Following Thursday's review of the suddenly smallish, but already accomplished class of 2013, I thought it timely to bring up a debate Tim Prister and I started during a post-Signing Day podcast five months ago.:
Prister favors the incoming crop of freshmen while I believe the 2015 crew, this year's sophomores to be, will prove better by the time they leave South Bend.
We both weighed in using four tiers of ranking the players, and asked Pete Sampson to chime in on our choices. You'll have a chance to do so as well.
Note: Both classes were comprised of 23 players on their respective National Signing Days but two have been dismissed from the 2015 group, safety Mykelti Williams and wide receiver Jalen Guyton.
TOP 5 vs. TOP 5
Best of the best only -- no stragglers need apply. For the sake of reference, the recent gold standard in this category would be the 2009 quintet of Manti Te'o, Zack Martin, Tyler Eifert, Theo Riddick, and Chris Watt.
Prister 2016: Daelin Hayes, Devin Studstill, Chase Claypool, Tommy Kraemer, Troy Pride Jr.
It took Studstill about two minutes to emerge as an early-entry freshman this spring. Hayes will impact the Irish pass rush from Game One. Claypool gives the Irish length, escapability, big-play qualities. Kraemer could compete for playing time at right guard. Pride puts his name in running for sub-packages during August.
O'Malley 2015: Shaun Crawford, Alize Jones, Brandon Wimbush, Josh Adams, Justin Yoon.
Adams and Yoon were two of the best true freshmen at their positions in the nation last season while Crawford and Jones have been pegged for stardom -- in Crawford's case, sooner rather than later -- by nearly every analyst that follows the squad. Wimbush might be the best quarterback on the roster.
-- Sampson Says: If Notre Dame wasn’t so poor at defensive end, this group beats the ’16 elites. Crawford, Jones and Wimbush all look like NFL caliber athletes. I’m cautious about Adams staying healthy, though.
2016 is all about Hayes to me because Notre Dame is so desperate for a legitimate pass rusher. If Hayes turns into one and stays healthy, this Top 5 for the ’16 class carries the day.
DEPTH IS THE KEY
Star power? Maybe, maybe not, but each of those selected below better make an impact over their last 2-3 seasons if a program wants to consistently contend.
Prister 2016: Khalid Kareem, Javon McKinley, Donte Vaughn, Jalen Elliott, Liam Eichenberg, Kevin Stepherson.
Kareem's just scratching the surface behind Rochell. McKinley could make things interesting early, definitely over the long haul. Vaughn’s athletic length will shine through as a weapon at corner. Elliott has the “it” factor. Eichenberg may be right on Kraemer’s heels. Stepherson’s ball skills impressed in spring.
O'Malley 2015: C.J. Sanders, Jerry Tillery, Equanimeous St. Brown, Miles Boykin, Te'von Coney, and Asmar Bilal.
Sanders, St. Brown, and Coney must each overcome injuries to reach their potential. Tillery is back at the position for which he's best suited though he did not impress the defensive staff during the spring. Boykin and Bilal are future starters that are set to contribute in '16 as rookies.
-- Sampson Says: Edge to ’15 in this tier. There could be four three-year starters listed. That’s a lot of talent. Curious to see the next step for Sanders. But I like this tier for 2016 as well and won’t be surprised if they’re all multi-year starters. Could argue that Eichenberg might be worth putting in the Top 5 too. Could be better than Kraemer?
COMPARING THE SUPPORTING CASTS
Diamonds in the rough? Late-bloomers? Early-career surprises such as Josh Adams last fall? Or are they "recruited over" as they enter their third seasons at the program?
Prister 2016: Julian Love, Julian Okwara, Parker Boudreaux, Tony Jones, Spencer Perry, Deon McIntosh.
Love’s improvement from junior to senior year striking. Okwara could be sub-package pass rusher. If he can corral ferocity, Boudreaux has the makings of a beast. Jones a much-needed between-the-tackles back. Perry’s length will help somewhere. McIntosh offers supporting cast versatility.
O'Malley 2015: Dexter Williams, Josh Barajas, Nick Coleman, Tristen Hoge, Ashton White and Elijah Taylor (I'd have included dismissed safety Mykelti Williams here).
With the exception of Hoge, each of the above is expected to contribute on a weekly basis as soph's (Williams and Coleman) or redshirt-freshman this fall. Special teams duties are on tap for Barajas, Coleman, and White while Williams and Taylor will have ample opportunity to contribute from scrimmage in reserve roles. Hoge is the team's best backup center and, at present, backup guard.
-- Sampson Says: Another edge to ’15. Actually, this is a blowout. It’s a major compliment to the recruiting operation to grab this level of talented depth in a class. There's some major development needed for the '16 crew, although Okwara and Love are the most intriguing. Okwara seems to have taken to the weight room, which might open the door for playing time.
Some three-star prospects end up as team captains, program leaders, and game changers. Others carve valuable niche roles. Most, however, never make an on field impact in South Bend.
Clearly too early to tell for all noted below, but an instant impact seems unlikely, and in the case of my 2015 crop, did not happen.
Prister 2016: Ian Book, D.J. Morgan, Jonathan Jones, Ade Ogundeji, Jamir Jones, John Shannon.
Book has winner skills, but when will he get past the other QB talent? Morgan a talented athlete, but not as developed football-wise as other safety prospects. Jonathan Jones is the sleeper of this group. Ogundeji a project with pass-rush skills. Jamir Jones needs to find his spot, mature his game. Shannon will join long line of successful snappers.
O'Malley 2015: Micah Dew-Treadway, Nicco Fertitta, Brandon Tiassum and Trevor Ruhland (I'd have included dismissed wide receiver Jalen Guyton here).
Can future Irish lines get something from Dew-Treadway, Tiassum, and Ruhland? At present, Dew-Treadway seems like the best bet. Though he's unlikely to contribute to the defensive backfield, Fertitta is poised to serve as a regular on the Irish Run Teams for the next three seasons -- just as he did as a true freshman last fall.
-- Sampson Says: Like the potential of the ’16 group of late developers more than ’15, but it’s hard to see how these guys fight their way into the rotation in the next two-plus years. Jones might have a chance.
Likewise challenging to see how O'Malley's '15 group makes a serious impact on the roster, although Dew-Treadway has some long-range potential in his fourth/fifth seasons.