Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Kelly’s Best Recruits: Offensive Line

Four-star offensive line recruits are virtually automatic at Notre Dame with Harry Hiestand, including another quartet in this year’s freshman class.

SCOUT OFFENSIVE LINE RANKINGS

1. 4* OT-Tommy Kraemer (2016) – No. 37 overall; No. 3 OT
2. 4* OT-Quenton Nelson (2014) – No. 46 overall; No. 4 OT
3. 4* OG-Tristen Hoge (2015) – No. 48 overall; No. 2 OG
4. 4* OG-John Montelus (2013) – No. 51 overall; No. 2 OG
5. 4* OG-Christian Lombard (2010) – No. 62 overall; No. 2 OG

6. 4* OT-Ronnie Stanley (2012) – No. 66 overall; No. 11 OT
7. 4* OT-Steve Elmer (2013) – No. 74 overall; No. 6 OT
8. 4* OT-Troy Niklas (2011) – No. 75 overall; No. 8 OT
9. 4* OT-Liam Eichenberg (2016) – No. 79 overall: No. 7 OT
10. 4* OT-Mike McGlinchey (2013) – No. 90 overall: No. 8 OT

11. 4* OT-Matt James (2010) – No. 91 overall; No. 11 OT
12. 4* OT-Matt Hegarty (2011) – No. 105 overall; No. 11 OT
13. 4* OT-Josh Lugg (2017) – No. 107 overall; No. 12 OT
14. 4* OT-Robert Hainsey (2017) – No. 129 overall; No. 14 OT
15. 4* OT-Colin McGovern (2013) – No. 133 overall; No. 9 OT

16. 4* OG-Sam Mustipher (2014) – No. 134 overall; No. 9 OG
17. 4* OG-Darnell Ewell (2017) – No. 146 overall: No. 7 OG
18. 4* OG-Aaron Banks (2017) – No. 163 overall; No. 9 OG
19. 4* OT-Hunter Bivin (2013) – No. 184 overall; No. 14 OT
20. 4* OT-Alex Bars (2014) – No. 202 overall: No. 14 OT

21. 4* OG-Jimmy Byrne (2014) – No. 211 overall; No. 12 OG
22. 4* OT-Jerry Tillery (2015) – No. 213 overall; No. 20 OT
23. 4* OT-Jarron Jones (2012) – No. 229 overall; No. 28 OT
24. 4* OG-Dillan Gibbons (2017) – NR; No. 26 OG
25. 3* OT-Conor Hanratty (2011) – NR; No. 31 OT

26. 3* OG-Trevor Ruhland (2015) – NR; No. 32 OG
27. 3* OG-Parker Boudreaux (2016) – NR; No. 32 OG
28. 3* OT-Nick Martin (2011) – NR; No. 39 OT
29. 3* OT-Mark Harrell (2012) – NR: No. 52 OT
30. 3* OT-Brad Carrico (2011) – NR; No. 64 OT

31. 3* OT-Tate Nichols (2010) – NR; No. 70 OT
32. 3* OT-Jonathon MacCollister (2017) – NR; No. 76 OT

BEST OF THE BUNCH

Ronnie Stanley – Proof of how well Notre Dame recruits along the offensive line is that Stanley was the No. 66 overall prospect in 2012 and still couldn’t crack the top five during the Brian Kelly era (see chart above).

Stanley had first-round draft choice tools upon his arrival at Notre Dame, but it wasn’t a sure thing. He worked to get up to speed and landed the starting job at right tackle in 2014 when the Irish – with Zack Martin at left tackle – allowed just eight sacks.

Stanley moved to left tackle in ’14 with the departure of Martin to the NFL. He allowed just one sack as a red-shirt sophomore. After contemplating leaving for the pros with two years of eligibility remaining, Stanley returned and helped lead the Irish to No. 28 in rushing (207.6 yards per game) – the highest average in the Kelly era.

THREE-STAR PROWESS

Nick Martin -- Of the 32 prospects listed as offensive linemen who have signed with Notre Dame since Kelly’s arrival in 2010, 24 – 75 percent – were four-star prospects coming out of high school. Twenty-three of those offensive linemen were listed among the nation’s top 230 prospects in the country during their respective senior years.

Only one of the eight three-star prospects emerged as a full-time starter – Nick Martin, the younger brother of first-round draft choice Zack Martin.

Martin, a two-time captain of the Irish in 2014-15, started 11 games at left guard as a red-shirt sophomore in ’13 before missing the final two games with a knee injury. He shifted to center in ’14 with Matt Hegarty filling a guard spot. Martin basically played the entire season with a broken hand. He moved back to center in ’15 with the emergence of Quenton Nelson at left guard.

Martin became a second-round draft pick (50th overall) of the Houston Texans in 2016. Prior to Martin, Notre Dame’s previous three-star prospects-turned-NFL-draft-picks were Prince Shembo (fourth round) and Bennett Jackson (sixth round) in 2014.

UNFULFILLED PROMISE

John Montelus – One of 11 offensive linemen signed by Notre Dame to emerge from the prep ranks listed among the nation’s top 100 prospects by Scout, the interior offensive lineman never got his footing with the Irish.

