Notre Dame's 2015 and 2016 recruiting classes currently include a combined 47 competitors, with 20 from the offensive side of scrimmage. Below is a review of those players tasked with putting points on the board in South Bend over the next four to five seasons.
Head coach Brian Kelly has yet to conclude a recruiting cycle without a quarterback in tow, inheriting two in 2010, then inking one through each of his ensuing six full cycles including 2016.
-- 2015-16 By the Numbers (2): Four-star prospect Brandon Wimbush (2015) plus three-star signee Ian Book in ’16.
-- Projected 2016 Impact: Well I’d say “minimal” but considering DeShone Kizer was far below Wimbush’s current status at this point season, perhaps “unexpected” would be more appropriate. Kelly announced yesterday that Wimbush would likely take a redshirt season as a sophomore this fall.
-- Realistic Long-Term Potential: Wimbush is a future starter and potential star while Book could help any team blessed with talent around him, and Notre Dame’s roster fits that bill.
-- Need for 2017? Always one. Forever. Darwinian quarterback machinations take over thereafter…
-- 2015-16 Overall Grade: B-Plus. It’s nebulous at present, but Notre Dame has its projected future starter and a trusted backup and likewise didn’t sign a superfluous future transfer along with the tandem.
Kelly has inked two running backs in three of the last four cycles including 2016, passing on the position in 2014.
-- 2015-16 By the Numbers (4): A trio of four stars in Josh Adams and Dexter Williams (2015) plus Tony Jones (2016) along with Jones’ three-star classmate Deon McIntosh.
-- Projected 2016 Impact: Adams projects as a part-time starter alongside senior Tarean Folston while the remaining trio is likely to slate at No.’s 3-4-5 by the end of August.
One note on the importance of a trusted third runner – projected to be Notre Dame’s No. 3 running back in 2015, Adams gained 835 yards with seven total touchdowns last season while 2014 No. 3 Greg Bryant accrued 289 with three scores. The 2013 third back, freshman Tarean Folston, earned 470 yards with three touchdowns as well.
-- Realistic Long-Term Potential: Adams is clearly starting material but to be frank, it’s plausible Notre Dame’s yet-to-be determined top 2017 freshman runner could overtake at least two among the trio of Williams, Jones, and McIntosh down the line. Among that threesome, McIntosh is the lowest-rated though I believe he’ll conclude his career as the most productive, even if it’s largely in a No. 2 role.
-- Need for 2017? The backfield will likely lose senior Tarean Folston from its mix meaning an impact runner is necessary and could play a key role from the outset. At worst, one running back must be part of the 2017 crop to maintain positional health and depth.
-- 2015-16 Overall Grade: Solid B. Adams has already made an impact and it would be a surprise if one of the remaining trio does not – but it would be equally surprising if each among them does.
Both of the last two cycles have included a trio of pass catchers while six targets were likewise inked between 2013-14. Two from those seasons, James Onwualu (linebacker) and Justin Brent (running back), changed positions while another, Will Fuller, broke program records and took his act to the NFL a year earlier than expected.
-- 2015-16 By the Numbers (7): Four stars Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool (2016) plus three-star classmate Kevin Stepherson as well as a quartet of four stars in 2015: Equanimeous St. Brown, Miles Boykin, C.J. Sanders and Jalen Guyton, the latter of whom has since been suspended and will transfer.
-- Projected 2016 Impact: At least four if not five are expected to crash the six or seven deep varsity with only the senior duo of Corey Robinson and Torii Hunter Jr. completely ensconced in the rotation.
-- Realistic Long-Term Potential: The unit is blessed with an expected five future starters with the potential for a sixth.
-- Need for 2017? Three will again be the target as two current wide receiver candidates, Corey Holmes and the aforementioned Brent, have yet to make an impact entering their junior seasons. Assuming Hunter remains for a fifth season with the program, Notre Dame will only lose Robinson at season’s end, but Holmes and Brent remain question marks in terms of game day impact.
