Commits

In a key moment for the 2019 recruiting class, Notre Dame landed three star running back Kyren Williams out of Missouri today. The 5-10, 200 pounder also held offers from Michigan, Stanford, and Ohio State. He represents the first offensive skill position player to offer his verbal pledge, and helps a badly needed position at running back. Notre Dame has already lost Deon McIntosh and CJ Holmes, and will lose Dexter Williams following the 2018 season, leaving just three running backs on the roster who were recruited to play the position. In short, Notre Dame needed this badly.

Notre Dame Made Williams A Priority

Back in April, Notre Dame was set to land Chez Mellusi, running back from Florida, when he made his planned visit South Bend. The staff canceled that visit and set their sites on Williams, who they apparently felt was a better fit for their offense, despite Williams’ lower ranking. At the time, word had it that Williams was heavily leaning in their direction and the move away from Mellusi seemed to confirm that reporting. It got a little rocky from there.

There was some trepidation in recent weeks regarding Williams, with several other schools, Michigan most notably, making headway with the running back from Missouri. This represented a nightmare scenario for the Irish staff: losing out on both players. However, Williams visited the Notre Dame campus last weekend, and the staff was able to present Notre Dame in a way that shifted the tide toward the Irish. Williams quickly announced a commitment date, even with a planned visit to Michigan looming on the weekend, which he then canceled. Williams pulled the trigger for the Irish, and the plan came to fruition for the staff.

Kyren Williams The Player

With 922 rushing yards (on 9 ypc), and 51 receptions for 774 receiving yards, Williams’ skill set has been compared favorably to that of Theo Riddick, who took turns at running back and receiver while at Notre Dame. It’s unlikely Williams ever makes a move to the slot like Riddick did, the roster isn’t what it was when Kelly took over in 2010, but a similar role to Riddick circa 2012 is what the coaches have in mind.

Williams is a “but for his size” three star player to me. I thought of Shaun Crawford the same way coming out of high school. If Williams was actually 5-10 (he’s probably closer to 5-8) then he’s a four star prospect. But, he’s a smaller guy, and at his size, and the state he plays in, he needs to be considered really fast to warrant a higher ranking. That’s just how the services work.

When you watch his film, he’s got everything you want. He shows good vision on inside runs, power to lower his shoulder and break tackles, wiggle and jukes in space, and the speed to run away from defenders in the open field. He reminds me a lot of Golden Tate the way he’s able to absorb contact and brush it off, like “obviously this little tackle attempt on me isn’t going to work.”

He also plays with extreme confidence and competitiveness. It shows up in the clips of him playing receiver. He wants the jump balls and fights for them like he knows he’s going to get them. His hands are natural and is very comfortable catching a variety of passes, be it screens, corner routes, post routes, seem routes, or slant routes.

My favorite quality in Williams, and in any football player, is the impression that he is a natural at whatever position he plays. As if the position he is currently aligned is the one he was meant to play. He looks natural at running back and receiver. They put him on defense and he’s got great instincts at safety, when to make the big hit and when to make the interception. They send him on the blitz and he times it perfectly. It’s fun to watch players like that.

Bottom Line

Williams fits a major need and his skill set fits the multi-dimensional aspects of the position Chip Long is looking for out of his running backs. More highly thought of than either running back Notre Dame signed in 2018, so will likely be candidate for early playing time when he arrives next season. Notre Dame will be looking for at least one more back in this class, and given how versatile Williams is, that player can have whatever skillset the coaches like best. Williams can be a compliment to anyone.

Notre Dame continued its recruiting run on Monday with another big time commitment along the offensive line.  Zeke Correll – a 4-star OL from Cincinnati, Ohio – committed to the Irish on Monday over a host of elite programs including his home state Ohio State Buckeyes.

Notre Dame’s latest commitment, its 14th for the class of 2019 that now sits in the 247Sports Top 5, selected the Irish over offers from the aforementioned Buckeyes as well as Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, Michigan State, Oregon, Penn State, Stanford and a host of other big time programs.

247Sports ranks Correll as the #9 offensive guard in the country and the #5 prospect in the state of Ohio.  While he rated as a guard, his future at Notre Dame is at center according to what he told 247Sports.

“I’m going to play center and I will early enroll, so if I early enroll and come in at center, Sam Mustipher will be gone next year — he’s a true senior,” Correll said. “So if I come in and work hard at it, I have the potential chance to get in so I’m looking forward to learning the position.”

