Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Irish A-to-Z: Jalen Elliott

Either some sophomore safety will step up this season or some sophomore safety will get exposed. Jalen Elliott may get first crack in September.

Class: Sophomore (Eligibility: 3)
On The Depth Chart: Elliott got an off-season of first-team work during spring practice and seemed to hold his own, including seven tackles, one pass breakup and an interception during the Blue-Gold Game. He’s rising in every sense.
Post-Spring Status: Ascending

This is one recruiting ranking that doesn’t look good in hindsight.

Coming out of Chesterfield, Va., as a three-star recruit, Scout rated Elliott as the nation’s No. 94 overall wide receiver, behind prospects who signed with Indiana, San Jose State, Washington State, Western Michigan and Pittsburgh. Two years later, Elliott could be on the verge of growing into a three-year starter at Notre Dame at safety. That’s not the typical three-star career track.

Among the major recruiting services only Rivals tagged Elliott as a four-star prospect and a true safety. Everybody else went the three-star route in some combination of wide receiver and athlete.

While it’s true Elliott hasn’t started a game at Notre Dame yet, his spring practice ranked among the best on the roster and should put him in position for a quality career here. What comes next figures to push Elliot above his recruiting profile, even if it’s not by the end of this season.

ELLIOTT AT HIS BEST

Elliott played in all 12 games last season but never started, although he got legitimate work with the frontline defense, explicably including during overtime at Texas. Elliott’s only statistics were his 14 totals tackles, with a career-high four posted against Syracuse and Army. The nod goes to the blowout of the Orange, which marked a jumping off point for Elliott as a functional member of the Irish defense. His versatility as a field or boundary side safety figures to show moving forward.

QUOTABLE

“The speed of the game just kind of slowed down. I feel a little more comfortable.” – Elliott during spring practice

BEST CASE SCENARIO

Elliott continues to build on his strong spring practice and locks down a starting job for good during fall camp. While Brian Kelly has downplayed the athletic ability of the safety position overall, Elliott brings a lot to the table in raw ability and football smarts. The former high school quarterback can do a little bit of everything, which is why he should be a great disciple for defensive coordinator Mike Elko. Could Elliott produce a season of 80-plus tackles and a few interceptions at the back of the defense? That’s realistic. But more important would be cutting down on the big plays that killed the Irish last season. A good season for Elliott might be more about the plays he prevents than the plays he posts on the stat sheet.

WORST CASE SCENARIO

It’s hard to know if Elliott’s freshman season was more like a red shirt year or more like an actual fall of football. He played every week but not enough to really consider himself part of the defense. In other words, he wasn’t on the field enough to get exposed by opponents, although Virginia Tech did in spots. Are there real holes in Elliott’s game that we haven’t seen? The worst-case is those show come fall because it’s not like the Irish can really take him off the field. Elliott is going to play a lot of defense this season and probably play a lot of special teams too. The worst-case scenario, at least based on spring practice, is Elliott has to go through some real growing pains on Saturdays during pressurized season. It’s on Elliott and Elko to get that out of the way in August.

CAREER COMPARISON

Elliott didn’t have the high school accolades of Gerome Sapp but he had a similar freshman season, playing in every game, working on special teams and getting a little time with the actual defense. Sapp was a rotation player for the next season-and-a-half before starting in the second-best Irish defense post-Holtz. Elliott feels like he could have a similar career trajectory, maybe starting this season but probably not being an every-down type guy necessarily.


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