-- 2015-16 Overall Grade: A-minus at worst. Sanders has already made an impact as a return man – and he’s likely to blossom in 2016 in that regard – and has a bright future in the slot. St. Brown has star potential while Boykin ranks among the most intriguing redshirt-freshmen on the Irish roster. The incoming trio should rank at least third among Kelly’s six seasons of wide receiver recruiting at the program (2013, 2015, 2016, 2012, 2010, 2011 in order per Signing Day).
After consecutive cycles in 2013-14 that included five OL competitors, the Irish downshifted to bring in two (2015) and three (2016) over the last two seasons, plus preferred walk-on and Holy Cross College transfer Logan Plantz.
-- 2015-16 By the Numbers (5): Part-time starting nose tackle Jerry Tillery was listed as an offensive lineman by recruiting services but the Irish staff targeted him as a DL prior to the arrival of his letter of intent. Last year’s OL crop numbered just two as a result, with four-star center Tristen Hoge and three-star guard Trevor Ruhland. The 2016 trio includes four-star prospects Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg plus “high three-star” Parker Boudreaux.
-- Projected 2016 Impact: Hoge is nearly guaranteed two-deep role and will battle redshirt-sophomore Sam Mustipher for the starting center position. Thereafter, it’s more than likely that either Kraemer or Eichenberg will crack the two-deep, their respective positions pending the 2016 slotting of backup utility man Colin McGovern, who could help at both guard or tackle.
-- Realistic Long-Term Potential: Kraemer, Eichenberg, Boudreaux, and of course Hoge appear slated for starting status by 2018. Hoge (2016) and Kraemer and Eichenberg (2017) could reach that status sooner. Ruhland’s best shot at the two-deep is in ’17 and thus would have a chance to compete for a starting job in ’18.
-- Need for 2017? Five without a doubt. Kelly & Co. could afford small OL hauls in 2015-16 as they signed a combined 9 for the unit in 2013-14. It is imperative five join the fray in ’17 as the 2013 class has three of its five members (McGovern, Hunter Bivin, John Montelus) yet to distinguish.
-- 2015-16 Overall Grade: C-Plus – But that’s due exclusively to a dearth of bodies. The offensive line is a unit of massive injury attrition in college football and though I foresee four multi-season starters from the last two classes, it’s inevitable that A.) one of those projected won’t pan out as such, and B.) one will get hurt.
Bodies are essential up front, and projecting the success of prep offensive linemen at the collegiate level is – to be kind to those that do so for a living – “challenging.”
-- Of Note: A quality five-man haul in 2017 can mitigate this “C-Plus” grade because a quintet in ‘17 plus the impressive trio signed in ’16 would equate to an A-Minus, erasing the negative impact of 2015’s twosome.
One tight end – a detached tight end, at that – is at least one too few over a two-season span, but that’s what the Irish chose to do with Aliz’e Jones in ’15 while passing on the position this cycle.
Kelly and his staff had previously recruited a pair in both 2013 and 2014 – only two of which remain at the program. Additionally, the lack of a tight end prospect in 2012 actually impacts 2016 as the Irish offense could use a fifth-year senior to augment the back of the unit’s current three-man depth chart.
-- 2015-16 By the Numbers (1): Aliz’e Jones
-- Projected 2016 Impact: Starter and/or part-time starter. His realistic production ceiling is as high as second-leading receiver on the 2016 squad.
-- Realistic Long-Term Potential: Jones could be a first-team All-American as a senior. As a junior in ‘17? 60 catches, a program-record for the position, is not implausible.
-- Need for 2017? Two are absolutely essential – and en route, in the form of four star prospects Cole Kmet and Brock Wright. At least one must develop as a potential starter (in two-tight end sets) alongside Jones for 2018.
-- 2015-16 Overall Grade: C-Minus. Probably shouldn’t have passed on the position this cycle in that a quality blocker could have been identified and added to the sparse unit. Jones is a future star…but future stars can get injured, too. As well, backup tight ends are invaluable special teams players and the Irish could regret passing on such a role player over both of the last two recruiting seasons.