Re-grading the Class of ‘13

Of Notre Dame’s 17 top 300 prospects in the Class of ’13, about half of the class projects as starters in 2016, led by captain-candidate Isaac Rochell.

Notre Dame’s signing Class of 2013 was a projected star-studded crew of 24 with the crown jewels outside linebacker Jaylon Smith (No. 3 overall on the Scout list) and defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes (No. 9), who bugged out for UCLA in short order.

Even without Vanderdoes, the class was rated No. 5 nationally with six top 100s and 17 top 300s.

As is often the case when evaluating senior classes, most of the original grades have dropped, which is a sign of a lack of foresight by the graders as well as an accurate gauge of spotty development within the class.

Of the original 24 (including Vanderdoes), five are no longer with the program either due to transfer or injury. That’s not a huge amount of attrition, although most of the remaining players have had difficulty living up to four-star/top 300 status.

Throw in the fact that two superstars – Jaylon Smith and Will Fuller – have moved on to the NFL a year ahead of the typical four-year time allotment and the class hasn’t been nearly as productive as once hoped.

Still leading this class/team are quarterback Malik Zaire, running back Tarean Folston, offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, defensive lineman Isaac Rochell and cornerback Cole Luke.

Those still in position to make significant contributions to the program are wide receivers Corey Robinson and Torii Hunter, Jr., tight end Durham Smythe, and offensive linemen Colin McGovern and Hunter Bivin.

Offensive guard Steve Elmer could end up bypassing his final year of eligibility while safety Max Redfield has some fences to mend following his sporadic play and suspension from the Fiesta Bowl.

Matt Cashore /

• Signed: Malik Zaire (4*)
• 2013 Grade: A-
• First Three Years: Zaire preserved a year of eligibility as a freshman and then served as Everett Golson’s understudy-in-waiting as a sophomore until emerging as the starter and offensive MVP of the Music City Bowl. Zaire was the clear-cut choice to start for the Irish in 2015 with Golson’s departure, leading the Irish to a decisive victory over Texas in the season-opener. Zaire completed 19-of-22 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns in a dazzling performance.
It was much more difficult on the road the following week at Virginia, both in performance and in his effort to maintain his health. He suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the second half, returning to the practice field in limited duty late in the season.
• 2016 Re-grade A-: No reason to change the grade/prognosis of Zaire from when he arrived at Notre Dame, although the path to a starting spot is cluttered by the fact that DeShone Kizer established himself as a competent, high-upside quarterback in ’15 and an impediment to Zaire in his final two years of eligibility.

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• Signed: Tarean Folston (4*), Greg Bryant (4*)
• 2013 Grade: A+
• First Three Years: The lesser-regarded of the two, Folston, emerged ahead of the nation’s No. 70 prospect, Bryant, during pre-season camp and throughout the 2013 season. Folston rushed for 470 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie before emerging as the lead back in ’14 with 889 yards on the ground and six touchdowns.
Folston maintained the lead on the depth chart over C.J. Prosise heading into the ’15 season, but a torn ACL in the first quarter against the Longhorns shelved him for the balance of the season with Prosise and freshman Josh Adams taking center stage.
Bryant’s bio was long at Notre Dame, but for all the wrong reasons. He never could find the consistency the Irish were preaching as a prerequisite for consistent playing time, ran afoul academically/off-the-field, and decided to leave before the start of the ’15 season. In two seasons, Bryant carried 57 times for 289 yards and three touchdowns.
• 2016 Re-grade B+: Folston remains a solid running back upon which to build an attack around with Adams and sophomore-to-be Dexter Williams giving the Irish three competent, effective ball carriers with upside. It’s yet to be determined how Folston’s ACL will impact his game. He’s not a breakaway back ala Prosise and Adams (and probably Williams, too), but he is a quality football player with a 5.2-yard career rushing average, some power between the tackles, and an evasive, lateral jump-cut move.
The frustrating part about Bryant leaving, in addition to his squandering of talent, is that the Irish likely could have had Corey Clement (Wisconsin) instead.

