• Impact: Key losses (Donovan Jeter) and misses (Jalen Harris) diminish the overall grade, but the late recovery with Tagovailoa-Amosa and Wardlow was significant.
Among the interior defensive linemen on the roster, only Daniel Cage is out of eligibility after the 2017 season, although his history of concussions is a concern as it relates to this fall. With Cage as the only established nose tackle, Ewell has an opportunity to make an early impact.
Jerry Tillery needs to take another significant step. The Irish have yet to get any productivity out of Pete Mokwuah, Elijah Taylor, Micah Dew-Treadway and Brandon Tiassum – and may not down the road, either. The most promising of that group is Taylor, who played a bit at the end of the 2016 season. Hinish should fall in line behind Tillery/Taylor, depending upon how new defensive coordinator Mike Elko intends to use Tillery. Tagovailoa-Amosa fits there right now with Wardlow needed time to develop at end.
• In the Film Room: Ewell -- Plays with an angry, violent nature. Quality surge off the snap and the strength to maintain it. Shows the ability to take on blocks while keeping hands/arms free to make stops. Has the tenacity/strength to require double teams. Wired for all-day effort. Physically strong enough to have an early impact. The most physically advanced player in the class.
Hinish -- Nice forward lean in his three-point stance with quality pad level, get-off and swim move. A point-of-attack changer by using a powerful, two-handed surge with leg drive. Gets underneath blockers. Has some range for a tackle to work his way down the line to make tackles. A question of maneuverability, the ability to get off blocks on the next level, but nice long-term promise. Huge benefactor of proposed one-gap emphasis.
MacCollister -- Tough, gritty contact-seeking defensive lineman who projects as a strongside defensive end, but also could be a three-technique. Could offer the inside-outside versatility of an Isaac Rochell. Excellent pad level and spring-loaded get-off. Shows strength to get off blocks and makes it difficult for offensive linemen to cross his face. Like Rochell, doesn’t show a ton of pass-rush ability, but an anchor-type defensive lineman.
Tagovailoa-Amosa -- Listed as a defensive end by Scout, but an impactful defensive tackle/three-technique on the next level. Motors don’t run faster than Tagovailoa-Amosa’s. A non-stop player who has gap-creasing ability with size/length on the interior. Tremendous improvement over the course of his high school career. Showed a tendency to start low and then stand straight up out of stance, but those days are over. A four-star level prospect.
Wardlow – Hard-charging, long and raw defensive end with just two years of football under his belt. Long arms, frame allow him to cover width. Because of his inexperience in the game, a developmental prospect with upside. Former Maryland commit is a likely red-shirt prospect as he grows into his body and gains the necessary reps in the game. A significant 11th-hour catch.
• Impact: The loss of verbally-committed outside linebacker Pete Werner to Ohio State near the end of the 2016 regular season cannot be overestimated. The Irish fell short at linebacker, and weren’t willing to take a linebacker that didn’t measure up to what Werner offered. It makes sense from the standpoint that Notre Dame is very young at linebacker and Mike Elko’s scheme utilizes fewer true linebackers, more safeties. Te’von Coney has two years of eligibility remaining while Asmar Bilal, Josh Barajas and Jamir Jones each have three, and Jonathan Jones has four.
Late addition of Owusu-Koramoah is huge. A rather incredible late find/follow-through with the loss of Werner looming.
• In the Film Room: Adams – Hard-nosed, prototypical Mike linebacker. When he’s healthy, he’s quick to the hole and an inside blitz threat. When he’s not healthy – he was bothered by a serious elbow injury all season and through the all-star games – he is much less effective. Moving laterally is not a strength, which makes him a candidate to come off the field in passing/third-and-longer situations.
Owusu-Koramoah -- To list this kid as a three-star prospect is outrageous. He was a man among boys on prep level. Explosive, disruptive defensive football player with outstanding instincts and the physicality/athleticism to back it up. Big-time hitter. Sees things happen before they materialize. Spirited, physical nature. Plays with an attitude. A hands-down immediate contributor on special teams and perhaps beyond.
White -- Undersized but a weapon as a slicing linebacker who finds well-time creases to get to the quarterback. Exceptional timing as a run blitzer. A light-on-his-feet, quick-to-the-hole, change-of-direction player with the range to cover the width of the field. Way more physical than his size would indicate. Explodes into lower body of ball carriers. Needs to show the ability to get off blocks against larger competition, but will benefit from the scheme. A sleeper with significant upside.
• Signed: None
• Impact: The loss of verbally-committed cornerbacks Paulson Adebo and Elijah Hicks was a significant blow to the 2017 recruiting class, as was the late but unsuccessful push for Russ Yeast, who just couldn’t pull the trigger for the Irish. It should be noted that the Irish stocked up on defensive backs last recruiting cycle, including standout 2016 freshman cornerback Julian Love, Donte Vaughn, who showed occasional flashes of brilliance, and regular 2016 contributor Troy Pride Jr.
No cornerbacks currently on the roster who will run out of eligibility after the 2017 season. Nick Watkins and Nick Coleman each have two, and Shaun Coleman, due to two medical red-shirts, has at least three. This wasn’t a make-or-break need, but no program should ever go a recruiting cycle without landing a cornerback. Heavy emphasis in Class of 2018.
• Impact: None of Notre Dame’s safeties will be out of eligibility after the 2017 season, although supplementing the group was important since Drue Tranquill will have duties closer to the line of scrimmage. Spencer Perry and D.J. Morgan will start spring drills at safety, but likely destination – particularly Perry – is at the Rover with Tranquill.
Sophomores-to-be Devil Studstill and Jalen Elliott showed flashes of becoming quality safeties, although Studstill was hampered by injuries most of the season. Robertson, particularly as an early-entry (as was Studstill), will have a shot at making an early impact. The move of Studstill to strong safety and Elliott to free is a more appropriate fit.
Genmark Heath offers the size, aggressiveness and physical maturity to move to the second level of the defense. Robertson epitomizes range with length and sideline-to-sideline athleticism.
• In the Film Room: Genmark Heath -- Physically mature, versatile athlete who could play on either side of the football, but could be a real difference-maker at strong safety and even Rover if necessary. In-the-box type safety who drives through tackles. Very impressive as a prep wideout who can win virtually any jump-ball scenario. Older high school senior with maturity.
Robertson – Has more experience as a wideout on the prep level, but has some unique characteristics to excel at safety, particularly his athleticism and length. Swallows the football with strong hands, quality ball skills and high-pointing ability. Anticipates routes and reads the quarterback into mistakes through the air. Quality footwork and change of direction. Exceptional horizontal range versus the run. Will square up ball carriers and lower the boom, but needs more strength.
• Impact: Security for Justin Yoon, who has had some nagging injuries, and a logical successor to Yoon on kickoffs. Tyler Newsome handled those duties in 2015, but his inaccuracy prompted the change to Yoon, which negatively impacted his health/consistency. Irish are now in a position in which each of the three has a specific duty while gaining the benefit of avoiding the leg weariness that Yoon encountered in ’16.
• In the Film Room: Doerer – A sturdy kicker built more along the lines of a Tyler Newsome. More physically mature than most kicker recruits. Called a quality athlete by Kelly. Good, long follow through on kickoffs. Deliberate to the football on field goals, but likely will have opportunity to improve operation time with Yoon possessing two years of eligibility and Doerer focusing on kickoffs.