If I had to pick one word to describe the 2019 recruiting effort it would be: professional.
It was known from the very beginning the class would be small. The Irish signed 27 players last season, they over-signed if you wish to call it that, and the scholarship numbers would be untenable if they did something like that again.
And while the class was going to be small, they still had needs to fill, mainly on the offensive line, defensive line, and in the secondary. Thus they had to be efficient in filling those spots, and they couldn’t simply address them with numbers. They couldn’t mess around with multiple offers or go “big game hunting” in other areas with flashy players. Identify the target that was realistic, secure the commitment, and move on to the next. And that is exactly what they did.
This class was largely filled before the team kicked off against Michigan, with just a few commitments in season, and possibly two more coming prior to the February signing period. They currently sit 13th nationally as a class, with a chance to move up to #11 if they sign four star defensive end Isaiah Foskey and four star linebacker Asa Turner (which could happen as soon as today). Of course, other schools have the chance to move up as well, so I’d say 13-15 is Notre Dame’s number. And that was always going to be the case, given the way Notre Dame set up their recruiting board.
There is a case to be made the Irish need more star power, and it’s a pretty persuasive case. They are again without a five star, and as of today they don’t have a single player in the top 100. (Safety Kyle Hamilton sits at #103 and is participating in the Army All-American bowl game, which could raise his stock. He’s already seen a huge jump in his ranking this year.)
Notre Dame wants to compete at the highest level, and they are their right now. But, eventually they’ll want to enter the playoff as favorites and not double digit underdogs. They’ll need to stack the roster with higher end talent to do that, and this class doesn’t quite get there. Notre Dame has built a playoff roster, but perhaps not yet a championship roster. (Hopefully I’m very wrong about this in a week.)
That said, this class could be a building block for that, and sets up the 2020 class to get over the hump.
Notre Dame Crushed The Offensive and Defensive Lines
Given the way recruiting goes with skill position players, if Notre Dame is going to win consistently they need to be better than people inside, on both sides of the ball. The last two years are a perfect encapsulation of that. Notre Dame was able to hang with Georgia because of a stellar front 7 on defense and a strong offensive line. Notre Dame has crushed USC inside two years in a row. They stifled Michigan with their defensive front. The greatest positive from the last two classes is Brian Kelly see that and have emphasized that.
Five of their top six recruits play either on the defensive line or the offensive line. All four of their offensive line haul are top 230 players, and they have a quartet of four star defensive linemen with a possible fifth in top 200 defensive end Isaiah Foskey. That is how you win consistently at Notre Dame.
The weakness in this class is the offensive skill positions. They don’t have any skill players rated as four stars, they signed zero tight ends, one quarterback, one running back, and two receivers. But, we’ve seen Notre Dame survive, even thrive, offensively with players who the recruiting services didn’t covet. And that tide could turn in 2020.
2019’s Success Is 2020’s Gain
Because the Irish coaches had locked in the 2019 class so early, they’ve been hitting 2020 very hard, which could lead to a boom in the skill areas.
They have already secured the commitments of the first and second ranked tight ends in the class in Michael Mayer (101st nationally) and Kevin Bauman (120th), to go along with 113th ranked quarterback Drew Pyne. They are in excellent position with athlete AJ Henning (51st), and wide receiver Jordan Johnson (47th). They are crystal balled at 50% with wide receiver Gee Scott Jr. (70th), and hold a 100% crystal ball prediction with athlete Enzo Jennings (95th).
The Irish staff has been on these guys for months, a huge head start when they’d normally be working to lock in the 2019 class.
It’s not uncommon to look at classes in two year strings, and that might be the best way to evaluate the 2019 group, coupled with 2020. Because it is unlikely the possible success of 2020 can happen without the 2019 class coming together the way it did.