Big Board: 2014 Projections

O'Malley's admittedly fluid target number for the 2014 recruiting cycle remains at 22 pledges, 10 of which have already announced their intentions to join the Irish next February.

There are a combined 23 seniors and 5th-year competitors on Notre Dame's 2013 roster. Subtract that total from 83 present scholarships (including incoming freshmen for '13) and Brian Kelly's program has 60 scholarships taken for the 2014 season.

Beginning with that number (60), Irisheyes.com 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, 65.

Four others are eligible, with Louis Nix (an NFL lock in good health), and backups Kendall Moore (ILB), Bruce Heggie (OL), and Luke Massa (WR) also potential fifth-year options following 2013.

Rather than presuming 65 scholarships, which makes for 20 open spots in the 2014 class, it makes more sense at an early stage to increase our original projection of 20 (as of first publication of the Big Board following National Signing Day), to 22, as attrition is likely.

In fact, such annual attrition already occurred as the Notre Dame program lost three players to transfer (all sophomores) and one to a medical hardship in senior Tate Nichols since the Big Board debuted on February 8.

At present, 10 of our projected 22 scholarships for the 2014 cycle are already accounted for, the most recent a pledge from four-star offensive lineman Alex Bars.

Below is a look at the team's remaining needs in this recruiting cycle, beginning with the offense. The number in parenthesis denotes my opinion of the program's need at each position for 2014, not necessarily its final number.

For a look at offensive players the Irish staff is, and will be targeting over the next eight months, check out Anna Hickey's Big Board rundown, here.

Offensive Line (4)

In addition to Bars' pledge last Friday, fellow four-stars Jimmy Byrne, Sam Mustipher, and Quenton Nelson have already announced for the Irish.

O'Malley Expects: The projected need has been filled, but with eight months remaining in the recruiting cycle, a fifth offensive linemen is not out of the question, even on the heels of the incoming quintet for 2012.

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 2012. For more on the offensive line's evolution at the program, click here.

Tight End (1)

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 xxx Nic Weishar, who's addition allows the Irish to avoid a depth issue two years from now.

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 -- will only occur if the prospect is at the top of the staff's board. Should the Irish stick with only Weishar for 2014, two tight ends would then be courted 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.

Running Back (1)

No 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 -- at the position 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 to the true freshman class for 2014. 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.

Wide Receiver (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 as prime Irish targets. The latter reality is a direct result of the March 2013 transfers of Neal and Ferguson.

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

2014 Wide Receivers: Senior DaVaris Daniels (eligible through 2015); juniors Chris Brown and C.J. Prosise (eligible through 2016); sophomores/redshirt-freshmen Corey Robinson, James Onwualu, Torii Hunter, Jr., and Will Fuller; incoming 2014 pledge Justin Brent. *Luke Massa is a potential 5th-year senior for 2014.

Quarterback (1) and Special Teams (0)

As a direct result of Gunner Kiel's transfer, three of the team's current quartet are likely to return in 2014: 5th-year Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson, and Malik Zaire.

O'Malley Expects: One in every class from here to eternity. If the Irish take two in 2014 or 2015, expect one of the pair to project or be capable of another position in college.

Punter (0): Notre Dame added preferred walk-on freshman punter Andrew Antognoli post-Signing Day 2013. Antognoli will likely receive a full season of evaluation before the staff pursues a potential punter prospect. Wake Forest transfer Alex Wulfeck will play his fifth and final season of college ball at Notre Dame as a preferred walk-on in 2013 as well.

Kicker (0): Junior-to-be Kyle Brindza is eligible through 2014. 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

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