CIERRE WOOD, RB
Cierre Wood is one the most explosive players in the nation with the ball in his hands. He has good speed and good acceleration. Shows a good burst and has excellent agility. His agility and vision are his two best attributes. He's a smooth athlete who will need time to adjust running from the I formation. I anticipate Wood making an impact early for the Irish as a returner. He is one the most dynamic kick returners I've seen in years. He's a natural return man who has excellent vision and makes quick decisions. If he gets a crease he explodes through it and is gone. He's actually more decision and explosive as a returner than he is as a running back.
Wood needs to really become good friends with the Notre Dame weight room and strength and conditioning staff. At this point Wood is pretty thin in both his upper and lower body, but his frame should allow him to fill out very nicely as long as he is willing to work. If he makes the strength gains his explosiveness and agility will take off.
THEO RIDDICK, RB
Theo Riddick doesn't get much attention but he is not someone who should be overlooked. Riddick is the more pure running back in this class for the Irish. Riddick is a tough in between the tackles runner for his size. At the snap Riddick shows a good initial burst and he's a good straight line runner who attacks the hole and hits it fast. Once he is through the first level he is able to make the big play. For a smaller player he plays physical and uses his stiff arm well. While he doesn't have a great second gear to pull away from defenders he does make a lot of plays in the secondary. Riddick has very good quickness and great change of direction ability. He flies in and out of cuts without losing any speed. Riddick also shows good returning ability.
At this point Riddick is a bit undersized and doesn't have a great frame. But he can get big enough to be an every down player in college. Riddick also will need to improve his footwork in the backfield. He isn't efficient with his technique and wastes motion, this will need to be cleaned up.
SHAQUELLE EVANS, WR
Evans continues the Irish streak of landing excellent wide receivers. Is a unique player in comparison to the other Irish wide outs. Evans has good speed and very quick feet. While he isn't a great route runner now he does have all the athletic skills to become one. I love how Evans gets to full speed at his first step. Based on how the Irish use their slot receivers Evans is an excellent candidate for the slot. He's got the quickness, size, strength, and route running potential to excel in the slot. As a junior I remarked that I didn't feel Evans was a big play maker after the catch. As a senior he proved me wrong and made a lot of plays with the ball in his hands. Evans is yet another incoming Irish recruit who has a lot of potential as a punt returner.
Evans has the potential to be a great route runner, but he isn't one yet. He needs a lot of work with his technique, but the skill set is there. Evans also needs to learn to use his hands to beat aggressive defenders. At this point bigger and aggressive defenders are able to re-route him and slow him down and Evans doesn't have an answer. He has the strength and quickness to beat the jam, he just needs to learn the proper techniques.
TYLER EIFERT, TE
As a pass catcher you won't find many tight ends who are better or more explosive than Tyler Eifert. Eifert has the game of a wide receiver and the body of a future tight end. He's tall, long, makes a lot of plays downfield, and has excellent hands. Eifert also shows excellent route running potential for a tight end with his agility and foot quickness and will be very tough for safeties and linebackers to defend. Not only does Eifert have good hands but he has excellent ball skills and makes a lot of catches in traffic, which is needed for a tight end.
The knock of Eifert is obvious as soon as you see him play. He has a long way to go before he'll be able to block effectively in college. Eifert needs to get a lot bigger and a lot stronger to block in college. He gives good effort but wasn't asked to run block much from a true tight end position. How quickly he gains the size and strength needed to block effectively will dictate how soon he sees the field at Notre Dame. He needs time, but in time he could be a very good football player.
JAKE GOLIC, TE
Although he's a bit thin at this point, Jake Golic has the body and frame to really become a big football player. Golic is a good pass catching tight end with good hand and makes a lot of catches down field. Golic uses his good size to get open over the middle and shield defenders downfield. Although he's more of a pass catcher now he has the frame and ability to develop into a well-rounded blocker and pass catcher. He gives very good effort in the run game and is aggressive.
Golic has good hands and makes some excellent catches but also loses concentration at times and will drop the ball. As his concentration gets better he'll be more consistent. Golic will need a lot of work in the weight room but as I mentioned once he spends some time there I think he'll get very big. Golic doesn't have very good speed and quickness but is smooth and will be able to work zones at the next level.
ZACH MARTIN, OT
Zach Martin is a typical Midwest offensive lineman with his toughness and aggressive attitude. But Martin is also quite an athlete and is one of the better athletes in this class. He has excellent foot quickness, fluid hips, and agility. Martin is quick off the ball, shows excellent speed when pulling and trapping, works quickly to the second level, and shows very good speed in the open field. For a high school player Martin plays with solid technique and uses his hands well. Martin is quite versatile and can play both guard and tackle spots in college. It wouldn't surprise me if Martin ended up at left tackle, right tackle, or one of the guard spots.
Martin is a bit light at this point and will need a lot of time in the weight room and cafeteria. But his frame is excellent and I don't see weight being in issue down the road. Martin also could improve his footwork. He shows excellent quickness, but his technique isn't always the best and it gets him out of position at times.
