Big Board: Trio of Targets?

More than half of the fluid target number of 23 pledges for Notre Dame's current recruiting cycle are onboard. Our latest Big Board update looks at what the program needs offensively to complete its 2014 class, including an influx of talent on the perimeter.

Below is a look at the team's remaining needs in this recruiting cycle, beginning with the offense. For a review of offensive players the Irish staff is, and will be targeting over the next six months, check out Anna Hickey's Big Board rundown, here.

Offensive Line (4 Necessary and Filled)

In addition to four-star Alex Bars' pledge last month, a trio of other four-stars Jimmy Byrne, Sam Mustipher, and Quenton Nelson had already announced for the Irish.

O'Malley Expects: The projected need has been filled, but with more than six months remaining in the recruiting cycle, a fifth offensive linemen is not out of the question, even on the heels of the program's incoming quintet for 2013.

Before scoffing at another five-spot in this cycle as a possibility, consider the following: five total OL pledges would give head coach Brian Kelly just 12 over the last three seasons. If recent history is any indication, at least two of those 12 won't be part of this conversation or the O-Line's equation two years from now. (Lost from the program since 2011 are transfer Jordan Prestwood and medical casualties Tate Nichols and Brad Carrico.)

Its unlikely the program will be caught shorthanded up front as it was in both 2011 and 2012.

2014 Offensive Linemen: Expected 5th-year senior Christian Lombard (T), seniors Nick Martin (C/G), Matt Hegarty ©, and Conor Hanratty (G), juniors Ronnie Stanley (T) and Mark Harrell (G/C), sophomores Hunter Bivin (G/C), Steven Elmer (T), Mike McGlinchey (T), Colin McGovern (G), and John Montelus (G/C), plus incoming freshmen Alex Bars, Jimmy Byrne, Sam Mustipher, and Quenton Nelson.

Though not projected in our number (5) of fifth-year seniors for 2014, its not implausible career reserve Bruce Heggie (G/C/DL) could be brought back to ensure competitive practice situations and a three-deep offensive line (or scrimmage swing player) as well.

Tight End (1 -- Need filled)

Each of the team's five tight ends on scholarship are eligible through 2014; only three from that group will be around in 2015. Notre Dame already landed its mandatory prospect in Marist High School (Chicago) product Nic Weishar, whose addition helps the Irish to avoid a depth issue two years from now, Weishar's potential redshirt-freshman season.

O'Malley Expects: Weishar's pledge fills the team's projected need. A second tight end could join if the staff is concerned with depth for 2015, when current juniors Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack as well as senior Alex Welch should all exhaust eligibility, leaving a three-veteran hit at the position.

Adding a Big Skill athlete -- a player that could serve at multiple position (tight end being one) --wouldn't hurt. But the addition of another true tight end, a one-position player, should only occur if the prospect is at the top of the staff's board. Enter La Mirada High School (La Mirada, Calif.) four-star prospect Tyler Luatua.

Should the Irish stick with only Weishar for 2014, two tight ends would then be mandatory for 2015.

2014 Tight Ends: Expected 5th-year senior Alex Welch; seniors Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack; sophomores/redshirt-freshmen Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe; incoming 2014 pledge Nic Weishar.

Only another major injury would preclude Welch, highly respected by the staff for his physical presence and a potential starter for 2013, a fifth-season return for 2014.

Running Back (1 -- Luxury/Need Filled)

I don't believe a running back was necessary in terms of overall numbers, but the Irish added an elite player with the pledge of North Carolina four-star, Elijah Hood. Since all elite athletes will be welcomed by the staff, another 'back could join, forcing some serious competition -- not to mention decisions -- regarding and among the position's combatants for 2014.

O'Malley Expects: I'm not sure a second 'back will join the cycle. Such a pledge would make an eight-man running back corps for the 2014 squad and entering fall 2013, Notre Dame's top running back talent will be in its junior (George Atkinson, Amir Carlisle, Cam McDaniel) and freshmen (Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston) classes. In other words, they all return.

Hood brings immense talent as a true freshman. Should another 'back join, he'll need thick skin and a desire to compete on a daily basis. Any 'back targeted below the upper echelon would be signed as a player capable of playing multiple positions (CB, S, slot receiver, etc.).

2014 Running Backs: Seniors George Atkinson III, Cam McDaniel, and Amir Carlisle (Carlisle is eligible through 2015); junior Will Mahone (eligible through 2016); sophomores/redshirt-freshmen Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, incoming 2014 pledge Elijah Hood.

