When Brian Kelly and his Notre Dame coaching staff set out to address needs with the recruiting class of 2014, linebacker was at the top of the list of their needs. Assuming the Irish linebacker class remains fully intact, Kelly and co did an excellent job addressing those needs with one of the nation’s best linebacker classes according to 247 Sports.
247 Sports ranked their top 5 linebacker classes to this point in the class of 2014 and the Irish came in at #5 on their countdown behind Ohio State, Alabama, Florida State, and Tennessee. That is not bad company to be apart of when it comes to linebackers – three of the four finished the season in the top 10 including national champion Florida State.
Here’s a quick rundown of the four linebackers Notre Dame currently has committed that 247 based their evaluation off of.
- Nyles Morgan – The headliner of the class. Morgan is a consensus Top 100 caliber linebacker with an impressive offer list and the skill to be a starter at some point in his career for pretty much any team in the country. Morgan will challenge for playing time at a minimum from day one and could find himself in the starting lineup by the end of the year similar to the way Manti Te’o was worked into the lineup in 2009.
- Nile Sykes – Doesn’t come in with quite the resume of fellow Chicagoland native Morgan, but has just as much potential. Sykes rankings were a bit bullish because he playing primarily with his hand on the ground in high school and will need to adjust to dropping into coverage before he is fully ready to a prominent role in the defense. Lot of potential here from Sykes but will need some time working with VanGorder to adjust to inside linebacker.
- Richard Yeargin – Probably the most physicially gifted linebacker of the group with the best sideline to sideline speed. Will need some time in the weight room but has the ability to be a great pass rusher from the linebacking corps. Would be surprising if Yeargin wasn’t able to make an impact on special teams at least next year.
- Greer Martini – First commitment of the class of 2014 who has the size to provide depth immediately for Notre Dame given the depth concerns at inside backer for Notre Dame in 2014.
247 didn’t include Jhonny Williams or Kolin Hill in their list because they project both as defensive ends, but depending on the defense that new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder implements for the Irish, they both could be pass rushing, outside linebackers with their frames – similar to Prince Shembo. Factor both of those two into Notre Dame’s class and this year’s crop of linebackers has a chance to be very special – especially since both Hill and Williams have a chance to be much better players than their rankings suggest if they develop to their potential.
The timing for Notre Dame’s successful run at linebacker could not have been better. Notre Dame struggled to replace Manti Te’o this year and will be replacing three starters next season with Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox, and Prince Shembo all exhausting their eligibility this year. Throw in injuries to Jarrett Grace and Doug Randolph that will force the pair to miss all contact drills in the spring and Notre Dame needed an influx of talent, youth, and athleticism at the position.
Consider this group of backers mission accomplished for Kelly and staff.
Aside from just filling out numbers with this class, Notre Dame has significantly upgraded their athleticism at the position. Calabrese and Fox had very solid careers for Notre Dame, but they were more old school, physical linebackers as opposed to more new age, athletic playmakers similar to 2013 freshman phenom Jaylon Smith. This year’s group might not feature a complete physical freak like Jaylon Smith since athletes as big, strong, and fast as Smith are a rare commodity, but they do significantly upgrade the athleticism at the position for the Irish.
Now it will be up to Brian VanGorder and the Notre Dame defensive coaching staff to turn all of the athleticism and potential that Notre Dame is infusing into the linebacking corps into production. VanGorder’s track record suggests that he will be more than up to the task, but only time will tell if 247’s high opinion of Notre Dame’s 2014 linebacker recruits is on the mark.