Last weekend five recruits from the 2017 recruiting class moved into their Notre Dame dorm rooms and began life as college students–offensive linemen Aaron Banks and Robert Hainsey, tight end Brock Wright, running back CJ Holmes, and athlete Isaiah Robertson. Since they took the time and effort to graduate from high school early and attend the university we all love and cheer for, and in doing so will likely get lost in the signing day excitement, they deserve to be highlighted, celebrated, and broken down by me, a guy with zero credentials as a talent evaluator except that I screamed from the roof tops in 2013 that Will Fuller would be a star so naturally everyone should listen to what I have to say.
I’ve watched all of their film and will offer my off the cuff thoughts, whether they can make an impact early, and what former Notre Dame player they are comparable with.
Here they are, in alphabetical order by last name.
Aaron Banks, Offensive Line
6-7, 315 El Cerrito, CA–247 composite: .9257 four star
His Notre Dame career got off to an unfortunate start, due to no fault of his own, because it kicked off a litany of “Notre Dame got a big commitment, and we mean literally BIG, hahaha” hot takes that got incredibly old the second the first person uttered it. It was a big commitment in the sense that it came following the abysmal 4-8 season and brought a little bit of momentum to an otherwise tumultuous couple of months in recruiting.
At first blush he doesn’t seem to be overly athletic, but he makes up for that in sheer girth and strength. He’s often just bullying guys whether it’s on offense or defense and he seems to revel in just tossing guys all over the place whenever he can. I can’t see him playing tackle just based off of the film that I’ve seen, but at 6-7 that would be a really big guard. I’m curious to see how good he can be as a zone blocker, because he excels on film in one on one match-ups. He was offered, however, by a number of spread teams such as Oregon, Utah and Arizona State, plus Michigan which is very much a power team. So colleges don’t necessarily see him as scheme specific. Watching his film he reminds me of former guard Jerry Wisne from the mid 90’s Lou Holtz teams, who also was a massive 6-7 and was a multiyear starter at guard who paved the way for Notre Dame all-time leading rusher and current Irish coach Autry Denson.
Almost no offensive linemen play early under Harry Hiestand, mostly due to the talent he has already brought in, and I expect Banks to spend a year developing his technique and building up his body.
Robert Hainsey, Offensive Line
6-4.5 276 Bradenton, FL (IMG Academy)–247 composite: .9572 four star
Much more recognizable as the prototypical lineman Kelly and Hiestand have brought in during their time at Notre Dame. The first player that popped in my head when watching Hainsey play was Matt Hegarty, the former four star lineman from New Mexico who played for Notre Dame from 2013 to 2014 before giving way to Nick Martin at center and transferring to Oregon where he started 13 games at center and played in the national title game. Funny enough, I ended being more sold on Hainsey as a Nick Martin comparison, more so than Hegarty.
It’s hard to peg where exactly Hainsey will play, as a junior it didn’t seem like he had the feet to play tackle, but he really stepped his game up as a senior and showed some solid athleticism and quicker feet than his junior film showed. Plus, he showed really well in the Under Armour practices against some elite talent both at tackle and at guard. He definitely used to playing against elite competition at IMG Academy in Florida who always play in extremely difficult schedule. And there is something to be said for being the left tackle on a team full of division I caliber players. Honestly, it’s more likely he ends up at guard, and even center, than tackle, but he has shown the ability to play it if that is Hiestand’s intention. And as is the case with Banks, it’s unlikely Hainsey sees the field early, just too many talented bodies. But with McGlinchey and Nelson likely gone after 2017, getting into school early could pay off big with both of these linemen.
CJ Holmes, Running Back
6-0, 200 Chesire, Connecticut –247 composite: .8987 four star
One of my favorite players in this class who possesses a skill set that has been very effective under Brian Kelly during his time at Notre Dame. There has been much debate over who his player comparison is at UHND; Frank Vitovitch sees him as a CJ Prosise clone and notes that the Notre Dame coaches have sold Holmes on this comparison as well. Which is all well and good if you want to piggyback on the word of the coaches who don’t know anything. The thing is Holmes is more Theo Riddick than he is Prosise, because Holmes is a much more natural receiver than Prosise was at Notre Dame. Now, if you were to ask me Holmes is just a souped up version of Riddick, a little bigger, a little more explosive, with all of the catching ability. Riddick in 2012 ran for over 900 yards and caught 36 passes for 370 yards. Prosise wasn’t used that way in 2015; he caught 26 passes but those numbers are inflated because of those flip passes that were essentially jet sweeps in the running game.
Watching his film, Holmes is all over the field on offense; he’s in the back field , he’s out of the slot, he’s playing on the outside. Now this isn’t to say I’m advocating that he moves to receiver or the slot, I’m not, but it’s telling in how comfortable he is catching the ball. The actual act is an afterthought to him, pretty much the complete opposite of the way Will Fuller and Prosise caught the ball. Riddick had the same comfort in catching the ball, and in many ways was one of the best weapons of the Kelly era. I know it’s breaking the rules a little bit, but for me he’s got more Le’Veon Bell in him than anyone else (and for clarity I’m referring to the dynamic, thin Le’Veon Bell, not the heavy plodding Le’Veon Bell).
There is so much talent in the Notre Dame back field, it’s hard for me to see him seeing time back there as a freshman, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he found a way on the field in some way.
Isaiah Robertson, Safety
6-3, 190 Naperville, IL–247 composite: .8986 four star
Robertson is widely viewed as an athlete by various recruiting services because it’s possible he could see some time as a wide receiver at Notre Dame, but here’s to hoping he stays at safety because I believe that’s the spot he’s best suited for at the college level. At receiver he shows pretty good ball skills and athleticism, but he’s not the type of explosive athlete that some of the other receivers on the Notre Dame roster. Plus, given his size, he seems like a natural fit for safety with a profile not currently on the roster at the safety position. He compares most favorably to former safety Glenn Earl, who started in 2002 and 2003 and had a cup of tea in the NFL with the Texans.
The thing about Robertson is, like Earl, he’s an extremely heavy hitter for someone who hasn’t filled out his body. He hits like a guy who has weights in his pads, which sounds as fun for the ball carrier as you’d imagine it to be. He also shows good instincts in coverage and with the ball in the air plus a player of his size will likely end up with some excellent range once his body fills out.
Given what the depth chart looks like at safety, plus the size and skill set he possesses, Robertson will likely make the two deep on day one and with a new defensive coordinator, he could fall into favor quickly if he picks up Elko’s scheme.
Brock Wright, Tight End
6-4.5, 247 Cypress, Texas–247 composite: .9654 four star
Deion Sanders, yes the Primetime Deion Sanders, called Wright “Baby Gronk” during the Under Armour all star game practices. So, there is one comp for you. Most highly rated tight ends out of high school are more along the lines of Alize Jones; receivers who can split out wide if they need to who have the potential to be adequate blockers. Tyler Eifert falls into that category as well. Wright is not of that mold. His skill set is more akin to Troy Niklas; an inline blocker who is a matchup nightmare for linebackers and scary for corners in the open field. Watching his film, I can’t remember a more dominant tight end as a blocker out of high school, who was also a real threat as a receiver. He isn’t a glorified tackle. He’s as close to the complete package that Notre Dame has had in some time. His advantage over Niklas resides in that Niklas was a great athlete looking to find a position. Wright is a tight end all the way.
My guess is with new offensive coordinator Chip Long having a proclivity for tight ends and his use of multiple tight end sets on offense, Wright is going to play a lot as a freshman and give something Notre Dame hasn’t had since Eifert and Niklas in 2o12.