Our 2017 signing coverage continues with a look at five players I think could make, or are at least capable of making an instant impact on the Notre Dame football team in 2017. I say “at least capable” because this class could have a difficult time actually breaking through to get meaningful minutes on the football field in their first seasons. If Notre Dame was anything last year, they were young, and there are a litany of players returning who played a lot of snaps on both sides of the ball. And green as they were, it is a talented group that will take the field for the Irish next season. There just aren’t that many openings. That being said, there are some talented incoming players in this recruiting class and here are the five I could see being ready to contribute if need be next season.
Brock Wright, Tight End
6-4.5, 243 Cypress, Texas
247 composite ranking: .9665, 4 star
Wright is the highest rated recruit in the class and .002 percentage points behind Aliz’e Jones as the highest rated tight end that has been signed under Brian Kelly. The doesn’t really square with the excitement level discrepancy between Jones and Wright. People were legitimately with the Jones signing and in my experience Wright has come with much less fan fare, but they are both essentially equally rated players, and Wright is an early enrollee to boot. As I mentioned in the early enrollee column, Wright is in the mold of Troy Niklas; he’s very comfortable as an in-line blocker and he in fact excels in that area. However, he isn’t just a good athlete who is learning the tight end position, a la Niklas, but someone who has been playing tight end for years and is much more developed in all aspects of the position.
During the Under Armour All-Star game practices, Deion Sanders took to calling Wright “Baby Gronk” and proclaimed he’d one day be playing on Sundays. It should also be noted that Sanders didn’t know who Wright was heading into the week. His comments were not the result of hype.
As with Cole Kmet, Wright’s position coach also happens to be the offensive coordinator, which can only help in terms of playing time and getting on the field. And given that he’s a different type of weapon than what Jones brings to the table, they aren’t even really competing for playing time. They essentially play two spots. If there is one guy from the freshmen class who I had to bet would play the most, it’s Wright.
Darnell Ewell, Defensive Tackle
6-4, 295 Norfolk, Virginia
247 composite ranking: .9328, 4 star
One of the most important players in this class because of the position he plays and Notre Dame’s lack of production in that area over the last few years. This is a guy I could see getting meaningful snaps in 2017, not only due to his talent level but his physical maturity. This guy is built like a freight train. His bio says he is 6-4, but he looks more stout than that, maybe he is all upper body, I don’t know. He reminds me a lot of Chris Zorich not just in build, but in style of play. He seems like the type of guy who is strong and big enough to play inside, but is also able to sport a six pack, something Zorich famously did at Notre Dame.
Also similar to Zorich, Ewell is known for his strength, quickness, and motor. His quickness combined with his power inside makes him a handful to deal with for the offensive line, darting into backfield, shedding blocks and making tackles. As I alluded to earlier, I can see him getting time on the defensive line early because of how muscular and strong he already is. If he is truly 295, with his body type–the guy is not carrying a bunch of fat–then he should be able to physically hold up early. And with his style of play being as aggressive as it is, it’d be very easy to see him getting 15-20 reps a game along the line.
Jordan Genmark Heath, Safety
6-1, 205 San Diego, California
247 composite ranking: .8649, 3 star
Based on his star rating, Genmark Heath seemed destined for the “Diamonds in the Rough” column, but I think this guy has a chance to see the field right away, in some capacity. He’s been compared a lot to Elijah Shumate from the 2012-2015 defenses (incidentally, Shumate played quite a bit as a freshman on the 2012 defense), and I see that being valid in terms of body type, but I see them as different players. I view Shumate as a better overall athlete, but Genmark Heath as a better football player. Heath looks much more comfortable playing safety and in his peddle, something Shumate never looked totally at ease with playing on the hash or in the middle. Because of that comfort, there is a confidence to Heath’s game that is very appealing. He has a gait and strut, most often referred to as “swagger”, and he backs it up with his style of play.
I could see him playing any of the three safety spots in Mike Elko’s defense; he looks athletic enough to play the field safety and plays with enough physicality and with the body type to play both boundary safety and the rover position, which makes it all the more likely he sees the field in his first season. There are threes ways for him to see the field. And, somewhat incredibly, given he grew up in Sweden and his dream was to simply play high school football, he is an extremely instinctive and developed player. He plays with a familiarity to the game that is rare for a player who hasn’t been exposed to it his entire life. He is somewhat “new” to the game, but I wouldn’t call him raw. He’s much more refined for that, but clearly has more to learn.
CJ Holmes, Running Back
6-0, 200 Cheshire, Connecticut
247 composite ranking: .9036, 4 star
Basically, Holmes is the offenses version of Genmark Heath, although he falls into the capable of playing, but not sure how he sees the field. Holmes happens to be entering what might be the most loaded position on the team at running back, with Josh Adams, Dexter Williams, and Tony Jones Jr. all very capable of seeing the field in meaningful roles. The good news for Holmes is he is the only one who possesses his skill set as both a runner and receiver out of the back field. I chronicled Holmes as an early entrant last month, in which I noted that Holmes lined up in both the slot and on the outside as a receiver, something we didn’t see at all from Adams, Williams, or Jones. Holmes is like Theo Riddick 2.0; bigger, faster, and with the type of hands that have made Riddick a nice living in the NFL.
Holmes is the type of player that you just know no matter where he is ranked, three star, four star, whatever, he is going to be successful at Notre Dame. His skills translate too well to what Notre Dame does on offense, and what translates in college football in general. Look at Curtis Samuel at Ohio State as the type of player Holmes could eventually become, which should work out just fine.
Cole Kmet, Tight End
6-5, 230 Arlington Heights, Illinois
247 composite ranking: .9289, 4 star
The tight end is back, baby! The first of two tight ends on this list, Kmet brings a different type of skill set to the position than his class mate, early enrollee Brock Wright. When I look at Wright I think of a more refined and disciplined version or Troy Niklas. He’s the blocker. When I see Kmet, I see Kyle Rudolph. Kmet isn’t the type of player that someone like Aliz’e Jones or Tyler Eifert are. I don’t see him lining up at the W position and running slants, dig routes, or curls. But, that wasn’t the type of player Rudolph was either. Rudolph did a lot of his work from an in-line position, and I can see Kmet doing the same. The thing that makes me think Kmet can see the field this year is new offensive coordinator Chip Long, who will also be the tight ends position coach. He also is much more willing to use multiple tight ends than the Notre Dame offense has been during the Mike Denbrock era, and because Notre Dame now has three highly rated prospects in Jones, Wright, and Kmet with three different skill sets it makes for a lot of versatility options for the new offensive coordinator.