As a writer for a site that covers Notre Dame recruiting year round, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of who is on the team’s radar. I certainly think I have an idea of who is about to commit or who is most likely to commit in the near future. Three star running back from North Carolina Jahmir Smith slapped those assumptions down with his surprise commitment to the Notre Dame class earlier this week. When his announcement broke I actually had to scramble to find film of him, I literally hadn’t even seen him play.
I figured if I didn’t know much about Smith, then neither did the casual fan, so a player breakdown was definitely in order.
Jahmir Smith’s Film
It turns out Smith flying under the radar as a Notre Dame recruit was no accident. He’s not the talkative type on social media or with recruiting services. He visited Notre Dame unofficially on July 17th with little fanfare, again of his own volition, and didn’t do any interviews following the visit–a visit he clearly enjoyed very much.
He’s also a phenomenal student to go along with his athletic ability. In addition to offers from football schools such as USC, Tennessee, North Carolina, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, he also holds offers from Harvard, Princeton, and Brown.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick spoke recently with Irish Illusrated about the need to find the right fit at Notre Dame just as much as the right talent. It appears Jahmir Smith is a perfect example of what he was talking about.
Smith is a 6’0, 200 pound player with a down hill running style a la whatever former running back you think that applies to best. The title of his YouTube highlight tape is literally “Jahmir Smith is a Downhill Force” so we are going all in on his running style. Most people I’ve seen liken him to Robert Hughes, there have been a few Jonas Gray’s. Personally I see a Frank Gore type of slasher, although his actual style, with smooth feet and a lack of high knees, reminds me more of Willis McGahee. For some reason, a combination of early 2000’s Miami Hurricane running backs is where I’m going with this, but I stand by it.
Jahmir Smith doesn’t have the long speed that would make him a four or five star player. He generally doesn’t hit the home run. What he does have is a one-cut and go running style and is very comfortable running between the tackles, if not most comfortable doing so.
He likes to get through the hole and then bounce it, mostly to his right, which I’m not sure how much will translate in college since it won’t be as easy to get around the corner against division 1 linebackers, but that is a conversation for another time.
He was extremely productive as a junior, running for over 2,100 yards and 40 touchdowns on 6.7 yards a carry. He wasn’t used much in the passing game, only 7 receptions for 117 yards, so that’s something to monitor as the Chip Long offense likes to use its backs as receivers.
The thing that stands out most about Smith is his leg strength. He easily sheds arm tackles and slips off of even direct hits with a slight shimmy to mitigate the impact. When coming off or slipping tackles he’s able to get right back into his gait and heading upfield. This is a skill of his, it’s not simply a product of playing against inferior competition, and will likely translate onto the next level as he gets bigger and stronger (he reportedly already has a 580 pound squat, which sounds like a lot). It’s similar to tackling. If a player has a knack to be a good tackler in high school, that player is likely to continue that throughout his career. I feel the same about Smiths ability to break tackles.
By the time Smith hits campus, running backs Josh Adams and Dexter Williams will be seniors, Tony Jones Jr. will have three years of eligibility and CJ Holmes will have either three or four years left, depending on playing time this season. Smith will also come in with fellow running back Markese Stepp in the 2018 class.
Smith, Stepp, and Jones Jr. are most similar in style with Holmes more of a all-purpose type of player. It seems the new Irish staff is looking for a bigger, downhill type of back for the offense with a sprinkling of slashing and dancing from a player like Holmes.
Chip Long has experience dealing with a depth chart like this at running back from his time at Arizona State, and Smith fits in perfectly with that scheme and style of play.