Matt Cashore /

• Signed: Will Fuller (4*), Corey Robinson (4), Torii Hunter, Jr. (4*), James Onwualu (4*)
• 2013 Grade: B-
• First Three Years: Onwualu moved to safety and then outside linebacker after his rookie season, but Robinson proved to be an effective performer during his freshman and sophomore seasons (49 catches, six touchdowns) while Fuller emerged into a full-fledged star in 2014-15 with 138 receptions, 2352 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Hunter was slowed for the better part of a season-and-a-half after suffering a broken leg during high school all-star competition. He enters his senior season with two years of eligibility to go with 35 career receptions for 428 yards and three scores.
• 2016 Re-Grade C+: Fuller alone would take this grade to an A+, but his extreme talent has led to him bypassing his final year of eligibility and shooting for the stars in the NFL. Robinson is sliding in the opposite direction football-wise (just 16 catches for 200 yards and one touchdown in ‘15) as he builds a different profile as student-body president. Hunter becomes the go-to guy in the class at receiver, although he’s been more of a possession receiver up to this point in his career.

Matt Cashore /

• Signed: Durham Smythe (4*), Mike Heuerman (4*)
• 2013 Grade: A
• First Three Years: Little-to-no production up to this point from a duo that ranked among the nation’s top 250 coming out of high school. Heuerman, undersized from the outset and experiencing great difficulty adding bulk to his frame, finally succumbed to a series of injuries, most notably two sports hernia surgeries before stepping away from the game.
Smythe preserved a year of eligibility as a freshman, played a limited role as a backup to Ben Koyack as a sophomore, and then emerged as the clear-cut starter in ’15 before going down with knee and shoulder injuries in the second game. He returned to the lineup for the Fiesta Bowl, finishing with three catches for 18 yards and a touchdown (on a fake field goal vs. Virginia) for the season.
• 2016 Re-Grade B+: Smythe remains a very promising prospect with two years of eligibility. A healthy stretch easily could lead to a 40-catch-plus season in ’16 with even more promise during a fifth-year of eligibility in ’17.

Matt Cashore /

• Signed: Steve Elmer (4*), Mike McGlinchey (4*), Colin McGovern (4*), Hunter Bivin (4*), John Montelus (4*)
• 2013 Grade: A
• First Three Years: It’s easy to look back now and conclude that the group was a bit overrated. Scout rated all five among the top 185 players in the country, including No. 51 (Montelus), No. 74 (Elmer) and No. 90 (McGlinchey).
Elmer has been a three-year/30-game starter while McGlinchey has started each of the last 14 games at right tackle with two years of eligibility remaining.
McGovern was the No. 7 man in the offensive line pecking order in ’15 with a chance to move into the starting lineup in ’16 if Elmer decides to move beyond football, which has been the strong indication since the Fiesta Bowl. Bivin has yet to make a significant contribution, but has a great opportunity this spring with left tackle Ronnie Stanley off to the NFL.
Montelus has never threatened for a starting spot, which likely won’t change. There’s even some speculation of a move to the interior defensive line.
• 2016 Re-Grade B: Elmer and McGlinchey have started a combined 44 games with the potential for another 39 or so if the former completes his fourth and final year of eligibility in ’15 and the latter uses his final two years of collegiate playing time.
McGovern’s a nice backup, but is he ready to be a starter if Elmer steps away from football? Is Bivin a legitimate starting candidate at tackle, or does Alex Bars, a year younger, slide past him into the starting lineup? The answers to those questions will alter – one way or another – the current grade.

Matt Cashore /

• Signed: Isaac Rochell (4*), Jacob Matuska (4*), Eddie Vanderdoes (5*)
• 2013 Grade: A
• First Three Years: Vanderdoes never made it to South Bend when cold feet prompted an appeal to the NCAA to allow him out of his National Letter of Intent and for immediate reinstatement at UCLA, which ultimately was granted.
Rochell has lived up to his billing as a barrier along the Irish defensive line if not a pass-rush standout. He has 25 starts to his name, has shown incredible versatility at big end/three-technique/nose tackle, and is front-running captain material for the ’16 season.
Matuska emerged late in the ’14 season when Notre Dame’s front wall was decimated by injuries. He’s since fallen back in the pack as the talent has been upgraded. He’s a candidate to move to tight end, where he played in high school.
Doug Randolph moved from linebacker to defensive end upon the implementation of a four-man front, but has not gotten into the mix.
• 2016 Re-Grade B: Rochell single-handedly carries this grade for the entire unit. He has been an A performer. The loss of Vanderdoes still resonates. He emerged from high school as a rare talent, and then played 13 games in each of his first two seasons with the Bruins with 87 tackles, including 54 solo, and 10 tackles for loss. He suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the first game of ’15.

