Kelly’s Best: Quarterbacks

In the first of a 12-part series, we assess the QBs signed by the Irish and who excelled the most.

Since Brian Kelly arrived in December of 2009, Notre Dame has signed 10 quarterbacks – three in his first recruiting campaign that he inherited from Charlie Weis, and one in each year from 2011-17.

Rating quarterbacks on the fly is difficult when 30 percent of them (Brandon Wimbush, Ian Book and Avery Davis) have yet to be given a full opportunity to compete makes for an incomplete assessment.

Taking such nuances into consideration and with the intent of breaking it down to 12 positions/areas, we’ll align them by how Scout rated them coming out of high school as well as where they rank at Notre Dame in terms of productivity during the Kelly regime.

Obviously, Kelly didn’t land all 23 members of the signing Class of 2010 after taking over for Weis. But for the purpose of this study/comparison, all 23 will count on his ledger.

In the first of a 12-part series that will carry through the summer, we give you the quarterbacks, followed by running backs, offensive tackles, centers/offensive guards, tight ends, wide receivers, defensive ends, defensive tackles, linebackers, cornerbacks, safeties and kickers/punters.


  1. 5* Gunner Kiel (2012) – No. 38 overall; No. 1 QB
  2. 4* Brandon Wimbush (2015) – No. 71 overall; No. 6 QB
  3. 4* Malik Zaire (2013) – No. 172 overall; No. 14 QB
  4. 4* Avery Davis (2017) – No. 189 overall; No. 11 QB
  5. 4* Everett Golson (2011) – No. 254 overall; No. 15 QB
  6. 4* DeShone Kizer (2014) – No. 263 overall; No. 17 QB
  7. 3* Andrew Hendrix (2010) – NR; No. 29 QB
  8. 3* Ian Book (2016) – NR; No. 36 QB
  9. 3* Tommy Rees (2010) – NR; No. 64 QB
  10. 3* Luke Massa (2010) – NR; No. 74 QB


Tommy Rees – The much-maligned Rees was a godsend with injuries to Dayne Crist, Andrew Hendrix’s lack of development, the limited skills of Nate Montana, the position switch of Luke Massa, the suspension of Everett Golson, and the mercurial Gunner Kiel.

Rees stepped in as a freshman (2010) and helped lead the Irish to four victories down the stretch. As the full-time starter in 2011 and 2013, the Irish won 17 games. He bailed out Golson a couple of times in 2012 amidst Notre Dame’s national championship quest.

Known more for what he couldn’t do than what he did, Rees finished with 7,351 yards passing, 61 touchdowns and 37 interceptions. He wasn’t everything that the Irish needed, but he ultimately offered more than half-a-dozen candidates for the job.


Everett Golson – Few in Notre Dame history could “spin it” the way Golson could. He had a big, mostly-accurate arm. He had the ability to escape trouble, maintain his eyesight downfield and find open receivers. He was fast and elusive enough to add a spark on the ground. (He rushed for 14 touchdowns with Notre Dame.)  His 3,445 yards passing in 2014 trails only Brady Quinn (2005) and Jimmy Clausen (2009) on Notre Dame’s single-season list.

But he had to be brought along slowly in 2012, missed 2013 due to academic suspension, and then became a turnover machine in 2014. Golson threw 14 interceptions in ’14 and fumbled 12 times (losing eight) in a nine-game span, including at least one lost fumble in six of those nine games.

Golson’s Notre Dame chapter closed with his fifth-year transfer to Florida State.


Gunner Kiel – Kiel threw for nearly 7,000 yards and 56 touchdowns (with 26 interceptions) at Cincinnati, where it ultimately became the soap opera that it was leading up to his arrival to Notre Dame in 2012.

There was the verbal commitment to Indiana in July of his high school senior season (2011), the choice of LSU in late December, the flip to Notre Dame three weeks later, and then the transfer to the Bearcats after a short time with the Irish.

Kiel never was a true five-star talent, as rated, but he certainly had the skillset to be a successful quarterback for the Fighting Irish if he could have come to grips with the magnitude that is Notre Dame.


1. DeShone Kizer – The lasting memory of Kizer’s brief tenure with the Irish will be last year’s 4-8 season and the missed opportunities against Michigan State, Duke, N.C. State, Stanford, Navy and Virginia Tech.

But it was upon Kizer’s back that the Irish rode to the Fiesta Bowl and nearly a playoff berth in 2015 when he filled in for Zaire and led the Irish on game-winning drives against Virginia, USC, Temple and Stanford (only to lose to the Cardinal on a last-minute field goal). He also commandeered the Irish into position for overtime in a driving rainstorm at Clemson.

In two seasons/23 starts, he passed for nearly 5,600 yards, posted a fine 45-to-18 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 17 touchdowns. Without a defense to count on, it was Kizer against the world in 2015-16.

2. Everett Golson

3. Tommy Rees

4. Malik Zaire – Who knows how his career would have turned out if not for the injury at Virginia in 2015.

5. Andrew Hendrix – Just never had enough QB talent, instincts to excel.

6. Luke Massa – Never threatened at QB before moving to receiver.

7. Gunner Kiel

8. Brandon Wimbush – To be determined. With three years to lead the Irish, he could be at the front of the pack by 2019.

9. Ian Book – To be determined. Looks like a capable fill-in with chain-moving ability.

10.  Avery Davis – To be determined. Path to playing time sketchy with Wimbush’s three years and the expected arrival of Phil Jurkovec in 2018.

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