Though not as impressive on paper as last year's collection of 18 Top 300 prospects that inked Irish among Notre Dame's 24 total pledges on National Signing Day 2013, Kelly's current crop ranks sixth nationally entering the final three weeks of recruitment. The Irish were slotted third per Scout.com prior to the early-January defection of defensive line prospect, Matt Dickerson (#189).
Kelly's current class officially includes 22 pledges with a 23rd, Isaiah McKenzie, pending admission and a January 31 visit to the University.
To date, Notre Dame has pledges from one five-star (LB Nyles Morgan, #34) and a whopping 15 four-star prospects, 13 of which placed in the Top 300.
Top 300 Irish -- 2014Still in play among the final Scout.com Top 300 as potential additions to the 2014 Irish recruiting class are S Juju Smith (#8, Long Beach, CA), WR Micah Quick (#48, Fresno, CA), and DT Daniel Cage (#165, Cincinnati).
(Join our Football Forum Discussion Thread on Notre Dame's Top 300 qualifiers.)
Former Irish pledges to jump ship include #29 OLB Sam Hubbard, who committed to the Notre Dame Lacrosse team but will now play linebacker for Urban Meyer at Ohio State, #55 RB Elijah Hood (home state North Carolina-bound), and the aforementioned Dickerson, who changed to UCLA on January 9. Notre Dame assistant coach and newly minted offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock will visit the former Irish pledge who's switch of allegiance was purportedly due in large part to a family matter.
#34 MLB Nyles Morgan (6'3" 225) Crete, IL (Crete-Monee HS) -- Joins a thin inside linebackers unit and is expected to immediately challenge for a two-deep role.
#46 OT Quenton Nelson (6'5" 295) Red Bank, NJ (Red Bank Catholic HS) -- The top-ranked of four offensive linemen in the class (each a member of the Top 300), Nelson could earn his initial playing time at guard before settling in at either guard or tackle.
#64 WR Justin Brent (6'2" 195) Speedway, IN (Speedway Senior HS) -- One of two freshmen already on campus as January enrollees along with defensive line prospect Andrew Trumbetti (#166). Brent pledged to Kelly's Irish in July of 2012.
#91 DE Grant Blankenship (6'6" 251) The Colony, TX (The Colony HS) -- Rivals Brent as the biggest riser among Scout.com's ranks over the calendar year. The rangy athlete projects as a hybrid outside 'backer or defensive end when the Irish show a 4-3 defensive alignment.
#134 OG Sam Mustipher (6'3" 286) Olney, MD (Our Lady Good Counsel HS) -- Seems the most likely candidate among the nine offensive linemen to ink Irish over the last two cycles to find a future home at center in South Bend. (Each of the nine ranked as Scout.com Top 300 selections).
#166 DE Andrew Trumbetti (6'5" 250) Demarest, NJ (Northern Valley Reg. Demarest) -- January enrollment and a dearth of healthy and/or proven bodies up front give Trumbetti a chance to contribute as a true freshman next fall. Each of Kelly's four classes enjoyed defensive line aid from one or more rookies: Kona Schwenke (2010), Aaron Lynch, Chase Hounshell, and Stephon Tuitt (2011), Sheldon Day (2012), and Isaac Rochell (2013).
#171 OLB Drew Tranquill (6'2" 209) Fort Wayne, IN (Carroll HS) -- Athlete could play outside or inside 'backer or safety over the next four seasons. Special teams are a safe bet for Year One as the the Irish attempt to upgrade sluggish coverage units.
#195 OLB Richard Yeargin (6'4" 225) Fort Lauderdale, FL (University School of Nova S) -- Could play any of four linebacker positions for the Irish and is unlikely to remain at one, a testament to his versatility.
#200 WR Corey Holmes (6'2" 176) Fort Lauderdale, FL (St. Thomas Aquinas HS) -- Along with Brent, joins a youth-filled receiving corps with no competitors from the eight-player collection exhausting eligibility following 2014.