Notre Dame has not fared well in the Buckeye state in recent years with Urban Meyer owning his backyard.  The last recruit from Ohio with an offer from both Notre Dame and Ohio State to select the Irish was Liam Eichenberg in 2015 according to @andrewwinn.

This was yet another big time win for the Irish and new offensive line coach Jeff Quinn for more than just beating out Urbie for a change.  Correll joins an offensive line class that is shaping up to be one of the best of the Brian Kelly era.  And that is saying something considering the offensive linemen that Kelly and Harry Hiestand produced in their time together.

Notre Dame now has four commitments along the offensive line with Correll joining Quinn Carroll, John Olmstead, and Andrew Kristofic.  All but Kristofic are currently composite 4-star recruits and Kristofic is considered to have perhaps the most upside of the group.

Even with four top offensive linemen committed for 2019, Notre Dame will be looking to add a 5th lineman to round out the group and Saleem Wormley – another 4-star prospect – is right at the top of their wish list.  Wormley is currently ranked as the #103 overall prospect in the country according to Rivals.com.

Notre Dame has been on a bit of a recruiting run here in the last few weeks with 4-star LB Osita Ekwonu and 3-star LB Jack Kiser committing to Notre Dame last week and punter Jay Bramblett and 4-star DE NaNa Osafo-Mensah both committing within the last month.

Notre Dame’s already loaded defensive class for 2019 got a little more loaded on Thursday afternoon when 4-star LB Osita Ekwonu committed to the Irish.  Ekwonu, a top 200 overall prospect according to both 247Sports and Rivals, is the seventh 4-star prospect to commit to Notre Dame on the defensive side of the ball for 2019 already.

The commitment should not have come as much of a surprise to those following his recruitment closely.  Ekwonu visited Notre Dame three times overall including an official visit in April when he spent time with fellow Irish commitments Hunter Spears, Jacob Lacey, and NaNa Osafo Mensah.

According to 247Sports, Ekwonu is the #190 overall prospect in the country regardless of position and the #7 inside linebacker prospect for 2019.  Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Tennessee among other major D1 programs all offered Ekwonu a scholarship prior to his commitment to Notre Dame.

Just to reiterate, Notre Dame just beat out Alabama, Michigan, and Ohio State for a 4-star, top 200 linebacker prospect.

Osita Ekwonu is a rangy player who could play either outside or inside linebacker for the Irish during his career depending on how he develops in the weight room.  At 6’2″, 215 lbs currently he’ll need to fill out his frame more for either position but he has shown the ability to play in coverage if he lands on the outside.  Ekwonu moonlights as a running back for Providence Day HS (also the alma mater of defensive end Julian Okwara) in Charlotte giving a glimpse of his overall athletic ability.

As a running back, Ekwonu picked up 500 yards and ran for 13 touchdowns as a junior.  On the defensive side of the ball where he will ultimately play for the Irish, we racked up 101 tackles and 3 sacks.

With Ekwonu in the fold, Notre Dame now has seven 4-star commitments on defense and nine overall commitments on the defensive side of the ball alone.  He is also the second linebacker to commit to Notre Dame this week alone after in-state prospect Jack Kiser committed earlier in the week.

After adding four linebackers in 2018 – Jack Lamb, Shayne Simon, Bo Bauer, and Ovio Oghoufo – look for Notre Dame to try to add at least one more in addition to Ekwonu and Kiser.  Linebacker recruiting had been thin for the Irish for a years during the failed Brian Vangorder experiment but has picked up tremendously since the arrival of Clark Lea as first linebackers coach and now defensive coordinator following the 2016 season.

Punter recruiting is never very exciting, but if you need a punter, you might as well get the best punter in the country and that is what Notre Dame on Wednesday afternoon.  The Irish landed their 11th commitment for the class of 2019 when Jay Bramblett, considered by some the #1 punter in the country, committed to the Irish following an unofficial visit to South Bend this past weekend.

Kicking expert Chris Sailer ranks Bramblett as the best punter in the country and a “5-star” kicking prospect. Okay, make your snarky “at least Notre Dame got one 5-star recruit now” comment.  Done?  Okay, now onto Sailer’s assessment of Bramblett.

