Irish Illustrated’s recruiting report card

Notre Dame fortified itself along the defensive line with numbers, early-entry prospects that could contribute early while the days of body shortages in the secondary are over.

QUARTERBACK
C -

Impact: The Irish weren’t going to land a four-star quarterback prospect with DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire established as 1 and 1A options and promising/athletic Brandon Wimbush in the fold. Look for Notre Dame to try to preserve a year of eligibility in ’16 with both Wimbush and Book as the Irish enjoy the rare luxury of having four recruited quarterbacks on scholarship with a fifth (Montgomery VanGorder) occupying a spot with father Brian on the Irish staff.

Analysis:

Resourceful, creative QB with winning qualities. QB coach Mike Sanford’s choice. Undersized but strong arm, good feet, quick release. Puts football where it needs to be when the receiver comes open. Throws most passes where only the receiver can make the catch. Lacks explosive first step to get away from pressure when pocket breaks down.

RUNNING BACK
C+

Impact: With Tarean Folston back from an ACL injury, the development of Josh Adams as a freshman in ’15, and the start of Dexter Williams’ journey to productive college running back, there’s not an overwhelming need to play either of the incoming rookies right away, unless the offensive brain trust decides they need the power-back qualities that Jones should provide. It’s a weapon that’s been missing from the arsenal. McIntosh is more in the Amir Carlisle mode, which gives the Irish the option of preserving a year of eligibility or getting him a look in the slot.

Analysis:

Bullish, hard-charging, north-south runner who maximizes his abilities. Not a ton of wiggle in the open field, but he can be elusive at the point of attack. Could give the Irish immediate short-yardage asset, which has hindered the Irish on third down. Will sometimes turn away from squared-up block.

Analysis:

Slightly-built and does not appear to have breakaway speed, but has the versatility to move around formationally and contribute in the passing game. Shows elusive nature, change-of-pace style. Stays true to east-west concepts, which is a real positive for someone without take-it-to-the-house speed. Good pad level and vision.

RECIEVER
B

Impact: Claypool and McKinley both have the skill set to make a freshman breakthrough, although they’ll likely both start August camp third on the depth chart at their respective positions. Stepherson will benefit from early-entry. Without a marquis receiver like Demetris Robertson – although some would put McKinley in that class – this does not look like a significant upgrade. Claypool may prove to be the best of this group with versatility and a ton of athleticism. With Robertson, the grade pops into the A region.

Analysis:

Outstanding length, but also has elusive, make-you-miss qualities. Tracks football in traffic. Free and easy hips. Position flexibility. A physical player on both sides of the football, including defensive back. Still more of a jump-ball receiver than a precision route-runner, but a world of potential.

Analysis:

Poor man’s Michael Floyd with length, strength and improved overall game as senior. Initial elusiveness after the catch. North-south penchant with a nose for the end zone. Has improved catch radius since junior year, but still needs to maximize this area. Has big-play if not breakaway abilities.

Analysis:

Shows good push off snap and will flash gazelle-like pass-catching traits, high-pointing ability. More quick than fast. Instinctual player with nose for the end zone. Three-star prospect with a four-star quality or two. One of more difficult prospects to project, although we’ll get an early clue during the spring.

TIGHT END
Incomplete

Signed: None
Impact: A concern in the short term with Tyler Luatua transferred and the decision by Chase Hounshell to use his sixth year of eligibility elsewhere. The trio of Durham Smythe-Aliz’e Jones-Nic Weishar on the cusp of maximizing abilities, but depth hit hard last year due to injuries with less margin for error in ’16. Former prep tight end Jacob Matuska is an option to shift from defensive line. With Cole Kmet and Brock Wright arriving in ’17, the Irish should be in good shape as the returning three have eligibility beyond ’16.

OFFENSIVE LINE
A-

Impact: None of the above-mentioned three, who were in the fold early – as offensive linemen usually are – are in the position to snag early playing time a la senior-to-be Steve Elmer in 2013. But the Irish are thin in numbers at tackle and an injury could open door for Kraemer/Eichenberg. Boudreaux’s strength and aggressiveness could accelerate the process. One can’t help but bemoan the near miss on Ben Bredeson, who would have been the best prospect in an offensive line class of four and would have elevated the grade to A+.

Analysis:

Plays with a nasty attitude and beyond the whistle. A ferocious frame of mind. Active feet to go with the savvy, although guard, not tackle, clearly fits his athleticism the best. Has tendency to overextend as a pass blocker, which will be his greatest shortcoming upon arrival. Probably needs a year on this level to get his feet under him.

Analysis:

Might ultimately prove to be most complete of the three. Powerful and athletic at the same time with pad level and wide blocking base. Probably a more natural right tackle, but above-average kick-step and lateral mobility keeps him in the picture for left tackle work.

Analysis:

Most decorated of the three because he is a relentless drive blocker who keeps his fundamentals intact, even when he’s attacking. Doesn’t have to compromise technique for aggression, which is a sign of an offensive lineman with an advanced skill set. Biggest concern is pass-blocking footwork, which is stiff and uncertain at times. A better right tackle fit, but probably gets first crack on left side.


DEFENSIVE LINE
B+

Impact: Early-entries Hayes and Kareem obviously give them a step up on the competition within their class. Hayes, if he can overcome persistent shoulder issues throughout his prep career, has early-impact qualities after getting most of playing time at linebacker. Kareem is a legitimate four-star prospect with the versatility to play a big end position as well as three-technique. Both could play early as the Irish look for pure talent, pass rushers.
The other three are projects. Okwara is a natural pass rusher and is much further along as an incoming freshman than his brother, Romeo, but will need weight and toughness infusion. Jones and Ogundeji – particularly because of a season-ending injury early in Ogundeji’s senior season – are prime fifth-year candidates. Jones is listed as an outside linebacker, but likely will trend toward a spot with a hand on the ground.

