Grading on a Curve: Defensive Line

Brian Kelly's third full Irish recruiting class is complete, with 24 members joining between September 2011 and National Signing Day 2013. presents its grades for the class, position-by-position, with a focused eye toward both last year's 17-player haul and the team's needs for the upcoming 2014 cycle. Our sixth position unit graded: Defensive Line.

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2013 D-Line Grade -- B+

A five-star standout capable of playing inside. A four-star athletic prospect on the edge. A four-star TE/DE ready to convert full-time to the defensive side of scrimmage.

Notre Dame finished with a quality defensive line haul for 2013, one with upside to boot, but I feel it fell a player short at the sport's most important position. Matuska is a four-star tight end that appears a good bet to become a solid, long-armed, athletic defensive end with expected collegiate seasoning and strength. But the present reality is that the third "defensive lineman" to sign with Notre Dame will be forced to learn a new position.

I've long advocated the signing of two interior DL products to augment Isaac Rochell and Matuska. The Irish signed one -- a potentially great one in five-star Eddie Vanderdoes -- but another large-bodied athlete, even a major project, would have put this defensive line haul over the top and in the solid A range.

I'd have preferred to see a fourth and have a feeling Brian Kelly and his staff would have as well.

Quote to Note: "We'll need to continue to recruit certainly (at offensive line), but on the defensive line, as well. I think the O-Line and D-Line will be areas that we'll continue to work towards. And then I think you look at who your guys are in '13 to start to match your depth needs. But I still think this is going to be centered in 2014 on the O line and D line."
-- Kelly on his 2014 recruiting focus

2013 Grade Coupled with 2012 -- B-

Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones were the only true defensive linemen inked last season. Day has already proven he can play, and Jones' body (length, frame) shows immense promise. A killer-instinct appears the missing link for the latter, to date.

That's five defensive linemen over a two-season cycle -- at least one short of a healthy number for a title contending team.

Post National Signing Day grades don't take into account sleeper potential of recruits, and four-star edge player Isaac Rochell could develop enough by 2014 to alleviate current concerns regarding the position's future place among the nation's best, championship quality programs.

Necessary additions for 2014 as a result: Three, and in this case, three true defensive linemen, not two DE plus an edge rusher that could bulk up from Cat 'backer-size in Bob Diaco's defensive scheme.

Notre Dame has Ishaq Williams, Anthony Rabasa, Romeo Okwara, and possibly 2013 signee Doug Randolph as its Cat 'backers for 2014 and beyond (all but Williams is eligible through at least 2015.) The position can thus take a one-cycle break in its recruitment.

Notre Dame's multiple front (it played a 4-3 nearly twice as much as a 3-4 last season) necessitates that defensive ends as well as defensive tackles/nose guards continue to join the fray -- true scrimmage-wrecking defensive linemen, not hybrids and hopefuls -- if they want to compete with the SEC for college football championships.

If winning games vs. the middle tier of the Big 10 and ACC, but losing to the nation's best is enough, Notre Dame has plenty of front-line talent on hand to finish 10-3 for the foreseeable future.

Why more bodies matter: The loss of 5-star defensive end Aaron Lynch to transfer, coupled with the near certainty that eligible 5th-year senior Louis Nix will leave for the NFL next April, and the chance that 2014 senior-to-be Stephon Tuitt could do the same, made the Signing Day addition of a talent such as Vanderdoes mandatory.

Now more bodies are needed to begin the new era up front at Notre Dame, one for which Vanderdoes, Jones, Rochell, Tony Springmann (eligible through 2015) and potentially Chase Hounshell (also eligible through 2015), will play a major part by the beginning of the 2014 spring session.

Were needs filled at DL over the last two seasons?

Reasonable minds can disagree, but this one offers, "No."

But that can be easily addressed with a D-Line emphasis for 2014, or simply if Tuitt decides to finish his fourth season in South Bend, something we'll likely not know for another 11 months.

Again: Notre Dame's defensive line can hold up and defeat 98 percent of its opponents. Its the other two percent that could continue to be an issue on the season's final night if the 2014 cycle doesn't yield major dividends. Top Stories