CHRIS WATT, G
Chris Watt is a lot of fun to watch on film. He's an excellent athlete with very good speed and quickness. Watt moves very quickly on traps and pulls and flies in the open field. He's a versatile athlete who plays left tackle in high school but based on his height and size projects more as a guard in college. But what is most enjoyable about Watt's game is his toughness and physicality. Watt shows good natural strength, a strong punch, and is very aggressive and physical. He's a powerful run player in high school and just fights with defenders. He does the same thing as a defensive tackle. Once his body develops Watt has the potential to be a truly dominant offensive linemen in college.
Watt is light at this point and doesn't have great lower body strength. This prevents him from really driving back bigger players. He'll need weight room work, especially with his lower body. Once that comes he'll be scary good, but he has a lot of room for improvement at this point. Watt is also a very raw player when it comes to technique. He needs to develop quite a bit with his footwork and properly using his hands.
ALEX BULLARD, G
Bullard is one of the sleepers in this class. He is probably the least regarded of the Irish line recruits but his potential is just as high. Bullard has excellent quickness and just explodes off the ball. At this stage in his development he's a dominating run blocker. His athleticism allows him to fly off the ball, he's explosive, and has a lot of natural upper body strength. Bullard also shows excellent quickness and uses his agility and balance to dominate on the perimeter and downfield. He's very raw, but in time he could be quite good.
The Tennessee native is light right now and needs to get bigger and stronger. He's a relatively thin athlete at this point and will have to fill out quite a bit. But this encourages me. If he is able to add mass and additional strength he'll be even more dominant. Where Bullard needs the most work is with his technique. Bullard is very raw in regards to footwork. He's a run blocker at this point and his pass protection technique is in the elementary phases at this point.
TYLER STOCKTON, DT
The Irish have had a lot of success the last three recruiting cycles with short and stocky interior defensive linemen. Stockton is the latest in that line, and is just as good. Stockton plays with excellent natural leverage. The New Jersey native shows excellent quickness off the ball and obviously anticipates the snap very well. Stockton also has a tremendous motor and battles every snap. He's strong, has quick hands, and is a good tackler. Stockton is also quite versatile. He can play over the center, in the 3 technique in the 4-3 defense, and could play defensive end in the 3-4. This will be one of his best assets early on.
Being an early enrollee is huge for Stockton. His biggest weaknesses at this point are his lack of ideal girth, strength, and conditioning. The conditioning aspect is true of most high school defensive linemen. Spending a semester on campus and working out with the team should really help Stockton get ready to play early on. Stockton also needs to improve his technique. I'd like to see him develop a wider array of moves off the line.
ZEKE MOTTA, LB
Motta opened up a lot of eyes in San Antonio for the Army All-American game. He isn't as highly ranked as other national linebackers but showed during that week he is one of the nation's top players at his position. Motta was a highly productive high school player and twice was named 6A 1st Team All-State in Florida. That is impressive. Motta has very good speed and agility for a linebacker. He has the athletic ability of a safety and the body and style of play of a linebacker. Motta also has good natural strength and has excellent instincts. Motta shows very good run-pass recognition and shows the ability to be an excellent pass defender in college.
Motta obviously needs to add size and strength to his game, especially short area strength if he wants to play linebacker. He was a safety in college so he'll have to build into a linebacker. Motta also has to learn how to play the linebacker position. He shows the natural ability, but there will be a lot to learn, which is why being an early enrollee is so important for him. If he is able to add the necessary strength and position knowledge I wouldn't be surprised to see Motta playing as a freshman.
CARLO CALABRESE, LB
The Irish linebacker unit has lacked a punisher the last few years. That will change with Carlo Calabrese. He is one of the toughest and most physical linebackers in the country. Calabrese just destroys ball carriers and has excellent short area power. He takes two steps, builds up little momentum, and just drives through a ball carrier like he'd been running for 10 yards. Calabrese is a good tackler who plays the game with good technique and takes on blocks very well. He takes good angles to the football, shows excellent play recognition, and is quite instinctive. Calabrese makes a ton of plays in the backfield, which we haven't seen much from Irish linebackers in the last few seasons.
Calabrese doesn't have great speed and isn't real fluid. He is by no means stiff, which he has been accused, and is a solid athlete. But he isn't going to out-run and out-quick people. But he makes up for that with the above mentioned skills and instincts. Calabrese also needs a lot of work in coverage. He recognizes the pass well but needs to learn how to play zones and won't be a great man cover defender.
DAN FOX, LB
Dan Fox is a smooth athlete who shows good speed, good quickness, and good overall agility. He is relatively effortless in his movements and changes directions well. I was surprised how aggressive and tough Fox was. He's a hybrid safety/linebacker in college but is very good against the run. Fox also shows good potential as a blitzer off the edge. Fox's biggest strength is his ability in coverage. He's athletic enough to cover tight end's and running back's in man coverage. His time as a safety has helped him develop into a very effective zone defender. He's quick into his zones, plays the ball well, and makes good reads on the ball.
Fox is raw at this stage and is pretty small at this point. Fox will need a lot of time to increase his size and strength. This will help him play with more power, which is needed, and will help him take on blocks more effectively.