Analysis:

Five-star prospect but a four-star player due to shoulder issues. When healthy, he’s a country-strong, growing, dynamic physical presence who uses hands as weapons. Appears to have same natural, hold-the-point-of-attack strength as Isaac Rochell with more natural pass rush skills.

Analysis:

More compact, better athlete than brother Jarron, but doesn’t have nearly the frame of the current Irish nose tackle. Good change of direction and a better athlete than on-the-hoof evaluation elicits. Needs to rearrange his body in the weight room, conditioning. Sooner he begins the process of playing with a hand on the ground, the sooner he’ll make strides.

Analysis:

Part big end, part three-technique, which is a nice combo. Has a wrecking ball mentality, and when he plays with high intensity, difficult to contain. Brings a sledgehammer approach to the game, although his pad level can be a bit high and he can be deliberate changing directions. If he maximizes his ability, he’ll be a four-star performer.

Analysis:

Long-armed, quick-twitch, off-the-edge rusher with considerable upside, particularly if he’s placed on a five-year plan that allows his strength to catch up with his length. Small-school background likely will elongate process, but has a pass-rush gene.

Analysis:

More ready-made prospect than brother Romeo was coming into Notre Dame, although he’s nearly two years older upon arrival. Athletic, off-the-edge pass rusher who plays hungry, chases everything and shows cross-your-face technique. Needs size, strength and reps before he’ll be ready to play at this level.

LINEBACKER
C-

Impact: Without Caleb Kelly in this class, Notre Dame fell well short of coming up with impact linebackers, unless Perry can grow into the position, which looks like a natural to him. Jones is undersized and likely a five-year plan player, unless he earns a special teams spot early. Spencer Perry, an early-entry, arrives as a last-rung defender, but clearly has the frame/physicality to move up to a linebacker spot, likely on the outside. Irish also have enough bodies at safety in Class of ’16 to allow Perry position flexibility. Add Kelly to this mix and the position has an entirely different look with his early-impact capabilities

Analysis:

Reports are mixed on the camp circuit with the undersized Jones. Shows good instincts for creasing the gaps amidst the trees, but stature will play against him on the next level, as it always does with undersized linebackers. Needs strength. Wrestles more prep ball carriers to the ground than tackles/drives through them. Also a question of how much ground he can cover laterally.

CORNERBACK
A-

Impact: Variety and versatility with this group at a time when the influx of young cornerbacks will hit full stride in 2017 with KeiVarae Russell gone, and Cole Luke and Devin Butler now in their final years of eligibility. Love might be the most underrated player in this class. He has the strength, physicality to make an early impact. Pride, on the other hand, is smallish and needs strength, but his technique as a cover corner is top-notch. Vaughn provides rare length for the cornerback position, which is why he could end up at safety.

Analysis:

A real diamond-in-the-rough three-star prospect. Physically mature cornerback who carried himself on the football field like a college player during senior year. Best quality is ability to close on a receiver with the ball in the air. Top-level ball skills with loose hips and quality footwork. The prediction here is that he’ll surprise at the outset of fall camp.

Analysis:

Natural cornerback instincts, including fundamentally-sound coverage/ball skills and high-pointing ability. Shows consistent knack for turning to see/play the ball in the air. Uses hands to redirect receivers while flashing make-up speed. Needs to get bigger and stronger to withstand the physical rigors of the college game. Fundamentally talented tackler despite lack of stature.

Analysis:

Uncommon length for the cornerback position. Matches that with good knee bend and pad level. Uses hands and body well to shield receivers. Also uses the sideline as an ally and is not afraid to press at line of scrimmage. A spirited performer. Question is whether he has the technique/flip of the hips to defense one-on-one. If not, he’ll end up at more natural safety position.

SAFETY
B+

Impact: There were better prospects out there that Notre Dame was unable to make inroads on, but the numbers and potential of this group is intriguing. The opportunity afforded Perry and Studstill as early entries obviously gives them a jump over classmates Elliott and Morgan. Safety positions unsettled enough heading into spring that a rookie that shows a proclivity for picking up the complexities of safety play could leapfrog up the depth chart.

Analysis:

Loose-hipped, bouncy, agile athlete who spent lot of prep time at positions other than safety. Has physical tools that accentuate his ball skills and ability to get in and out of breaks. Still learning how to emerge from backpedal and can be more of a puller than tackler. Will need strength.

Analysis:

One of the greater unknowns in this class. Possesses excellent size and physicality, but has drifted to the football at times during his career instead of exploding to it. Quality athlete with size and potential, but has showed limited application of pass-defense technique.

Analysis:

Frame is that of an OLB. Physical run defender, punishing tackler who excels when moving straight ahead. A question of change of direction, one-on-one coverage skills will determine whether he remains at safety.

Analysis:

Most complete safety prospect of the group because of excellent combination of run defense/coverage skills. Light on his feet and aggressive in everything he does on the football field. Explodes out of backpedal and drives through receivers. Top-level high-pointing skills. Has four-star qualities with three-star safety size. Plays with a confident swagger and love for the game.

SPECIAL TEAMS
B

Impact: Scott Daly will return for a fifth year at Notre Dame, which – provided there are no debilitating injuries along the way – would allow the Irish to preserve a year for Shannon, who is coming off shoulder surgery.

Analysis:

Compact, consistent snapping motion. Quick to the snap upon initial movement, which is reflected in the firmness football arrives to the punter. When he errs, it’s low due to an early release point.


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