Jay is a big time high school punting prospect. A great looking athlete with an explosive leg. He has an ideal frame for a D1 college punter. Jay punts for outstanding distance and big hang time. He easily averages 45+ yards, with 4.6+ hang time. He also shows the ability to hit punts 50+ yards, with 5.0+ hang time. He has great hands, his footwork is solid and he is one of the most consistent punters in the nation. He is a great competitor that punts with confidence.
– Chris Sailer, ChrisSailerKicking.com

Bramblett, a Tuscaloosa, Alabama native, is ranked by 247 Sports as the #2 punter in the country.  Prior to committing to Notre Dame, Bramblett only held one offer from Missouri but was drawing interest from the likes of Alabama, Penn State, and LSU according to Irish Illustrated. Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t pick up more offers throughout the season as well as kicking specialists tend to get offered later than most other positions.

With Brmblett on board, Notre Dame now has 11 commitments for the class of 2019 and should be done recruiting specialists baring any unforeseen changes to the roster between now and February.

This Almost Certainly Means Jonathan Doerer is a Place Kicker

Notre Dame loses both kicking specialists after this year – Tyler Newsome, a rare punter team captain, and dependable place kicker Justin Yoon.  With sophomore Jonathan Doerer on the roster already and Bramblett now in the class of 2019, this almost certainly means that place kicking is in Doerer’s future after he came to Notre Dame as both a kicker and a punter in high school.

Notre Dame has preferred to have an individual specialist at each position during the Brian Kelly era even when they’ve had players capable of handling both duties.  As Bramblett has only been a punter, it’s safe to assume that Doerer likely will be focusing on place kicking moving forward just as he had as a freshman in 2017.

Both Newsome and Yoon will leave Notre Dame as four year starters and it is very possible that Bramblett could end up doing the same given the depth chart next season. Doerer played in seven games last fall as a kick-off specialist and could do the same this fall.

NAMESTARSPOSITIONHEIGHTWEIGHTSCHOOLPOS RANKOVERALL RANK
Zeke Correll OG6-4280Anderson HS
Cincinatti, OH
9171
Esita Okwonu LB6-2220Providence Day
Charlotte, NC
7191
Jack Kizer LB6-2215Pioneer HS
Royal Center, IN
55739
Jay Bramblett P6-2175Hillcrest HS
Tuscaloosa, AL
3N/A
NaNa Osafo-Mensah WDE6-4231Nolan Catholic
Fort Worth, TX
7105
Quinn Carroll OT6-6295Edina Senior
Minneapolis, MN
1387
Kyle Hamilton S6-3188Marist School
Atlanta, GA
54676
Andrew Kristofic OT6-6265Pine-Richard
Gibsonia, PA
45481
Howard Cross SDE6-2260St. Joseph Regional
Montvale, NJ
23306
Litchfield Ajavon S6-1185Episcopal HS
Alexandria, VA
12211
John Olmstead OT6-6290Saint Joseph
Metuchen, NJ
17160
Hunter Spears DT6-4280Sachse HS
Sachse, TX
18280
KJ Wallace CB5-10185Lovett School
Atlanta, GA
28331
Jacob Lacey DT6-2300South Warren
Bowling Green, KY
9141

Notre Dame picked up one of its biggest commitments for the class of 2019 thus far on Saturday afternoon at a major position of need when NaNa Osafo-Mensah – a 4-star weakside defensive end – committed to Notre Dame over Texas.  Osafo-Mensah is now the 10th – and easily one of the most important – commitment for the class of 2019for the Irish.

Notre Dame has struggled to land pure pass rushers in the last few recruiting cycles, but they sure found one in the 6’4′, 230 lbs prospect out of Fort Worth, Texas.  NaNa Osafo-Mesah has played both outside linebacker and defensive end and looks to be, on paper at least, a perfect fit for Notre Dame’s DROP position currently being filled by Daelin Hayes. Notre Dame did well in starting to fill their need at the position add a consensus 4-star player in the 247Sports composite rankings and the #105 overall prospect and #7 weakside DE in the country.

How NaNa Osafo-Mensah Ended up at Notre Dame

The Notre Dame staff got Osaf0-Mesah on campus for junior day in January and started to turn the tide in this recruitment.  From that point on, the Irish were in the driver’s seat.  Shortly after that visit, Mensah decided to take advantage of the new early official rules and set an official visit for the spring at Notre Dame.

On top of his offer from Notre Dame, Osafo-Mensah held offers from the likes of Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Florida, Texas A&M, and USC.  This has been primarily a two team race, however, with Notre Dame and Texas being named finalists last month.

It was not an easy recruitment for Notre Dame from then until now though.  In-state powerhouse Texas fought tooth and nail with Notre Dame in this race and actually appeared to have pulled ahead of the Irish at the end of March prior to his official visit to Notre Dame on April 15.  His Notre Dame official visit, however, appeared to have reminded Osafo-Mensah of why the Irish were his leader in the first place.

