Notre Dame

Reviewing Notre Dame's 2013 recruiting class

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Reviewing Notre Dame's 2013 recruiting class

Three years ago, Brian Kelly signed arguably his best recruiting class, both in terms of ratings at the time and on-field success once those players got to campus. This group will collectively enter its senior season this fall, so let’s look back on how each has fared so far, and what kind of impact can be expected going forward. 

(All these recruiting ratings are via Rivals.com)

Jaylon Smith (5-star LB, Fort Wayne, Ind.)

Smith won the 2015 Butkus Award, was a consensus All-American and declared for the NFL Draft last month despite suffering a significant knee injury against Ohio State. Securing his verbal commitment was a watershed moment in the Brian Kelly era, as Smith was a top-three recruit nationally who had scholarship offers from loads of elite programs. While he won’t be back this fall, his impact will be far-reaching in recruiting going forward — being able to tell other blue-chip high schoolers that Smith played at Notre Dame is a major positive for the Irish. 

Max Redfield (5-star S, Mission Viejo, Calif.)

Redfield hasn’t lived up to his five-star hype, but has 23 starts under his belt in three seasons. He hasn’t been alone at his position in struggling with far-too-frequent blown coverages, and was second on the Irish in tackles last fall despite being suspended for the Fiesta Bowl for a violation of team rules. He’ll be back in 2016 with one last chance to prove worthy of his five-star status, as well as earn himself a shot at playing in the NFL. 

[MORE: Notre Dame strengthens its program with six-year extension for Brian Kelly]

Greg Bryant (5-star RB, Delray Beach, Fla.)

Bryant took a medical redshirt his first year on campus and never was able to turn his athleticism and quickness into anything more than a couple of highlight-reel plays (like his 2014 spring game run and punt return against Louisville that fall). He was deemed academically ineligible for the 2015 season and decided to transfer to a junior college, and announced a few months ago he’ll play for UAB when that program re-starts play in 2017. 

Eddie Vanderdoes (5-star DT, Auburn, Calif.)

The last five-star recruit to commit to Notre Dame on signing day didn't make it to campus, instead deciding in June of 2013 he’d prefer to play his college ball closer to home at UCLA. While he’s been banged up the last couple of years, his presence could’ve been a major boost for a defensive line that’s dealt with some depth issues, especially in 2014. 

Malik Zaire (4-star QB, Kettering, Ohio)

Will he start this fall or not? That’ll be the No. 1 question surrounding Notre Dame for the next seven months until a starter is named or the team takes the field against Texas in early September. After nearly two seasons sitting behind Tommy Rees and Everett Golson, Zaire started the 2014 Music City Bowl and set the tone for a 31-28 upset over LSU, then opened the 2015 campaign with a win over Texas before suffering a fractured ankle the next week against Virginia. He’s more natural in the read option game than DeShone Kizer, and has a similarly strong arm, but whether he can re-take his starting job against a guy who won nine games last season remains to be seen. 

[MORE: Notre Dame expects QB battle to be competitive, not combative]

Isaac Rochell (4-star DE, McDonough, Ga.) 

Rochell has been one of Notre Dame’s more consistent performers since he took over a starting role from the suspended Ishaq Williams in 2014, starting 25 of Notre Dame’s 26 games with 15 tackles for a loss, three and a half sacks and 17 quarterback hurries. He looks like an early contender to be a team captain next fall and should continue to be a solid run-stuffing, quarterback-hurrying presence on the Irish defensive line. 

Corey Robinson (4-star WR, San Antonio, Texas)

Robinson’s production sharply dropped off last fall, going from 40 catches, 539 yards and five touchdowns in 2014 to 16 catches, 200 yards and one touchdown in 2015. With Chris Brown gone, Robinson is the incumbent at Notre Dame’s boundary-side receiver position, where he’ll have to fend off Miles Boykin for playing time. Even if Robinson doesn’t build on that 2014 season, though, he’s an outstanding representative for the university — he started a non-profit organization that donates athletic gear to those in need and is running for Notre Dame student body president this year. 

[MORE: Notre Dame thinks Miles Boykin is ready to break out in 2016]

Doug Randolph (4-star LB, Richmond, Va.)

C.J. Prosise’s prep teammate at Woodberry Forest High School has primarily served as a special teams player, though his move to defensive end could get him in the mix for playing time in 2016 at a position with thin depth behind starters Andrew Trumbetti and Isaac Rochell. 

James Onwualu (4-star ATH, St. Paul, Minn.)

Onwualu played as a freshman wide receiver mainly used for blocking purposes, then was moved to safety following the 2013 season. He quickly was shifted down to outside linebacker and started 17 games there in 2014 and 2015, settling into a nice groove with Greer Martini there — Onwualu will start against more passing-oriented offenses, while Martini gets the nod against running-oriented opponents.  

John Montelus (4-star OL, Everett, Mass.)

Montelus hasn’t broken through as an interior offensive lineman, and with Steve Elmer and Quenton Nelson entrenched at both guard positions and Tristen Hoge and Sam Mustipher likely battling to replace Nick Martin at center, there doesn’t appear to be a clear opening for him to move up the depth chart. 

