If the Irish land both five-star prospects on National Signing Day it would give Notre Dame its first pair of five-star recruits in three years. Robertson would give Brian Kelly the highest-rated receiver he’s ever inked and a wide out who trails only Michael Floyd in national prestige during the modern era. Kelly would represent the third-highest rated linebacker to go Irish in that same timespan, trailing Jaylon Smith and Manti Te’o.
Coincidentally, Smith and Te’o both won the Butkus Award as high school prospects and college stars. Kelly won the high school version of that award last month.
In short, what Robertson and Kelly would represent for Notre Dame’s class is not program-changing athleticism. They would simply be more of what the Irish have signed in the past decade-plus and developed into NFL talents.
That’s a good thing for the program.
A Robertson-Kelly combination would also give Brian Kelly a dozen five-star prospects on his watch – excluding defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes. That would match the total signed by Charlie Weis and Tyron Willingham combined.
Notre Dame’s head coach went in-home with Robertson on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 18, joined by assistants Scott Booker, Mike Sanford and Autry Denson. Receivers coach Mike Denbrock has already made that trip and will likely be back in Savannah, Ga., next week in an effort to close the deal.
Robertson has cancelled official visits to Alabama each of the past two weekends, although he continues to list the Crimson Tide as contenders along with the Irish, Stanford Cardinal and Georgia Bulldogs. However, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound product of Savannah, Ga., may actually be down to Notre Dame, Alabama and Georgia, with Georgia Tech an outlier. Sources have told Irish Illustrated that Stanford is not a serious player for the nation’s No. 23 overall prospect.
Brian Kelly has yet to go in-home with Caleb Kelly, with Denbrock and Brian VanGorder having stopped by Fresno, Calif., last week. The Irish head coach will visit on Jan. 26 in the contact period’s final week.
Sources have told Irish Illustrated that Notre Dame is the clear leader over Oklahoma and Oregon. That means the Sooners are running second with the Ducks third. Just last week a source involved in this recruitment said Kelly was “torn” between the schools and it was a “50-50” call between Notre Dame and Oklahoma.
However, that assessment was before Denbrock returned to Fresno last week and obviously before Notre Dame’s head coach goes in-home next Tuesday. On top of that, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops has already used his in-home visit, meaning Brian Kelly will get the final shot at the nation’s No. 17 overall prospect. Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich has already gone in-home as well.
Kelly could project at the Sam or Will positions in Notre Dame’s defenses, two spots that could use help next season. The Will was decimated in the past month following Jaylon Smith’s departure for the NFL and Te’Von Coney undergoing shoulder surgery, meaning he’s unlikely to be fit until fall camp.
While VanGorder’s defense has been a challenge for younger linebackers to master, Kelly’s ability to play in space, a la Jaylon Smith, may open opportunities for early playing time.
As for Robertson, he could challenge for starting reps early in camp considering the Irish lost their top three receivers this off-season and lack a deep threat at the position. Robertson is not a like-for-like replacement for Will Fuller, but he’d be the closest thing Notre Dame could get in terms of a speed on the outside with a flair for tunnel screens too.
Yes, every five-star prospect signed under the Kelly regime hasn’t clicked. For every Jaylon Smith, Stephon Tuitt and Sheldon Day there’s been a Tee Shepard, Ishaq Williams and Gunner Kiel. The Irish are still learning what they have in Nyles Morgan and Alize Jones, the only two five-star prospects on the spring practice roster.
But come summer there might be more to learn in Demetris Robertson and Caleb Kelly. The Notre Dame football program would love to find out.