If 2014 'backs enter the season in wait-and-see mode, the bulk could be scared off by the emergence of one, two, or even three current Irish backs, because all return next fall and most return for 2015 as well. Should for example, Atkinson, Carlisle, and Bryant and/or Folston shine, and with Hood already in the fold, playing time in 2014 would seem tough to come by for most potential pledges.

Wide Receiver (1 -- Need 3)

Three-star Speedway, Indiana native (Speedway HS) Justin Brent pledged on July 9, 2012. Since, the Irish have lost two varsity targets in sophomores Davonte' Neal and Justin Ferguson, and endured a major injury (broken femur) to 2013 incoming freshman Torii Hunter, Jr.

O'Malley Expects: One more top tier prospect, then at least one more pledge, regardless if the prospect started the cycle among prime Irish targets. As of today, and not including little-used former quarterback Luke Massa, who's eligible for a fifth season, the Irish would open 2014 with eight receivers (including Brent); two more are thus mandatory and a third with of course be welcomed.

Among potential 2014 receivers, only two: Chris Brown and DaVaris Daniels, have played in a college game.

O'Malley Expects: At least two more without fail. Notre Dame will definitively land three wide receiver prospects this cycle -- pedigree yet-to-be-determined, of course. Three might be ideal (rather than four) since four joined the fray for 2013, as seven receivers in a two-year span is a recipe for transfer.

Look for four-star St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) prospect Corey Holmes to pledge Irish prior to the start of training camp.

QB (1) and Special Teams (0 Projected -- 1 pledged)

Four-star Toledo (Central Catholic HS), Ohio prospect DeShone Kizer pledged Irish on June 11. He'll join 2013 early enrollee Malik Zaire as one of two certainties next fall. Everett Golson is expected to return to the University for the 2014 spring semester and we've projected 5th-year senior Andrew Hendrix to remain with the program for an additional season as well.

O'Malley Expects: One in every class from here to eternity. If the Irish take another in 2014, or two triggermen in 2015, expect him to project or be capable of another position in college. The addition of Kizer last month likely ends quarterback recruitment for 2014.

Punter: I didn't feel one was necessary but the Irish landed a strong K/P prospect in Carrollton High School (Carrollton, GA) prospect Tyler Newsome. Notre Dame likewise added preferred walk-on freshman punter Andrew Antognoli post-Signing Day 2013 and I thus expected Antognoli would receive a full season of evaluation before the staff pursued a potential punter prospect. Now extensive competition is guaranteed for 2014, with punter hopeful and current Irish kicker Kyle Brindza eligible for two more seasons.

Kicker: Newsome does both; Brindza is eligible through 2014, and Notre Dame added preferred walk-on freshman kicker John Chereson after Signing Day 2013.

Long-Snapper (0): Redshirt-freshman Scott Daly has four seasons of eligibility remaining.

O'Malley Expects: Unless Newsome and Antognoli fail spectacularly in the next 18 months, the program does not need a punter/kicker prospect until at least the 2016 cycle.

Note: Tomorrow -- a look at the program's needs on defense following Anna Hickey's Big Board breakdown of the staff's top targets.

Why 23 for 2014?

There are a combined 23 seniors and 5th-year competitors on Notre Dame's 2013 roster. Subtract that total from 82 present scholarships for the upcoming season and head coach Brian Kelly's program has 59 non-graduate scholarships taken for the 2014 campaign.

Beginning with that number (59), expects at least five 2013 seniors -- RT Christian Lombard, QB Andrew Hendrix, TE Alex Welch, CB Lo Wood, and S Austin Collinsworth -- to apply for and be granted a fifth season of eligibility. That would make the number of scholarships taken for the 2014 season, 64. Add to that number Everett Golson, expected to rejoin the program for the spring semester after serving a semester expulsion, and 65 of the team's 85 spots for 2014 are likely accounted for.

Rather than presuming 65 scholarships, which makes for 20 open spots in the 2014 class, it makes more sense to account for additional attrition in the ranks over the next six-plus months. A healthy dose of this annual attrition has already occurred as the Notre Dame program lost three players to transfer (all sophomores), one to a medical hardship in senior Tate Nichols, one to expulsion, and one for failure to honor his letter of intent since our initial Big Board debuted on February 8.

At present, 13 of our projected 23 scholarships for the 2014 cycle are already accounted for, the most recent a pledge from outside linebacker/defensive end prospect, Jonathan Bonner.

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