Not only is talent important, but numbers and filling needs at every position is also very important for depth on any football team. So while it's important for the Irish to land elite players, it's also very important to land enough players at each position. Currently, the 2007 Irish will likely struggle on the field due to poor recruiting in both the offensive and defensive line among other areas. While there is talent on both lines, there aren't a lot of players, and a lot of the talent is young and inexperienced.
At offensive line, Tyrone Willingham's staff landed just two offensive linemen in the 2004 recruiting class (both transferred out of Notre Dame), and two offensive linemen in 2005 (both should start in Paul Duncan and Michael Turkovich). Remember that five total linemen play. In two classes, they couldn't even field an entire offensive line even if all four stayed. This lack of depth will force the Irish to field some inexperienced but talented players in 2007. While these young linemen are clearly talented, they'll likely struggle a bit early, as every young lineman does.
The same thing can be said for the defensive line. In 2004, Willingham and his staff landed three defensive linemen, two have since transferred. 2005 the same staff landed just two defensive linemen. Remember, in the old system, the Irish used four defensive linemen in their 4-3 defense. So even if all five stayed, at least four better be outstanding prospects. So far none have proven to be consistent starters. That doesn't mean they won't be, but they'll also have very little competition for the job either way, so they're likely going to play no matter how lacking in talent they might be.
Currently, in the 2004 and 2005 class, only 20 total players remain. Out of those 20, only six were ranked as four-star players. Three, Turkovich, Duncan and Terrail Lambert, are the only three currently slated to start. Other members of those two classes will start this season, but there isn't a lot of depth (or talent if you believe recruiting rankings) in Notre Dame's junior and senior class.
This is why I think it's important to look at two recruiting classes when judging how well the Irish have recruited recently. Let's take a look.
2007: Jimmy Clausen
2008: Dayne Crist
Comments: The Irish landed a five-star quarterback in Clausen last year, and a four-star prospect in Dayne Crist this year. My personal opinion is Crist is a five-star talent but needs a little work. Remember, this was the only quarterback Irish head coach Charlie Weis offered this season—over others who are ranked higher for some reason. Most, myself included, didn't think Weis would even bother recruiting another quarterback due to the current depth at the position, but Weis must've thought Crist was too good to pass up. I concur with his evaluation. I just don't think you could ask for anything better than what we've seen at quarterback recruiting the past two years.
My grade: A
2007: Armando Allen, Robert Hughes
2008: None yet
Comments: The Irish landed two four-star running backs last year……ND's version of thunder and lightning. Allen has already flashed his talents this spring, and I really like the toughness and quick feet that Hughes will bring to the table. The Irish landed five-star recruit James Aldridge in 2006, so they're loaded with talent currently. Running back isn't a huge need for ND this year. If they can get an elite player, one who can make the big play, they should take him. If they can't, they can use help at other positions. Again, I think Weis and his staff have done an excellent job of recruiting at running back. Currently they have a nice balance of speed, power and numbers.
My Grade: B+
2007: Duval Kamara, Golden Tate
2008: John Goodman
Comments: I'm a big fan of Kamara. I really believe he has the talent to be a better version of Maurice Stovall (wow!) once he gets some experience. Golden Tate is another great talent that can do some things in the open field that the Irish haven't had recently. I'm also a big fan of Goodman's, and I think he'll have a very Samardzija-like career at ND. Landing three four-star players is pretty good, but I'd still like at least one more. And, I'd like one who has legit speed that can stretch a defense. Is Michael Floyd or Brice Butler that guy? I do think ND needs to land at least one of these two to call this a smashing success. They did lose some key guys last year. If they can't land either, I'd be scouring the country for a speed guy who can hit the home run. They must get another quality wide receiver in this class.
My grade: B-
2007: Mike Ragone
2008: Kyle Rudolph, Joseph Fauria
Comments: Wow! I absolutely love ND's tight ends. Teams will absolutely fear Notre Dame's tight ends in the future. One five-star, two four-stars, and I believe Ragone definitely has five-star potential. You simply can't recruit better than ND has at tight end these past two seasons. I just can't imagine what teams will do when Weis lines up these three studs on any single play in the near future.
My grade: A
2007: Matt Romine, Tyler Dever, Emeka Nwankwo
2008: Lane Clelland, Braxston Cave, Michael Golic
Comments: Lane Clelland might be the most important recruit in this class. Why? I love me some linemen, and the Irish are starting to really build some quality depth at offensive line. Clelland is a true left tackle prospect. Matt Romine might be, and I love Romine's potential, but Clelland definitely is. Dever sure looks nice as a future right tackle prospect. Regardless, ND has three outstanding prospects at tackle in these three. Watch Emeka Nwankwo again on film. You'll see a guy whose light on his feet, quick off the ball, looks good as a pulling guard, and loves to find that next player to hit. He'll need some polish, but he has good tools to work with.