This was an excellent job of recruiting by both Mike Elston and Clark Lea to pull an elite defensive end out of Texas and fill a major position of need.  One that they have failed to adjacently address in recent years.  There is also the tiny bit of revenge factor towards former defensive coordinator Mike Elko with the in-state Aggies not even factoring into the decision of one of the state’s elite defensive prospects.

How NaNa Osafo-Mensah Fits at Notre Dame

To say Notre Dame has struggled to address the DROP position in recent years would be an understatement.  While the Irish have done a pretty good job at the strong side defensive end position, the weak-side (DROP) has been a struggle.  Osafo-Mensah fits the bill though.

The current depth chart at DROP looks as follows for Notre Dame:

  1. Daelin Hayes (6’4″, 264) – JR
  2. Julian Okwara (6’4.5″, 230 lbs) – JR
  3. Kofi Wardlow (6’2.5″, 240) – SO (5th year eligible)

And that is it although junior Jamir Jones could play here as well even though he is listed as the 3rd SDE.  Ade Ogundeji has also played at WDE in his career despite being listed as the backup SDE to Khalid Kareem following the transfer of Jay Hayes.  What this list shows, however, is that Notre Dame might have some bodies here but they are short of production.  Daelin Hayes is a potential breakout player for Notre Dame in 2018 but outside of him and Okwara who inexplicably was 10 lbs lighter this spring after already looking too lean for the position, there are a lot of question marks for the Irish.

When Osafo-Mensah arrives on campus the situation could look drastically different if say Hayes does explode this fall and decides to leave early or if Wardlow and Ogundeji – both developmental players – make huge strides this fall.  As long as Osafo-Mensah continues to grow and develop, however, he will have an excellent opportunity to be an instant impact player for Notre Dame.

The Irish now have four defensive linemen committed for 2019 all of which are four star prospects. Rounding out the line commitments as of now are Hunter Spears and Jacob Lacey on the inside and Hunter Cross at the SDE.  Look for Notre Dame to continue to look at add another pass rush though given the struggles they have had at the position the last few years.

Notre Dame is putting together some kind of defensive recruiting class for 2019 and they added to their haul on Sunday with one of the best defensive ends in the country – Howard Cross III.  Cross, a recent recipient of a Notre Dame scholarship offer, is Notre Dame’s third 4-star defensive line commitment already for the class of 2019.

Notre Dame has had an impressive week on the recruiting trail.  In addition to adding Cross on Sunday, the Irish picked up commitments from 4-star safety Litchfield Ajavon on Saturday and 4-star offensive lineman John Olmstead on Friday.

Like Olmstead, Cross comes to Notre Dame from New Jersey (Montvalle, NJ in this case) in a year in which the Garden State is loaded with talent.  247 Sports rates Cross as a composite 4-star prospect and the #19 SDE in the country while checking in just inside the 247 top 247 at #246.  All of Notre Dame’s six current commitments rate as 4-star players on 247 and all but KJ Wallace are within the current Top 247.

Cross gives Notre Dame three 4-star lineman on the defensive side of the ball alone for 2019 joining Hunter Spears and Jacob Lacey .  Cross is the first of the DL in the class to project as an outside player.  Spears is listed as a defensive end, but will most likely play on the inside at the collegiate level.  Strong-side defensive end, however, is where Cross projects once he arrives on campus.

Notre Dame only offered Cross a scholarship on April 3, but one visit was all it took to get him to pull the trigger and select the Irish over the likes of Boston College, Virginia Tech, Michigan, NC State, and Tennessee.

Even with three commitments on the defensive line among the six current members of the class of 2019, don’t expect Notre Dame to slow down recruiting the position.  The Irish staff is still looking to add another SDE in addition to adding one or two weakside defensive ends as well.

Cross comes to Notre Dame with an impressive lineage.  His father Howard Cross was a tight end for the New York Giants from 1989 until 2001.  The elder Cross, an Alabama alum, has spent his post playing career in broadcasting for various New York sports outlets such as YES.

You have to like what Notre Dame has done recruiting so far this year – especially on the defensive line now that the Irish staff has secured commitments from three4-star prospects.  The Irish have struggled recruiting the defensive line over the last few years – at least in terms of volume – though they have landed a few impact linemen along the way.  The class of 2019 is shaping up to have both depth and talent though and there are still numerous highly rated linemen considering the Irish.