Matt Cashore /

• Signed: Jaylon Smith (5*), Doug Randolph (3*), Michael Deeb (3*)
• 2013 Grade: B
• First Three Years: Feast (to feed the multitudes) and famine (to starve the multitudes). Smith lived up to his five-star billing, starting all 39 games in an Irish uniform and performing with a level of athleticism never seen before at Notre Dame from a front-seven defender. That being said, he was only occasionally used as a pass-rush threat and finished his three-year stay at Notre Dame without an interception, despite spectacular coverage skills for a linebacker. Now he’s off to the NFL where he’ll have to negotiate his way through a significant knee injury suffered in the Fiesta Bowl.
Deeb was limited athletically and eventually succumbed to career-ending injuries while Randolph has yet to make a dent at linebacker (where he started out) or defensive end, where he doesn’t appear to figure in the plans with two years of eligibility remaining.
James Onwualu’s move from receiver to outside linebacker doesn’t garner much attention on the outside, but he’s become a competent, solid component of the defense and could, along with Isaac Rochell, emerge as a captain on the ’16 team.
• 2016 Re-grade C: Without Smith, the star power is gone, as is the contribution at the other linebacker positions outside of Onwualu. Onwualu is a cornerstone for the defense if not a standout.

Matt Cashore /

• Signed: Cole Luke (4*), Devin Butler (3*), Rashad Kinlaw (3*)
• 2013 Grade: B-
• First Three Years: After playing mainly special teams and serving as a backup cornerback during his rookie season, Luke emerged as a starter in ’14 and turned in a quality campaign, tying for the team-lead in interceptions (4) while pacing the secondary in passes broken up (11) and passes defended (15).
Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder admitted to some regression in Luke’s game in ’15, although he still led the team in passes defensed (7) while tying for the team lead in passes broken up (5) and interceptions (2).
Butler’s pass-coverage skills were modest upon arrival, although he started two games in ’14, one game in ’15, and would have been in the starting lineup for the Fiesta Bowl were it not for suffering a broken foot during bowl week.
Kinlaw was dismissed from the University during the spring of his freshman campaign.
The initial grade reflected the inability to land Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida) and Mackensie Alexander (Clemson), who emerged as standouts on the collegiate level.
• 2016 Re-Grade B: Luke is a competent, productive cornerback who has the ability if not the overwhelming athleticism to finish his Notre Dame career strong while Butler remains a contributor on special teams and a plug-in backup at cornerback.

Matt Cashore /

• Signed: Max Redfield (4*)
• 2013 Grade: A+
• First Three Years: After signing four safeties the year before, Notre Dame was focused on quality over quantity, and despite losing out for Su’a Cravens and Leon McQuay III – both of whom landed at USC – there was exhilaration in Notre Dame’s camp with Redfield, whom some considered a five-star prospect.
Redfield has 23 starts to his credit at Notre Dame with a final year of eligibility this fall. He’s really struggled picking up the defense, first as a young player under Bob Diaco and then as a sophomore and junior under Brian VanGorder. His athleticism and physical prowess are top-notch, but it seldom has translated into productivity and play-making ability on the back end of the defense, sometimes leading to major blunders within the pass/run game.
• 2016 Re-Grade B: Assuming Redfield is in an Irish uniform – there’s been no indication otherwise after being sent home from the Fiesta Bowl due to a violation of team rules – he remains a valuable building block to an improved defense, if for no other reasons than his playing experience and physical tools. There’s still time for Redfield to be an asset to the Irish defense. Top Stories