After preserving a year of eligibility in ’13, Montelus saw action in just six games over the next three seasons. Shoulder issues contributed significantly to his inability to find consistency and seriously contend for a starting spot. He never cracked the two-deep at Notre Dame before deciding to transfer to Virginia for his final year of eligibility in 2017.

Tristen Hoge – The highest-rated prep interior line prospect of the Kelly era – No. 48 overall and the No. 2 offensive guard in 2015. Hoge preserved a year of eligibility and then set his sights on a starting offensive guard spot once it was determined that Sam Mustipher had the inside track at center.

Hoge entered into a 2016 pre-season battle with Colin McGovern at right guard, eventually losing the competition to a player two years his senior. When Alex Bars moved from right tackle to right guard in the spring of ’17, the writing was on the wall for Hoge, who announced last month his decision to transfer to Brigham Young.

CUT SHORT

Steve Elmer – Rare freshman starter (four games) in 2013 at right guard. Shifted to right tackle in ’14, but moved back to guard after three games, where he excelled as a run-blocker. Also started all 13 games in ’15 before informing the staff that after earning his undergraduate degree, he would bypass his final year of eligibility and begin his professional career with his Notre Dame economics degree in hand.

TRAGEDY STRIKES

Matt James – The No. 91-ranked prep player in the country in 2010, the 6-foot-6, 290-pound James was conceivably the top prospect in Kelly’s first recruiting class at Notre Dame. He chose the Irish over Ohio State.

Two months after signing with the Irish, James was in Panama City, Fla. on spring break with friends when he accidentally fell from the balcony of a Days Inn and died.

FUTURE PROS

Quenton Nelson – Generally considered the top guard in the country, Nelson has started 23 of the 24 games he’s been in a Notre Dame uniform. He’s big, fast, tough and a likely first-round draft choice.

Mike McGlinchey – If he stays healthy all season, McGlinchey will leave Notre Dame as a 52-game player with 39 starts. Few would be surprised if he joined Ronnie Stanley (2016) and Zack Martin (2014) as Notre Dame’s third offensive tackle selected in the first round in the last five drafts.

POSITION FLEXIBILITY

Of the 32 offensive line prospects signed by Notre Dame in the Kelly era, three played defense while two incoming freshmen also are pegged for defense.

Troy Niklas – Listed as an offensive tackle, Niklas contributed at outside linebacker as a freshman in 2011 before transitioning to tight end, where he caught 37 passes in 2012-13 before turning professional.

Jarron Jones – Listed as an offensive tackle, Jones openly disdained the idea of playing offense and looked a long way off from ever becoming a significant contributor on defense. Gradually, however, he began to develop on the interior of the defensive line after arriving at Notre Dame as a defensive end.

Over four seasons, Jones played 34 games on defense, starting 13. He finished his Notre Dame career with 105 tackles, 19½ tackles for loss and 4½ sacks. Six of his tackles for loss came against Miami last season.

Jerry Tillery – Listed as an offensive tackle, Notre Dame’s need along the defensive line was acute when he arrived in 2015. He shared the nose tackle position with Daniel Cage in ’15, starting three games. He started 11 of 12 games in ’16 at defensive tackle. He has 49 career tackles and a sack in 24 games.

Darnell Ewell – This young man will never see action on the offensive side of the football. Not only must he play an integral role at nose tackle this fall, it won’t be a surprise if he becomes Notre Dame’s top option at the position in ’17 if he proves capable and allows Tillery to move back to three-technique.

Jonathon MacCollister – Projected as a strongside defensive end, MacCollister could be an offensive tackle option if the Irish can find better talent up front on defense.

CURRENT RANKING

1. Ronnie Stanley (see above)
2. Nick Martin (see above)
3. Quenton Nelson (see above)
4. Mike McGlinchey (see above)

5. Christian Lombard – Played 44 games for the Irish from 2011-14 (starting 31) before a back injury ended his career prior to the Music City Bowl vs. LSU.

6. Steve Elmer (see above)

7. Alex Bars – Fifteen-game starter, including all 13 last year at right tackle. Shifted to right guard in the spring. With two years of eligibility remaining, Bars has a chance to be a rare 40-game starter along Notre Dame’s offensive line.

8. Sam Mustipher – Stepped into the starting lineup at center last season with mixed reviews. Tough-as-nails interior offensive lineman should benefit greatly from last year’s experience.

9. Matt Hegarty – Started 11 games for the Irish in 2014 – one at right guard and 10 at center. Used his fifth year of eligibility at Oregon with Quenton Nelson’s insertion into the ’15 starting lineup imminent.

10. Colin McGovern – Played in 10 games from 2013-15 before emerging as the starter at right guard for eight games in ’16. Chose to leave Notre Dame for Virginia to use his fifth year of eligibility, which has since fallen through.

11. Conor Hanratty – Logged time in 23 games in a Notre Dame uniform, starting seven in 2013-14 at guard.

12. Mark Harrell – Played in 19 games for Notre Dame, including starting his last two games in a Notre Dame uniform -- Virginia Tech and USC -- last season.

13. Hunter Bivin – Current fifth-year senior has played in 29 games for the Irish, including 12 last year. Made his first and only career start against Stanford in ‘16.


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