Staff Roundtable: What Did We Learn?

Anna Hickey, Jake Brown and Steve Hare sound off on Notre Dame’s recruiting class, how we’ll remember it, if it got the Irish closer to the College Football Playoff, which players you’ll want to get to know and more.

When we look back on this class in four years, what will be our biggest takeaway?

Hickey: Recruiting is not about the prospects you miss on, but about the prospects you get. Taking that at face value, you don’t get points for almost trumping Oklahoma for Caleb Kelly. But there’s good possibility we’ll look back on this year and assess that this was the cycle that propelled Notre Dame to consistently achieve top-10 (and maybe even better) finishes.

In November, did Notre Dame think it was going to cause the Sooners sweat up until signing day over a five-star linebacker that Bob Stoops had been recruiting for two years? Did it think a five-star athlete from Georgia would take them all the way until the end (and then some)? Or pique enough interest in an Alabama legacy that late in the process to roll five deep in-home a week before his decision?

I think the answer is yes. Notre Dame imagined it, even if public perception did not. The next step is getting over that final hump and piecing it all together, which could happen as soon as 2017.

All things considered, Notre Dame didn’t experience a monster splash or much suspense on signing day. But I have a hunch that in the years to come that will change.

The prevailing view is that National Signing Day represents the end of the recruiting period. But I expect the page to turn quickly back to the 2017 and 2018 classes.

In a sense, this year’s signing day is only the beginning.

Brown: My guess is this class will be better than people think. There are at least a couple future stars in Tommy Kraemer and Daelin Hayes (if healthy). Plus, some underrated prospects that I think will blossom into big time players. Devin Studstill, Julian Love, Chase Claypool and Donte Vaughn all come to mind. And that’s not to mention some of the higher ranked talent that has an opportunity to be very productive in South Bend. Did this class miss on a splashy finishing touch (pending a decision from Demetris Robertson)? Sure. But there’s a lot of quality in it.

Hare: Brian Kelly’s staff has become a well-oiled recruiting machine. The Irish identified some of their top prospects early in the recruiting process and landed several of them shortly thereafter. Notre Dame also worked hard to stay in the hunt with some of the nation’s elite prospects all the way to signing day. You can’t win them all but the Irish are back to competing for some of the top players in the country.

Which prospect will Notre Dame fans really enjoy once they get to know him?

Hickey: Chase Claypool was always a polite young man and very thoughtful in his interviews. He doesn’t seek the spotlight, but he embraces it when it does come his way with humility and a quiet confidence. I think he’s incredibly grateful for the opportunity to play football at Notre Dame.

Brown: A few guys that come to mind, but I’m going with Tommy Kraemer. He’s a classic Notre Dame lineman in the sense that he’s talented, smart, articulate and probably a future leader. But he also plays with a serious nasty streak. Kraemer is the type of kid fans will really like because of his personality but even more so when he’s pushing around defensive ends in future USC games.

Hare: Jamir Jones has a lot of personality. That comes out on game day but also off the field. He is intelligent and should be a great interview down the road.

Who was your favorite interview either in the Notre Dame class or elsewhere?

Hickey: Among Notre Dame commitments, it was Spencer Perry. He has a laidback demeanor but isn’t afraid to tell it like it is and has a great sense of humor. He’s not going to do something just because everyone else is doing it. He puts pressure on himself to succeed and thinks long-term.

Among guys who got away, it was Austin Mack, the Fort Wayne product who signed with Ohio State. I was Mack’s first interview with the recruiting media almost three years ago in Angola, Indiana before he had any offers. Seeing him develop into one the country’s top wide outs has been something that I think is pretty cool. He has a pretty magnetic personality and can see him being a future captain in Columbus.

Brown: In terms of this class, Julian Love was probably my favorite to talk with on a regular basis. He always took the time and never looked on the media part of being a recruit as a burden, which helps. Whenever I needed a recruit’s reaction for something — Brian Kelly’s extension, bowl matchup, whatever — Love was the go-to guy. I’d throw Daelin Hayes in the mix too. I’ve been interviewing him since his sophomore year and he always ‘got it.’

