Last week Rivals ranked their top 50 schools in terms of recruiting from the last five years. The methodology was simple: they averaged all the final class rankings and ordered the teams from the highest rank to the lowest over the five year span. Easy peasy.
Notre Dame finished 8th, with an average rating of 10.2, which should be surprising to no one who has followed Irish recruiting under Brian Kelly. His teams are generally in the 10-15 range, with his best class coming in 2013 (they finished 3rd on Rivals), which aided their overall ranking for this exercise. The following four seasons were 11, 11, 13, 13.
Speaking of 2013, that was the last time Kelly brought in any composite five star players (Jaylon Smith, Eddie Vanderdoes, Max Redfield). The word composite is key here. Notre Dame has recruited players with five star ratings on a site or two–Daelin Hayes and Quenton Nelson, for example–but when combining all the ratings from all the major recruiting sites, as 247 Sports does, a five star player has not been in the Irish fold.
This isn’t damning information on it’s own. You don’t need to sign a number of five star players every season to be a title contender. Washington was a playoff team last year and zero five stars and was 29th on the Rivals list. But, Notre Dame isn’t trying to be a title contender every now and then. They want to be in it every year. And to do that, they need to start landing more big fish.
The Problem Isn’t Who Notre Dame Gets
There is something I want to make clear here: the players on the roster are not the problem. Notre Dame isn’t 8th on the list because they signed a bunch of bad players and they weren’t 4-8 last season because they lack the talent. That’s nonsense. Brian Kelly is not a bad recruiter.
No, they went 4-8 because Brian Kelly the coach didn’t see that his defensive coordinator was killing them and his strength program had become a detriment to success on the field. He recruited good players, but not good enough to overcome a shoddy operation and coaching decisions.
He’s also identified players who were much better than their rankings would suggest–Will Fuller, Josh Adams, Matthias Farley, Nick Martin–that could retroactively go down as “five star” talents. That’s the problem with recruiting rankings, it’s not that they are meaningless, they just suppose there are only X number of five star players every year. And we know that isn’t true.
But, that also doesn’t mean obviously elite players aren’t elite players. And Notre Dame needs to get some.
The Problem Is Who Notre Dame Doesn’t Get
Back in February I wrote an article about the need for Notre Dame to be more forward thinking in the way they do things. Some of the reaction to that amounted to “Notre Dame is just fine with the way they do things, they just need to win” with the stellar class of 2013 being evidence of that.
The problem with that is, Notre Dame did plenty of winning in 2015 and a similar recruiting boon did not follow.
They signed the 13th ranked class that year and while they did add their usual number of highly rated prospects–Tommy Kraemer, Daelin Hayes, and Javon McKinley–they missed out on some very high profile players on signing day.
Five stars Ben Davis, Caleb Kelly, and Demetris Robertson all had Notre Dame in the final two on signing day only to choose other programs when the time came (Alabama, Oklahoma, and Cal respectively). Kelly registered 36 tackles, four tackles for loss, and a sack as a freshman last year while Robertson posted 50 catches, 772 yards and seven touchdowns. Ben Davis didn’t play because, well, he’s at Alabama and Reuban Foster didn’t even play as a freshman at Bama.
Point is, it would have been nice to have those guys on the team last year. And those are three scholarships that were lost, given to walk-ons later. It’s not as if Notre Dame missed on those three while signing others.
And that has been the story the last four years for Brian Kelly. They’ll get a visit or two, but when the times comes, it’s someone else. Over and over again.
What Of 2018?
That leads us to the current situation. At present, Notre Dame is 12th nationally and if things end up going the way it looks like they will, Kelly and co. will probably finish as they usually do, around 10-15. They’ve got a couple very highly rated prospects–Derrik Allen and Phil Jurkovec–a rising prospect, Jayson Ademilola, and a number of varying opinions about the other nine players.
As of now, there are two really big fish that appear available to the Irish: receiver from California Amon-Ra St. Brown and Georgia offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer.
St. Brown is simply spectacular, think Odell Beckham Jr., and his older brother is the leading receiver on the CURRENT IRISH TEAM! Given that, conventional wisdom is Notre Dame has some work to do with St. Brown. Opinions are plentiful as to why that is, but everyone is telling the same story and that is Notre Dame is behind. They’ve had St. Brown on their radar for four years (if not longer) and his older brother on campus for the last three, and there is work to do. If they miss here, there needs to be some soul searching in the Gug.
Salyer has become a name much more recently. He visited last month and said he is going to visit for the Georgia contest, unsurprising for the Georgia native. He has no siblings on the current Irish team and is thought to be a tough pull out of the South. He’s a lineman, and Harry Hiestand has some magic, so I’m only skeptical instead of extremely skeptical.
That’s the list of five stars Notre Dame has a chance with in 2018. It’s hard to see Notre Dame get to where they want to go under Kelly if that list doesn’t grow and become signees in the near future.