E.J. BANKS, DB
Banks is another versatile athlete, which this particular Irish class is full of. He made his mark and a playmaking running quarterback. In college Banks has the skill set to play cornerback, safety, wide receiver, and even a little bit of running back. Banks has good size for a cornerback at around 5'11 to 6'0. Banks is able to reach full speed right away which projects well to the cornerback position. He's got good quickness, he's a smooth athlete, and his balance allowed him to break a lot of tackles and make a lot of plays with the ball in his hands. His quick feet, fluid hips, and ability to get fast right away should help him translate well to the cornerback position in college.
My two biggest concerns with Banks are his size (he's really thin and doesn't have a great frame) and the fact he hurt his knee late in his senior year. To answer the size question I just look at Darrin Walls. Banks plays physical, but I wonder if his size will limit him to just cornerback in college on the defensive side of the ball.
NICHOLAS TAUSCH, PK
Tausch has a pretty strong leg and if he's able to gain strength between now and August should be able to compete early on for the kickoff job at Notre Dame as a freshman. Tausch gets good height on his kicks and should be able to consistently get the ball inside the 5 yard line, which is something the Irish have struggled with the last couple of seasons. If he is able to get stronger I think he'll be very effective here in the future. Tausch gets good height on his field goals and shows good leg strength here, but doesn't boom the ball and is a bit slow to the ball. He'll have to time his take off better or speed up his approach. I like that Tausch gets good lift on his field goals and extra points which will help him prevent blocks.
BEN TURK, P
Turk is worth the scholarship, which isn't often true for punters. Turk gets rid of the ball quickly and has a very good follow through. He gets good hang time on his kicks and is able to place the ball nicely inside the 20. I'd like to see a bit more consistency out of Turk, but he has a lot of talent. As he matures physically I think he'll be able to get more distance on his kicks, but his technique, hang time, and ability to place the ball will allow him to compete for time early in his career at Notre Dame.
JORDAN COWART, LS
It is hard to find a good long snapper. Many people questioned Cowart's scholarship offer, after watching him on television this fall I do not. Cowart gets excellent zip on his punt snaps, has a very flat snap, and is athletic and big enough to get downfield and make plays. He's also consistent and Turk rarely had to adjust to make the catch. He's got good size already and the fame to get bigger and stronger, which will help him as a blocker and tackler. It won't surprise me at all if Cowart earns the long snapping duties as a true freshman. I'm in the minority here but having coached on teams that struggled to find a good long snapper I will never underestimate the need for a good one, and Cowart is an excellent long snapper. He'll be a huge asset for the Irish for the next four seasons.
MANTI TE'O, LB*
Manti Te'o is one of the best linebacker recruits, if not the very best, that have signed with Notre Dame since I've followed the Irish. He's an elite talent who combines good agility and good speed with excellent instincts, power, and instincts. Te'o is a smooth athlete who also made big plays as a running back in high school. He's got excellent size and very good natural power. He has all the tools to make a big impact early on for the Irish. Te'o has a great feel for the game and loves to mix it up. He gets into the backfield quickly and should be a very good blitzer. He's a patient player who also shows good skills in coverage. Te'o has a chance to be dominant at the next level.
Te'o doesn't have many weaknesses. He isn't super fast like fellow 2009 backers Jelani Jenkins and Dorian Bell, but more than makes up for it with quickness, instincts, and closing ability. Like any high school player he'll need to get stronger and learn the defense, but there aren't any noticeable holes in his game.
BYRON MOORE, S*
Byron Moore is a true free safety prospect who is one of the more fluid safety prospects in this class. He shows good instincts, good range, and closes well on the football. The Narbonne standout gets off the hash quickly and reacts very well to the football from the free safety position. Moore has good speed and made a lot of big plays in high school, which showed in his 19.7 yards per catch during his junior and senior seasons. Moore is versatile enough and has the athletic skills to play cornerback in college. His footwork and size allow him to play off but still be aggressive.
Moore needs to get stronger and as a cornerback needs a lot of work on his press technique, but his versatility is a huge plus. Where he'll need the most work is as a tackler. Moore goes low but needs to learn to wrap up better, drive through ball carriers, and use his lower body to hold up against bigger players.
JAWANZA STARLING, S*
Starling is a pure safety who at times plays like a linebacker. He'd be an excellent fit for the strong safety position at Notre Dame. Starling flies all around the field and loves to lower the boom on defenders. He's got good speed and long strides. Starling is a solid athlete who has the size and frame to get big and truly be a dominant run stopper from the safety position. He's also athletic enough to run with tight ends and physical enough to beat up slot receivers. Starling takes good angles to the football and closes quickly on ball carriers.
Starling will need to improve his hips and try to become a bit more fluid. He's solid in coverage but could use some work in this department. Starling makes a lot of plays against the run but will need to learn to wrap up much better and play lower in college. He'll also need to learn to really explode through ball carriers when he isn't able to gain a lot of momentum.
* While these three players have yet to sign on with Notre Dame, we are including them in the event that they do.
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