, the rest of the scenario outlined in this article could play out, and it wouldn’t make a difference – the Irish class would be outside of the top 10.
Notre Dame needs Spindler to pair with Blake Fisher, another top-100 recruit, to round out an offensive line class that also features a pair of more developmental prospects in Pat Coogan and Joe Alt.
A wildcard here is Nolan Rucci. The composite 5-star recruit is theoretically still in play for Notre Dame, and if he wanted to come to Notre Dame in addition to Spindler, there’s no way the Irish staff says no. That said, Rucci is considered a major reach for Notre Dame right now. Maybe that changes if/when visits can happen, but as of today, Rucci is a major longshot for Notre Dame.
Spindler, on the other hand, is not a reach, and many consider Notre Dame the favorite with an August 8 decision lined up. Spindler had wanted to take all of his visits before committing anywhere, but the pandemic has made that difficult, to say the least.
Land Donte Thornton or Deion Colzie
Notre Dame could end up with another top-100 recruit that currently isn’t in their class in either Dont’e Thornton or maybe Deion Colize, who decommitted back in March at the onset of the pandemic. Even though Notre Dame was Colzie’s dream school when he committed, the pandemic really hurt Notre Dame’s chances with him because they need to get him back on campus to remind him of why he felt that way in the first place. Without a return visit, Notre Dame has little to no chance. The staff, however, has been working hard at reminding Colzie why he committed in the first place.
The Irish seem to have a better chance with Thornton though who, like Colzie, is a top-100 overall prospect and features a similar skillset. Thornton is even ranked higher in the 247Sports composite rankings. Oregon is the biggest threat here, and the Ducks’ class has a lot of momentum right now, but Notre Dame has done a good job in their pursuit here.
Complete WR class with Jayden Thomas
Even if Notre Dame lands Thornton or Colzie, there is still work to do at the position to get this class into top-10 status in February. The most realistic options to add to a potential Thornton/Colzie combo with currently committed 4-star Lorenzo Styles is composite 4-stars Jayden Thomas of Georgia
Notre Dame is in good shape with Thomas right now, and it would not be a surprise at all if both ended up signing with the Irish. Thomas has long been linked with Notre Dame, and it appears as though the Irish have dialed up their efforts with the Georgia native following Colzie’s decommitment.
Thomas is considering being a two-sport athlete in college, with baseball being his other sport. That gives Notre Dame a boost given its baseball program and the football program’s history with players who excel on the diamond as well, such as Golden Tate, Cole Kmet, and Jeff Samardzija. Notre Dame is playing up that angle heavily in their pursuit of Thomas.
— “JT”Jayden Thomas (@jgpt333) July 15, 2020
Considering the talent Notre Dame already has on the roster at wide receiver, a class of Styles, Thornton/Colzie, and Thomas would be big time.
Add a second tight end
Notre Dame landed one of the nation’s top tight ends, Cane Berrong, early in the 2021 cycle, but they have been trying hard to land a second in the class. They missed out on a few targets over the last few months, but it looks like they’ve zeroed in on 3-star Mitchell Evans. Evans is a jumbo target at 6-7, 240 lbs already and could grow into an offensive lineman before all is said and done. Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Michigan State are the most prestigious programs also to offer Evans.
As of this morning, the 247 Crystal Ball and the Rivals Future Cast both are leaning heavily in Notre Dame’s favor in this one.
Keep defensive line class intact
A couple of months ago, it looked like Notre Dame was on the verge of losing 4-star defensive end David Abiara. A slew of Crystal Ball predictions flooded 247 Sports for Oklahoma, and Notre Dame’s actions of suddenly offering a new of new defensive ends such as TJ Bollers suggested the staff was worried about the position.
Since then, however, things have cooled down on the Abiara front, and there’s much more optimism that he will ultimately sign with Notre Dame. While there’s more optimism, though, this one is far from over, and until there is a signature in December, the Irish staff needs to stay on top of this recruitment.
If Notre Dame were to lose Abiara, they could probably find some kind of replacement, but they would probably have to make a significant reach to do so. We saw with the Bollers effort that it was too little too late. And that was months ago.
Land Prince Kollie
Linebacker recruiting the last two classes has been fascinating. After loading up in both the class of 2018 and 2019, Notre Dame has not prioritized traditional linebackers on the recruiting front. Perhaps they have plans for some current defensive backs to bulk up and make the transition, or they might just be super high on last year’s crop of freshmen backers. Whatever the case, Notre Dame didn’t sign a linebacker last year, and for 2021, the only realistic target right now is 4-star backer Prince Kollie.
Right now, there is only 1 Crystal Ball or Future Cast pick in for Kollie, and it’s for Louisville, but there is growing optimism for Notre Dame in this race. The Irish staff has turned up the heat on Kollie in recent months, and it is reportedly paying off. Brian Polian and Clark Lea are leading the charge in Kollie’s recruitment. That’s as good of a duo as Notre Dame fans could ask for.
Add Chance Tucker to Secondary
Notre Dame’s done an excellent job of identifying prospects for its secondary that match its scheme perfectly with corners Philip Riley and Ryan Barnes and safety Justin Walters. They could round out that group by adding California athlete Chance Tucker to the group. Tucker is thought to be close to committing, and the Irish are in good shape here though Washington poses the biggest threat.
If Tucker ends up at Washington, there are still some other secondary targets for the Irish, including top-100 overall prospect Ceyair Wright. Notre Dame was thought to be the favorite in this race at one point but fell behind as there are some concerns over Wright’s desire to pursue acting if football doesn’t pan out. That would give a program like USC a decided advantage. Still, there was a reason Notre Dame was considered a favorite here at one point, and if the Irish miss on Tucker, it could be Wright or bust for Notre Dame adding another member to its secondary.
Add athlete Titus Mokiao-Atimalala.
One of the more intriguing prospects left on Notre Dame’s board is athlete Titus Mokiao-Atimalala. The 4-star prospect could help Notre Dame out in several ways. He could be a dynamic slot receiver on offense. He’s a nightmare for defenses to deal with once he gets the ball in space. He could also be a playmaker on the backend of the defense as a safety. He’s the kind of athlete that you just want on your roster who you let get to campus and show where he will best be utilized.
Notre Dame has been trending very positively for Mokiao-Atimalala over the last few weeks now and look like they could be the favorite in this race that also features Arizona State, Michigan, UCLA, and Utah among others. Notre Dame has their Hawaiian ace recruiter Brian Polian on the case. Given his success in recruiting the state for Notre Dame, it’s a good bet that the Irish ultimately end up with Mokiao-Atimalala’s athleticism in this year’s class.
Do something, anything at running back
You might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned adding a running back yet, and it’s not an omission. It’s just that running back recruiting right now isn’t very clear for Notre Dame. It looked like they were trending well with Logan Diggs, but then reports surfaced that he was close to committing to USC. Those reports have died down now, but where the Irish stand here is unclear.
Notre Dame is still pushing hard for Donovan Edwards, but they still have a lot of ground to make up. Adding fellow Michigan native Rocco Spindler would be a help, but there might just be too much ground to make up in this race for Notre Dame. One thing working in their favor, at least, is that Edwards has said he will likely wait until after the season (if there is one) to make his decision. That kind of timeline gives the Irish opportunity to make up more ground.
There has to be a running back in this class, so expect the staff to find someone to take a chance on if they miss out on Diggs and Edwards, but odds are – at least right now – that whoever Notre Dame adds at running back isn’t going to be the kind of prospect that pushes this class into top 10 status.