Hare: Tommy Kraemer. I’ve known Tommy now for a couple of years and he always provided quality quotes and information related to his recruitment and some others in the class of 2016. He set a goal of earning a spot at The Opening and in the Army All-American Bowl and he gave everything he had to earn a spot in both events. That was satisfying to watch.

What prospect that ended up elsewhere impressed you the most either live or on film?

Hickey: Tyler Vaughns is the nation’s top-ranked wide receiver and the only five-star receiver in this class. He has a knack for getting open and making difficult catches look effortless. He jumped out to me at The Opening when elite defensive backs and linebackers had trouble keeping him in check. Vaughns hails from La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat and is headed to USC. 

Brown: Even though it’s kind of a copout answer, Rashan Gary. Saw him for the first time as a sophomore and it was a definite ‘wow’ moment. He has to be one of the best defensive line prospects this side of Jadeveon Clowney, and I don’t say that lightly. Gary is different — more power than just straight edge rusher — but man is he a beast. Impact player from jump on the college level.

Hare: Oluwole Betiku. The USC commitment was simply dominant at The Opening and he’s as physically prepared to play in college as any other prospect I have ever seen. I don’t often refer to high school prospects as sure things — the last time I did was in reference to Aaron Lynch­ – but I’ll be very surprised if Betiku isn’t playing on Sundays in the future.

Did this class get Notre Dame closer to the playoff?

Hickey: Some pieces did – I think Daelin Hayes is going to be really, really good. I think a couple of the defensive backs are going to develop into championship-level contributors. And offensive line and wide receiver featured solid additions across the board. Linebacker is a question mark, and I think it’s been proven, and was further hammered home by the final two teams standing in the College Football Playoff this year, that elite defensive lines win you big time games.

If Notre Dame had signed a couple of nasty true pass-rushers off the edge, then I think without a doubt your answer to this question is yes. But they did shape immediate need into a major selling point, and signed seven defensive backs. Oh, and have four-star Georgia pass-rusher Robert Beal in the fold in 2017. One step at a time.

Brown: Actually, I come down somewhere in the middle. Did this class get Notre Dame over on Alabama? Probably not, but few will. Did the Irish slip out of that stratosphere of programs that can legitimately compete to be in the playoff? Heck no. There’s plenty of playoff talent in this class and one key area where things sometimes fall short, on the defensive line, is actually a very nice group. Some people might view it as a “status quo” class for Brian Kelly and spin that as a negative, but that’s just not the case.

Hare: The Irish were on the verge of making the playoffs in 2015 and that was with several backup and role players seeing extended minutes, especially down the stretch. They got stronger at wide receiver and added some quality players in the defensive backfield. The problem is the Irish didn’t add a difference maker on the defensive line and that could keep the Irish out of the playoffs.

Best Recruiter
Hickey: Mike Denbrock
Brown: Mike Denbrock
Hare: Mike Elston

One That Got Away
Hickey: Jeffrey McCulloch 
Brown: Oluwole Betiku
Hare: Chacho Ulloa

Best Position Group
Hickey: Wide Receiver
Brown: Offensive Line
Hare: Wide Receiver

Future Captain
Hickey: Jonathan Jones  
Brown: Julian Love
Hare: Tommy Kraemer

Biggest Sleeper
Hickey: Kevin Stepherson
Brown: Julian Love
Hare: Jamir Jones

Most Surprising Commitment
Hickey: Liam Eichenberg
Brown: Donte Vaughn
Hare: Javon McKinley

Fiercest Battle Won
Hickey: Daelin Hayes 
Brown: Daelin Hayes
Hare: Daelin Hayes

Earliest Impact
Hickey: Devin Studstill
Brown: Devin Studstill 
Hare: Tommy Kraemer


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories