One look at the updated Scout.com rankings reveals the talent Notre Dame has already assembled in the Class of 2016 with National Signing Day seven weeks away.
Four-star offensive tackle Tommy Kraemer, a U.S. Army All-American, headlines the current crop of commitments, checking in at No. 37 overall in the Scout300. He ranks behind only Greg Little and Michael Menet (Penn State), both five-star prospects, at the position.
Liam Eichenberg follows at No. 76 overall, giving the Irish two commitments in the Top 100. He’s listed sixth at the offensive tackle spot and will cap his high school football career at the Under Armour All-America Game next month.
Opinions have varied on the 6-foot-5, 283-pound prospect from St. Ignatius in Cleveland, Ohio within the industry, but Scout analysts believe a strong senior season validated their initial take on his long-term upside.
“He did what we expected him to do this year,” said Allen Trieu, Midwest recruiting manager. “He had another good year. He's a classic, tough, hard-nosed Midwestern offensive lineman. He's just the kind of kid you'd expect to come out of a program like Ignatius, so he’s essentially the same kid we evaluated as a junior. What caught our eye last year was really that he got taller and leaned out and started looking more like a tackle body than a guard, although we still think he can play either one in college.
“So, he went into the year pretty highly rated, it would take a lot to go up or down at that point and he basically went out and performed like we thought he would, confirming the previous ranking.”
Running back Tony Jones (154) comes next. He’ll also participate in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl next month.
Five Irish commitments fall in the 200s — defensive end Julian Okwara (203), linebacker Daelin Hayes (222), cornerback Donte Vaughn (236), wide receiver Chase Claypool (279) and defensive end Khalid Kareem (281).
Kareem will play in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl. Hayes will be on hand for Army Bowl week but will not participate while continuing to recover from a shoulder injury.
Hayes has proven a tricky evaluation as injuries and cross-country moves have cost him most of the past three years of high school ball. He played just one game at St. Mary’s High School in Orchard Lake, Mich., as a sophomore. Junior year started at St. Bonaventure in Southern California, but included only three games before a move back to his home state.
Three games into his senior season, spent at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, Mich., Hayes went down with another shoulder injury.
“It's a very tough eval,” Trieu said. “His ceiling is very high, but we very little idea as to how far away from that ceiling he is because he just hasn't played much. I would definitely say our ranking of him is on the conservative end, but for a kid to play that few a games and still be rated among the best in the country shows what we think of his physical tool set.”
Several uncommitted targets Notre Dame continues to pursue dot the updated rankings as well.
Kelly trails only fellow West Coast product Mique Juarez nationally at the outside linebacker spot.
“Kelly has a very good frame and is versatile enough to play any of the 'backer positions,” national analyst Greg Biggins said. “He has gotten progressively bigger, which has caused him to lose a little bit of his flexibility, although he still covers well. As a sophomore, he looked like a possible big safety/weak side 'backer but now he looks more like a strongside ‘backer.
“He's a tough kid, can rush the passer and always plays with a motor. Juarez is more athletic and a little better instinctively. He reacts to plays with more suddenness and has a little better closing speed too.”
Four-star linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch (66) joins Davis, Kelly and Brendan Ferns (102) on the Irish linebacker board heading into the final stretch before National Signing Day. McCulloch has been highly regarded among linebackers nationally even if not at the five-star level.
“McCulloch has been a wire-to-wire Scout Top 100 guy and has always stayed pretty steady in the rankings,” national analyst Greg Powers said. “He is rated as the No. 4 outside linebacker in the nation and the top outside linebacker prospect in the Midlands region.
“Coming downhill and applying pressure off the edge of a defense, you will not find much better. He is big, physical, and quick to the ball. Those are all attributes you want to see in a top-tier linebacker prospect.”
Others in the top 100 include athlete Demetris Robertson (43), wide receiver Javon McKinley (52), cornerback David Long (65), athlete Brandon Burton (123), cornerback Jordan Fuller (126), cornerback Damar Hamlin (221) and wide receiver Damian Alloway (234).
Long, Fuller and Hamlin represent three top defensive back targets as the Irish continue to load up in the secondary. Fuller and Hamlin have grown into top players on the East Coast.
“They are two very different players,” national analyst Brian Dohn said. “Damar Hamlin is quick in small spaces and changes direction well. He closes well on balls in front on him and is also physical, but he needs to continue to add strength. His ability to stay on the hip of a receiver and get into and out of breaks makes him special.
“Fuller is longer and can play more physical at the line of scrimmage. He plays safety in high school, and he has the size to play there in college, but he has the length and speed to play cornerback. He can jam and also has closing speed. He drives well on the ball in front of him, and he has the speed to cover down the field.”
McKinley could be the beneficiary of practicing against some combination of those defensive backs in the coming years. He’s most heavily considering Notre Dame and Washington with an announcement scheduled for the Army Bowl.
While other receivers are on the board, McKinley is the top target. Brian Kelly used his in-home visit earlier this month.
“Production wise, no one has been better the last two years,” Biggins said. “I think he does have plenty of upside when you look at his size, hands and underrated athleticism. He’s a physical kid with good ball skills and runs very well after the catch. He’s not a burner but runs better than given credit for and is very good in jump ball situations. He’s a tough kid as well and always competes at a high level.”
Based on the latest Scout.com rankings, Notre Dame’s class, currently ranked 10th nationally, is competing at a high level too.