#202 OT Alex Bars (6'6" 309) Nashville, TN (Montgomery Bell Academy) -- Should earn the recommended season of weight training and scout team seasoning with three former top 300 offensive linemen capable of competing at tackle next fall (Ronnie Stanley, 2012 and Steven Elmer, Mike McGlinchey 2013, each detailed below).
#205 CB Nick Watkins (6'1" 188) Dallas (Bishop Dunne HS) -- The lone cornerback prospect for 2014 after the Irish brought in a trio last fall including immediate contributor Cole Luke (#185) and Devin Butler.
#211 OG Jimmy Byrne (6'4" 285) Cleveland (St. Ignatius HS) -- The first of four offensive linemen to pledge Irish (December 2012 following the team's banquet honoring the then top-ranked Irish), Byrne's immediate future appears along the line's interior.
#233 DT Jay Hayes (6'5" 272) Brooklyn, NY (Poly Prep CDS) -- Preceded Byrne's commitment by a month (Nov. 7, 2012) and like Trumbetti, has a chance to make an early depth chart dent next fall.
#263 QB DeShone Kizer (6'5" 205) Toledo, OH (Central Catholic HS) -- The most likely prospect among the group to be withheld from action in 2014 as the staff attempts to put an extra season of eligibility between Kizer and former Top 300 QB recruit, Malik Zaire (#172), who did not appear in a game for the Irish last fall.
A Look Back: 2013 Top 300 IrishJaylon Smith (#3), Eddie Vanderdoes (#9), John Montelus (#51), Max Redfield (#57) Greg Bryant (#70), Steven Elmer (#74), Mike McGlinchey (#90), Colin McGovern (#133), Isaac Rochell (#153), Durham Smythe (#170), Malik Zaire (#172), Will Fuller (#179), Hunter Bivin (#184), Cole Luke (#185), Tarean Folston (#198), Mike Heuerman (#245), James Onwualu (#296), Jacob Matuska (#299).
Vanderdoes later petitioned out of his signed letter of intent to attend UCLA where he became a consensus first-team Freshman All-America selection. Onwualu, Folston, Luke, Fuller, Rochell, Elmer, Bryant, Redfield, and Smith each played for Kelly as rookies last fall with Smith starting 13 games and Onwualu, Folston, Fuller, Elmer, and Redfield also earning starting assignments.
2012 Top 300 IrishGunner Kiel (#38), Tee Shepard (#39), Sheldon Day (#50), Elijah Shumate (#55), Ronnie Stanley (#66), Davonte Neal (#74), Will Mahone (#201), Keivarae Russell (#207), Jarron Jones (#229), C.J. Prosise (#276).
Kiel, Shepard, and Neal since transferred, the former pair never playing a down in South Bend. Day, Shumate, Stanley, RUssell, Jones, and Prosise have all started multiple game (between 2 and 26) for Kelly's Irish.
2011 Top 300 IrishAaron Lynch (#10), Ishaq Williams (#20), Ben Koyack (#25), Stephon Tuitt (#44), Troy Niklas (#75), Matt Hegarty (#105), DaVaris Daniels (#161), Eilar Hardy (#175), Jarrett Grace (#235), Everett Golson (#254).
Lynch transferred following a standout freshman season while Tuitt and Niklas both declared this month for the 2014 NFL Draft. Golson was suspended for the fall of 2013 while Daniels is suspended for the current spring semester, expected to return to the playing field next fall.
Golson, Daniels, Koyack, Williams, Grace, Hegarty, and Hardy have all earned starts and project as starters or key reserves next season.
2010 Top 300 IrishChristian Lombard (#62), Matt James (#91), Louis Nix (#102), Alex Welch (#111), T.J. Jones (#138), Kona Schwenke (#267).
Nix, Jones, and Schwenke each hold legitimate NFL aspirations with Nix projected as a first-round selection. Schwenke committed to Kelly following the coach's move from Cincinnati. Welch plans to seek a fifth season of eligibility at Cincinnati. Lombard is expected to return to the University for his fifth and final season of eligibility in 2014 after having his 2013 season truncated by a back injury in late-October. James tragically passed in April, 2010.
Note: Click here to visit Irisheyes.com recruiting analyst Anna Hickey's recruiting timeline.
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