Notre Dame is trying to put the finishing touches on its 2022 class, but that hasn’t stopped the Irish from starting the 2023 class with a bang. In back-to-back days, Notre Dame added perhaps a perfect combo of defensive ends to kick start the class. Monday it was Irish lean Keon Keeley pulling the trigger. Tuesday though, Notre Dame pulled off one of the biggest recruiting coups in recent years with 5-star defensive end Brenan Vernon.
After Keon Keeley’s commitment on Monday, I wrote about Marcus Freeman and Mike Elston targeting a specific profile at defensive end more so than they have in the past. The addition of Brenan Vernon continues that trend. Vernon is listed at 6-5, 245 lbs already – another edge player with elite length.
While Keeley projects to play the VYPER position for Notre Dame, Vernon projects to be a prototypical strong-side defensive end. Vernon is currently ranked as the #18 overall prospect in the country on 247Sports composite rankings while Keeley is in the top 247 and likely to climb in the rankings.
Notre Dame’s defensive line recruiting is officially on fire right now. The Irish have three defensive ends lined up for 2022 with Tyson Ford, Aiden Gobiara, and Darren Agu with the hopes of adding Cyrus Moss later in the cycle. The difference, as of today between the ends in 2022 versus 2023 is that Agu is the only prototypical VYPER and he’s a little more of a developmental prospect given his relative newness to football. With Keeley/Vernon, Notre Dame is getting a combo tailormade for their respective positions that can make an instant impact. Gobiara can play VYPER as well, but he also looks like he’ll grow into an SDE in short order. Ford meanwhile looks like he could project on the inside down the road.
Now, if Notre Dame were to eventually sign Cyrus Moss for 2022 as well, they will have a potential early impact VYPER in the class too. Notre Dame is still heavily involved for interior defensive lineman Anthony Lucas as well. Add those two to the mix, and Notre Dame has one of the best defensive line hauls in the entire country.
Pulling off a commitment from Vernon, this early in the cycle was a huge win for Notre Dame. Everyone had Vernon pegged for Ohio State as the next great Buckeye defensive end following in the footsteps of the Bosa brothers and Chase Young. Not only did Notre Dame beat the Buckeyes here, they did it in June of his junior season. No one thought this was possible a month ago. Talk about the Freeman Factor.
Generally speaking, Ohio State does not let 5-star players out of the state, but here we are. Freeman, the Ohio State alum, has not been afraid to go head to head with other elite programs for elite talent in the short time he’s been on the job.
Notre Dame still has some work to do to get the class of 2022 to max out, but the difference in recruiting that we’ve seen this calendar year has been pretty remarkable. Notre Dame is aggressively targeting players that in the past most would have felt they didn’t have a great chance at. In past years, Notre Dame has not been winning battles for 5-star defensive ends from states with elite programs like Ohio. Heck, the last 5-star defensive end Notre Dame signed at all was ten years ago when Aaron Lynch signed with Notre Dame and had a cup of coffee in South Bend before transferring following his freshman senior.
If Notre Dame can parlay this success into other positions for 2023 where the Irish have struggled in recent years such as cornerback, the Irish will sign another talent-gap-closing class in 2023.