Jonathan Bonner was the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and a first-team Missouri Class 5 all-state pick as a junior and senior by the Missouri Football Coaches Association.
The 6-foot-3, 286-pounder out of Parkway Central High School in Chesterfield, Mo., had 70 tackles and 17 sacks as a senior for the Colts, who finished 13-2 with Bonner serving as the centerpiece of a defense that allowed just 10.3 points per game.
Bonner chose Notre Dame in late-June prior to the start of his senior prep season. Other top offers included LSU, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State and Tennessee.
After preserving a year of eligibility in ’14 and dabbling as both an end and an interior defensive lineman, Bonner served as Isaac Rochell’s backup at big end at the start of the ’15 season before shifting inside, particularly when Sheldon Day was employed as an outside pass rusher. He played in 10 games, registering five tackles, including an 11-yard sack against Wake Forest in which he also caused a fumble.
Bonner is the nephew of former Irish running back Dan Knott (1973, 1975-77).
• BEST-CASE SCENARIO
With Isaac Rochell in his final year of eligibility, Bonner gets reps when Rochell needs a blow. Bonner also could get some reps on the interior a la 2015 if the Irish choose to keep Rochell at end in their sub-packages. A permanent move of Bonner inside this summer would not be a complete surprise if the coaching staff doesn’t believe they have the answers they need from those who played on the interior this spring.
• WORST-CASE SCENARIO
Bonner remains behind Rochell and earns backup reps/minutes to a guy who has become a bit of an iron man along Notre Dame’s defensive line. There’s a strong possibility that Bonner plays about as much as he did last season if Rochell remains healthy, although another shift to the interior is possible with the unsettled situation at defensive tackle.
• CAREER COMPARISON
Justin Utupo was a hard-charging high school defensive end out of Lakewood, Calif., who finished with 11½ sacks as a senior at Lakewood High School. At 6-foot-0½, he was a “tweener” prospect whose stature projected as an interior defensive lineman. Utupo ultimately played 49 games in an Irish uniform, including a couple of starts late in the ’14 season when the defensive line was banged up. He had 23 tackles in his final season.
Bonner is longer than Utupo and projects as a defensive end more than Utupo, especially with a prep background rushing the passer from a two-point stance. Bonner is on a path as a valuable, steady backup with some position flexibility. If he can match Utupo’s productivity in his final season at Notre Dame, it would be a maximization of his talent.
• DEVELOPMENT VS. RECRUITING RANKING
Bonner was a three-star prospect out of Parkway Central High School in Chesterfield, Mo. It was an appropriate listing for a player who profiled as a defensive end that could ultimately work his way into an interior defensive line spot. After preserving a year of eligibility in ’14, the fact he played in 10 games and was a fairly regular contributor puts him slightly ahead of his ranking coming out of high school.
• BONNER AT HIS BEST
Bonner had a tackle in the season-opener against Texas, and then doubled up on his tackle total three games later against UMass. Bonner was credited with a fumble caused in the 10th game of the season against Wake Forest on an 11-yard sack of quarterback John Wolford. It was one of 13 snaps against the Demon Deacons. With Sheldon Day banged up in the Fiesta Bowl, Bonner recorded a career-high 37 snaps against Ohio State.
• QUOTE OF NOTE
“I’d say I’m a versatile player. It doesn’t matter where I play. I’ve practiced at all the position, so I’m prepared for any position.”
-- Jonathan Bonner
“I would say Bonner. He was a good, solid, functional player during the course of last year. He’s starting to become a guy that can make plays.”
-- DL coach Keith Gilmore on most improved defensive lineman of spring