• Signed: DeShone Kizer
• Swing & Miss: Kyle Allen (Texas A&M), David Cornwell (Alabama), Jacob Park (Georgia)
• Summary: The Irish set their sights on one of the most polished prep quarterbacks in the country, but lost Kyle Allen to Texas A&M. Notre Dame zeroed in on Kizer shortly thereafter, and the attraction to one another was mutual.
Kizer has great upside as a pass-run threat. He’s still raw at the position and has much to learn. But he presents himself as an eager student, a coachable prospect, and a player with tremendous upside, particularly if the Irish can keep him in the program for five years. He has excellent size and finally gives Brian Kelly nothing but quarterbacks with athleticism.
Allen would have been ideal; Kizer gives the Irish long-term promise with two quarterbacks ahead of him who should occupy the top two spots on the depth chart in 2014-15.
Signed: Eddie Vanderdoes, Isaac Rochell, Jacob Matuska
The Irish seemed poised to make defensive line another strength of this class. Al-Quadin Muhammad, a combination end/outside linebacker, looked all but wrapped up for the Irish until academic issues steered him toward Miami. Several others (Torrodney Prevot, USC; Jordan Sherit, Florida; Tashawn Bower, Auburn; Dajaun Drennon, North Carolina; Wyatt Teller, Virginia Tech) flirted with the notion before the Irish made one last run at Kylie Fitts, who chose UCLA. The Irish had fallen short up front.
But the Irish landed the ultimate signing-night prize when Eddie Vanderdoes, an interior lineman with the versatility to play end, chose the Irish. Vanderdoes has a five-star toolbox and an early-impact look to him. While the Irish would have liked another four-star level defensive end in the class, the Vanderdoes-Rochell combination is top-notch.
Rochell is an attacking, agile defensive end who should continually get better and will develop into an impact player over time. Jacob Matuska, who joined the fold early, could be in the Chase Hounshell mold as a run-stopping defensive end or perhaps something more centrally located on the defensive or offensive lines.
Doug Randolph, considered a Cat linebacker at the present time, also could alter this grade if he develops into a defensive end. Muhammad or Fitts would have made this area a grand slam.
• Receiver — Of the problem areas, this is the biggest because in a spread offense, if you don’t have consistent playmakers, you’re in trouble. Michael Floyd is gone, but Tyler Eifert returns as the centerpiece of the passing game.
As for the W, X and Z positions – where Kelly says he likes to have seven in the mix -- there are no easy solutions because there is a shortage of big-play personnel. But there are some numbers from which to choose.
Odds are Notre Dame isn’t going to get the help it needs at receiver from Daniel Smith, Matthias Farley and Luke Massa. That takes a chunk out of the bodies at those positions. John Goodman, by his own admission, has never caught the ball consistently. But at least he offers experience in the system.
You know TJ Jones and Robby Toma can play and are in the mix. Jones needs to step his game up considerably; Toma just needs to keep being Toma and play his role.
That leaves it up to DaVaris Daniels, Justin Ferguson, Chris Brown and, at least in this scenario, KeiVarae Russell. Daniels has to come of age, and the reviews so far are mixed. Ferguson is physically ready to play. He needs to be “coached up” and offer some production.
Brown gives the Irish some of that Floyd/Greenberry play-making ability and expanded catch radius. He needs to be in the mix from the outset. Davonte Neal still hasn’t signed. Maybe the Irish pull a rabbit out of the hat and get what appears to be an instant-impact kind of talent.
Not an ideal situation, which explains the hiring of offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and the talk of a greater emphasis on the rushing attack, at least in 2012.
Candidates: Eilar Hardy, Jalen Brown, Matthias Farley, Josh Atkinson
We’re lumping the cornerbacks and safeties together in one category, mainly because of the versatility that Hardy brings to the secondary. If he plays cornerback, the Irish have a safety making a transition who is one of the most talented players in the class. If he plays safety, the cornerback grade is negatively impacted and the safety spot gets a significant bump.
This grade would have been in the B category had Bennett Okotcha not switched his Notre Dame commitment to Oklahoma. To say that Okotcha’s late decision “doesn’t matter” or that another player is better than Okotcha anyway is silly. It is what it is: Notre Dame lost a good one in Okotcha, and it’s a late blow to the recruiting class, due in large part because it probably assures that Hardy will not start out at his most natural position of safety, although the Irish staff appears prepared to give Hardy a look at cornerback with or without Okotcha.
Farley is raw, Brown was not offered by most of the big boys, and Atkinson had mixed offers, some of which may have come about because of his dynamic brother. With Darrin Walls out the door, and Robert Blanton and Gary Gray preparing to take their games to the NFL after the 2011 season, this was a disappointing aspect of the recruiting campaign.
When people talk about Notre Dame’s haul on the defensive side of the ball, the majority of the plaudits are for what the Irish landed among the front seven. The back four have much to prove.
• Notre Dame will regret using 23 scholarships: You have to give Kelly the benefit of the doubt because few are better at maximizing the potential of two- and three-star players. Seven of the 23 players who were signed were post-Charlie Weis recruits - - Collinsworth, Heggie, Luke Massa, Nichols, Roback, Schwenke and Spond. Spond is the only four-star recruit in the group.
There should be optimism that Kelly and his staff will develop his players. His track record is impeccable. But a year from now, when the Irish wish they had 20-plus scholarship offers to give, they won’t be able to land all the four-star prospects they’ll be pursuing because of the numbers crunch. Since Notre Dame doesn’t run off non-productive scholarship players, they’ll be working under some limitations.
Prister’s Take: He is, in some respects, underrated as a (Rivals) four-star prospect. He is sound in all areas, has great leg drive and persistence, and competes on a high level. One of top five players in the class.