For a look at the senior, junior, and sophomore class reviews, click the links below:
Pressed into action in droves over the last two seasons, Notre Dame's juniors- and sophomores-to-be heavily populate the team's two-deep depth chart entering 2015. With precious little room at the Inn, both in terms of remaining roster spots and realistic first-year impact, below is a look at two crucial questions to be answered for the 2015 cycle -- one by National Signing Day, the other next September, October, and November.
NEW SENSATIONS, OR "FRESHMEN"?
A player recruited to start, another recruited as a star.
Kicker Justin Yoon and Alize Jones -- light years removed from each other in terms of their collegiate recruitment. Bonded brothers as they enter Notre Dame's football program -- the two most likely players to contribute to the squad as true freshmen next fall.
If Yoon, the nation's best prep placekicker, doesn't win the team's role as field goal specialist, something went wrong, and Notre Dame's record will likely land on the wrong side of acceptable. But Yoon wouldn't be the first incoming kicker to in no way resemble his all-star high school form, at least at the outset of his career.
Jones has decidedly less pressure on him for 2015, though the level increases exponentially thereafter. Accurate or not, the six-foot-five, 240-pound athlete is the lone "can't miss" among the current crop of 23 recruits. If he approaches his vaulted ceiling as a true freshman, Notre Dame's offense receives another downfield weapon -- this one between the hash marks. It was lacking in 2014.
The Irish, however have plenty of battle-tested pass-catchers that have earned field time as well.
WILL THEY FILL THE NEED(S)?
Running backs Dexter Williams (Winter Garden, Fla.) and Keshawn Vaughn (Nashville, Tenn.), plus safety Nathan Meadors (San Bernadino, Calif.) are being courted by the Irish staff this weekend in South Bend. Safety Justin Reid (Dutchtown, La.) follows one weekend later.
Both positions are of great need, albeit for disparate reasons -- one an enticement, one a possible detriment. Beginning with the latter:
Running Back: Tarean Folston (#1) and Greg Bryant (#2) are set in stone as the team's tandem for 2015. Barring a breakout campaign by Folston, that stone will remain untouched in 2016 as well. It's a less-than-enticing reality for a running back that doesn't crave competition, because though the numbers are obscenely low (only Josh Adams could play running back among the current pledges), the reality of Folston and Bryant's talent level remains.
Barring injury, it appears to be a two-season internship at the position in South Bend. Then again, injury is the name of the game at running back -- a fact surely brought to light as the staff scrambles for one more backfield weapon.
Safety: Max Redfield is set as a starter for two more years. Senior Elijah Shumate enters his final season, sophomore Drue Tranquill might be better served at linebacker, and junior Nicky Baratti is a medical risk. In short, you won't find a more enviable safety depth chart to join than that of Notre Dame's entering 2015. With three on board (Mykelti Williams, Prentice McKinney and Nicco Fertitta), the Irish could use one more between the Meadors/Reid pair to better equip the secondary (two from the current crop are essential) to lend a hand following the 2015 season, when Shumate and security blanket Matthias Farley's exit.
One from both running back and safety appears mandatory is crucial -- I'll argue more so the latter.