Cave brings the nasty, solid technique and strength, and you can never have too many of those guys. Golic, while not as highly ranked, brings some solid talent and technique, and technique is everything at offensive line.
The Irish need one more player here. They have three offers out, and they should land another great prospect out of those three. I'd say ND has done another good job at offensive line recruiting when looking at the two-year window. Add the 2006 class, and wow! Landing one of the three left on the board would definitely push my grade higher.
My grade: B-
2007: Ian Williams, Andrew Nuss
2008: Sean Cwynar, Brandon Newman, Omar Hunter, Hafis Williams
Comments: I'll never understand how Ian Williams wasn't ranked as a four-star prospect. Personally, I like his potential as much as almost anyone else on this list. I've kept Nuss on defense because I'm not sure he'd ever grow into a 300-pound lineman. He's an effort guy, a bigger Pat Kuntz, and actually prefers defense. I think he'll end up as an end in this defense.
It was absolutely vital the Irish address defensive line in this current class. ND, as mentioned above, is woefully thin at defensive line, and while Williams and Nuss are nice prospects, they'll need help. Help is on the way, and there's both size and talent coming. ND certainly has addressed nose guard with at least two prospects committed. Cwynar is an outstanding defensive end prospect, and I think he's very underrated.
I'd be thrilled if the Irish just signed these four, but there's a good chance they'll add to this current crop. Landing a player like Ethan Johnson would take this group off the charts. If we're basing this off my evaluations, the Irish currently have 1 five-star player and 3 four-star players in this group. Need one more.
My grade: A-
2007: Aaron Nagel, Steve Paskorz, Kerry Neal, Brian Smith
2008: David Posluszny, Darius Fleming, Anthony McDonald
Comments: I think ND has done a nice job with linebacker as well. Personally, I think both Kerry Neal and Darius Fleming are high four-star prospects at worst—at least in this defense they are. I also believe McDonald is very much in that category. Nagel and Paskorz will take some time to develop, but it's obvious they are very athletic if nothing else. And my sleeper……David Posluszny. Football is very important to him. He says his best attribute is as a leader. His brothers were great competitors, leaders and talents. Brian Smith is smart, physical and darn good football player.
The Irish need to add one more stud here if they can. It's a very good group currently, but one more stud would push this into the A category.
My grade: B
2007: Harrison Smith
2008: None yet
Comments: Everyone knows I'm a big Harrison Smith fan. I really think he possesses excellent instincts as a safety and always appears to be at the right place at the right time. However, it is highlight film, so he should be in the right place at the right time in his highlights. I'll admit I haven't seen the "lowlights" if there were any, but he sure had a lot of highlights. Fantastic size, speed, quickness, instincts and smarts usually equals fantastic football player.
Notre Dame has only offered Dan McCarthy this season because of depth they have from the 2006 class where they signed three safety prospects. Safety is not a big need for ND, but landing McCarthy, who is an excellent football player and would be an ideal compliment to Smith, would be quite a coup and would push my grade in the A category. .
My grade: B
2007: Gary Gray
2008: None yet
Comments: Again, I really like Gary Gray as a corner prospect. He plays a lot bigger than his 5-foot-11, 175-pound frame. It's a shame he'll likely be out for the year because I think he would've pushed both Darrin Walls and Raeshon McNeil for the nickel slot this season.
It sounds like Notre Dame is the team to beat for both Robert Blanton and Jamoris Slaughter, two of their top three corner offers. It also sounds as if the Irish have a great shot at Jeremy Brown, their other top corner offer. What's amazing is these three were among the very first corner offers that went out, which as we know, means they're the very top players on Notre Dame's board. The Irish might get their first man this weekend when Blanton attends Notre Dame's camp. He'd be an excellent addition. If he commits, ND would be in fine shape as I firmly believe they'll land either Slaughter or Brown in the future. My current grade is somewhat low, but adding two out of these three would obviously put this in the A category.
My grade: B
2007: Brandon Walker
Comments: What do I know? I can't evaluate a kicker. It appears neither could the previous staffs and maybe not this current staff. While it's way too early to call Ryan Burkhart a bust at this point, I certainly don't think the Irish planned on recruiting another kicker in 2007, which tells me there's a problem. I've watched Brandon Walker's film, but I literally know very little when it comes to evaluating a kicker or a punter. Walker looks to have a solid leg. Hopefully he's accurate. Hopefully Walker or Burkhart is the answer because spending another scholarship on a kicker would be very poor recruiting.
My grade: Incomplete
Looking at this marathon of an article, I see a lot of positive signs. Right now the Irish, in my evaluation, are sitting with A grades at both quarterback and tight end. There's a very good chance they'll finish with an A grade at defensive line, running back and corner. There's a great chance they'll finish with a B+ grade at wide receiver, offensive line and linebacker. If they land McCarthy, that's another A at safety. If either Walker or Burkhart works out, that's at least a B.
And I didn't think I could feel much better about recruiting than I currently do…..
There's still work to do, but things certainly look quite good for the future of the Irish.