Signing Day 2017 is still seven months away, but given the torrid start to the class of 2018, it’s hard not to get excited about the direction Brian Kelly and his staff have the Irish headed. Following Friday’s commitment of 4-star outside linebacker Ovie Oghoufo, Notre Dame’s class of 2018 already has five members rated with four or more stars.
I know some will gloss over this and groan about how commitments don’t mean anything any more and Signing Day is so far away and blah blah blah, but commitments have meant a lot more in Notre Dame recruiting lately. Prior to the loss of Robert Beal for the class of 2017, the only defections the Irish have had in the last two recruiting cycles have come because of academics issues and there’s only been two of them.
With that in mind, it’s OKAY to get excited about what is looking like it could be the best class of the Brian Kelly Era. Here’s a quick review of who the Irish have had pledge already.
- Phil Jurkovec – 5-star QB who many consider to be the best quarterback in the entire class of 2018.
- Markese Stepp – a 4-RB from Indiana who ran for 1,300 as a sophomore
- Justin Ademilola – 4-star OLB from Jersey City, NJ with offers from Georgia, Auburn, and Michigan
- Jayson Ademilola – 4-star DT and twin brother of Justin Ademilola with virtually the same offers
- Ovie Oghoufo – 4-star OLB from right under the nose of Jim Harbaugh and Michigan
So to recap, arguably the nation’s top quarterback, a 4-star in-state running back, a 4-star OLB who looks like he could grow into an elite pass rusher, a legit 4-star defensive tackle tipping the scales at 286 already, and a 4-star OLB Kelly and company were able to lure out of Michigan.
Add it all up and it’s a hell of a start. Since landing Brandon Wimbush, Notre Dame quarterback recruiting has been known more for it’s misses than hits. The Irish were very fortunate to land Avery Davis for the class of 2017 after long-time target Hunter Johnson decided to go elsewhere. Landing an elite quarterback like Jurkovec this early in a recruiting class is always a good indicator of a monster class. Elite recruits tend to follow other elite recruits – especially elite quarterbacks.
What might be most exciting about this fledgling class, however, is the elite defensive talent Notre Dame has landed. Notre Dame always has issues landing elite interior lineman making the commitment of Jayson Ademilola a huge coup for the Irish this early – especially with the recent commitment of 2017 DT Darnell Ewell. Ewell and Ademilola would give Notre Dame 4-star NT’s in back to back classes.
Justin Ademolila meanwhile could fill another void for Notre Dame where they have struggled in the past. Currently listed as a OLB, it’s possible he could grow into the type of edge rusher the Irish have struggled to land in the past. He enters his junior season listed at 225 lbs. It’s easy to imagine him adding on quite a few more lbs before he gets to Notre Dame especially when you consider his twin brother has already bulked up to over 280 lbs.
Notre Dame’s class of 2017 is filling up fast which will allow Kelly and his troops more time to focus on building on the foundation they have already paid for the class of 2018. A quick look at the current scholarship breakdown gives a glimpse of where those priorities should be for Kelly and his staff.
With 83 scholarship players currently and only nine combined players out of eligibility this year and 17 currently committed ’17 recruits for the class of 2017, obviously the Irish will not be asking a number of potential 5th year players back for next fall. Figuring in transfers and injury losses as well makes projecting next year’s scholarship count near impossible let alone two years out. Instead, let’s focus on where there are still gaps.
The offensive line will obviously have it’s yearly needs. Without a center in the class of ’16 and none committed in ’17, landing an elite center in ’18 looks like a need. Anyone want to bet Harry Hiestand won’t be able to land one of those easily? Didn’t think so.
Weakside defensive end has to be a priority. Notre Dame has struggle mightily there and even though Justin Ademolila could grow into that position, he could just as easily grow into a SDE. Simply put, Notre Dame needs to start finding pass rushers.
Safety and defensive tackle look like areas where the Irish will be in need of bodies by 2018 as well. Notre Dame loaded up on DT’s two years ago and safeties just this past February, but will be in need to reinforcements by 2018. Rounding out the linebacker depth chart looks like an obvious priority with two LB’s committed with room for more.
Signing Day 2018 is still an eternity away, but at this point the Irish are off the best start for any class under Brian Kelly. Maybe ever considering the recruiting calendar was never this advanced for previous Notre Dame coaches. Kelly and his staff have a long way to go til then, but early indications are this could be one of the best classes Notre Dame will sign under the watch of Brian Kelly.