The Notre Dame recruiting train has been barreling down the tracks the last few weeks with five new commitments – all of which have been from four star recruits – added to what was already a strong core. This week, however, the biggest news on the recruiting front has been centered around a recruit that it doesn’t look like will be adding to the recent haul – Malik Vann. Reports surfaced over the weekend that the Irish have backed off in their recruitment of the 4-star Midwest DE prompting a lot of angst on Notre Dame message boards.
Notre Dame has backed off 4-star rush end Malik Vann. What that says about how the Irish are building their roster. https://t.co/YGVnYgerhc
— Irish Illustrated (@PeteSampson_) February 26, 2017
What? Notre Dame is passing on a potential 4-star defensive end? Are they crazy?!? That has been the initial reaction from Notre Dame fans. On the surface, it might look crazy, but let’s dig a little deeper here before jumping all over a staff that’s done a hell of a job since it was reworked in January.
First off, there are some legit questions over Vann’s long term position. He lacks ideal height for a rush end with reports of his listed 6’3″ height being a little generous. Is he is a rush end? Is he an interior guy? If he is an interior guy, can he bulk up to close to 300 lbs to be an effective every down interior lineman?
Those are some of the questions that have come up in discussions on Vann’s potential fit on the next level.
Notre Dame also has a similar prospect to Vann in terms of pure “profile” already committed in Justin Ademilola. Like Vann, Ademilola is listed at 6’3″ heading into his senior season and like Vann there are some questions of whether he will stay at defensive end or if he’ll bulk up and grow into an interior lineman. Considering Ademilola has a twin brother – Jayson – joining him who is already an interior lineman, it’s probably safe to assume that Justin’s frame can support that type of weight and bulk as well.
Height isn’t the end all be all for defensive linemen though. Sheldon Day was listed at 6’2″ out of high school and some may recall that his height gave Notre Dame some pause in his recruitment. Luckily for Notre Dame that gamble paid off big time and Day became a multi-year starter and a dominant force on the Irish defensive line in 2015.
The difference between Day and Vann at this point, however, was that Day was 285 lbs, Vann is currently 245 lbs. Day didn’t have any questions about his frame being able to support the type of bulk needed to play inside – he already had it.
So that brings us back to fit in the Notre Dame offense and this is likely where it got tricky for the Irish staff. Vann is clearly a talented prospect. You don’t get a 4-star rating from Rivals, Scout, and 247 without being talented. Over the weekend Vann also picked up an offer from Alabama, but offers from Alabama are also a bit misleading at times since Nick Saban is notorious for giving out “uncommitable” offers.
Notre Dame already has 11 commitments in this year’s class and still has a lot of spots to fill. It’s very possible the staff made the difficult decision to back off knowing they have to fill those needs in what will likely be a smaller than normal class due to scholarship limits. At the top end, Notre Dame has room for nine more recruits right now most likely. With those nine scholarships Notre Dame needs at least two wide receivers, two offensive linemen, and at least another corner. That potentially gives Notre Dame just four scholarships for a pass rusher, another interior defensive lineman, another safety, and another linebacker.
All that said, with his long term position unclear and Notre Dame in desperate need of rush ends in this class, you can start to see some potential rationale in this move.
Ok, now while it looks like there are some potential reasons for possibly passing here, this is a move that could still very well backfire on Notre Dame down the road. All signs were indicating that Vann could be next to join the class prior to this most recent development. While the last two weeks have been fun, they don’t erase years of difficulty recruiting defensive linemen outside of a few spurts of success. Knowing how hard the position has been to recruit, its hard to pass on a 4-star talent that was looking like a lock.
There is a chance that Malik Vann ends up being a bite of a defensive line tweener on the college level, but there is also the chance that Vann plays much bigger than his height on the next level similar to Sheldon Day. That is the risk that the Notre Dame staff is taking here and it would be extremely naive to think that they have not weighed all of this knowing very well it could backfire on them down the road.
There’s also the whole “decommitment” potential that could end up making the Irish regret backing away here. While Notre Dame has 11 commitments in the class of 2018 right now, we saw all to well this past cycle that decommitments could create a lot of room to fill in a class in a short period of time. If a few leaks start to spring during the season, expect this decision to be brought up a lot.
This is a gamble. No other way around it. If Notre Dame strikes out at rush end or in adding another defensive tackle, it could haunt this staff. If Notre Dame can keep up the recent momentum it”s built and fills those two needs with a pure pass rusher and say PJ Mustipher, well then we might all be looking back at this and applauding the staff. Only time will tell that.
One thing that this move definitely does tell us though, is that this staff is putting a lot of trust and faith in themselves – not just in their evaluation but in their ability to put up results this fall. They know full well that they need to win and win often this fall to keep this class together and close it out strong. If they don’t win, they may have bigger issues but that’s another topic.
Bottom line, however, is that a staff doesn’t cool on a composite 4-star defensive end unless it has a lot of confidence in their ability to put up the kind of results that will have them turning more 4-star prospects away down the road when they have filled the cupboard. Whether or not that confidence is well placed will only be determined by time.