Mike McGlinchey (4-star OL, Philadelphia, Pa.)

McGlinchey came to Notre Dame as a raw, athletic project of a player who offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has molded into a solid right tackle with plenty more potential yet to be reached. He started all 13 games last fall and could finish his career with 40 starts, provided the redshirt junior-to-be he exhausts the entirety of his eligibility. 

[MORE: Even without Martin, Stanley, Notre Dame OL is in good hands]

Cole Luke (4-star CB, Chandler, Ariz.)

Luke had a fantastic 2014 season in place of the suspended KeiVarae Russell (four interceptions, 11 break-ups, two forced fumbles) but struggled at times in 2015 (two interceptions, five break-ups). With Russell gone, Notre Dame will need Luke to get back to his 2014 level of production to help keep its secondary afloat. 

Torii Hunter Jr. (4-star WR, Prosper, Texas)

Hunter caught 28 passes for 363 yards and two touchdowns in 2015, though he had to compete for targets against established veterans at all three of Notre Dame’s receiver positions. With Amir Carlisle, Will Fuller and Brown gone, Hunter is the team’s leading returning receiver and the early favorite to start in the slot, though he has the flexibility to slide over to the field side and spell Equanimeous St. Brown there if need be (or if Kelly & Co. want to get C.J. Sanders involved). 

Will Fuller (4-star WR, Philadelphia, Pa.)

Fuller dubbed Notre Dame “wide receiver university” on his way out the door, and thanks to his massively successful three-year stint in South Bend, that’s not hyperbole. With 144 catches, 2,152 yards and 30 touchdowns in his college career, Fuller joined Michael Floyd, Golden Tate and Jeff Samardzija before him among the best receivers to play at Notre Dame. 

[MORE: Notre Dame confident in its next wave at 'wide receiver university']

Tarean Folston (4-star RB, Cocoa, Fla.)

Last fall was supposed to be Folston’s breakout season, but Notre Dame’s unquestioned feature back tore his ACL on his third carry of the year. He’ll return for the 2016 season hoping to show Notre Dame — and the NFL — that he can be a complete, dependable running back, though he’ll have to compete for carries with Josh Adams, who in 2015 set a program record for most rushing yards by a freshman.

Steve Elmer (4-star OL, Midland, Mich.)

Elmer returns as Notre Dame’s most experienced offensive lineman with 30 starts, and coupled with McGlinchey should shift the power on Notre Dame’s offensive line to the right side this fall. 

Hunter Bivin (4-star OL, Owensboro, Ky.)

Bivin hasn’t started a game in his three seasons, and is likely behind Alex Bars in the battle to replace Ronnie Stanley at left tackle. But with Bars still recovering from a fractured ankle suffered against USC Oct. 17, Bivin could run with the first-team offensive line during spring practice and give himself a shot at beating out Bars when the competition heats up in preseason camp this August. 

Mike Heuerman (4-star TE, Naples, Fla.)

The brother of ex-Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman never was able to gain enough weight to see the field as a tight end, and took a medical redshirt prior to the 2015 season that ended his playing career. 

Durham Smythe (3-star TE, Belton, Texas)

Smythe likely will enter the 2016 season as Notre Dame’s starting tight end, even though he missed all but three games last fall due to a knee and shoulder injury. He can catch and block, making him Notre Dame’s most complete tight end, though he’ll have the athletic pass-catching duo of Alize Jones and Nic Weishar pushing him for playing time and targets. 

Colin McGovern (3-star OL, New Lenox, Ill.) 

Like Montelus and Bivin, McGovern hasn’t broken through, but the state of Notre Dame’s offensive line when this class was signed wasn’t good: Leading up to the BCS Championship a few weeks prior, Notre Dame didn’t have enough healthy scholarship offensive linemen to complete two full units, which made practicing for Alabama’s punishing defense a difficult task. Even if Bivin, McGovern and Montelus never start a game, their presence is important in giving the Irish not only two, but three complete units of scholarship offensive linemen to use in practice. 

Jacob Matuska (3-star TE, Columbus, Ohio)

Matuska quickly was moved to defensive line, where he played in 2014 after that unit was decimated by injuries. As that depth healed and improved, though, he only appeared in one game in 2015.

Devin Butler (3-star CB, Washington D.C.) 

Butler would’ve started the Fiesta Bowl had he not broken a bone in his foot in practice a few days before the game. He’ll compete with Nick Watkins and Nick Coleman to start opposite Luke this fall and has three starts, one interception and six break-ups to his name. 

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Rashad Kinlaw (3-star ATH, Galloway, N.J.)

Kinlaw was dismissed in April 2014 because “he didn’t live up to the rules within our football program,” Kelly said at the time. 

Michael Deeb (3-star LB, Plantation, Fla.)

Deeb needed reconstructive surgery on and had nerve damage in his elbow, which led him to a medical redshirt that ended his playing career. 

Summing it up: This class will have produced two NFL Draft picks by May (Smith is a likely first-rounder, while Fuller should be picked in the first three rounds) and could have as many as 12 of its members starting in 2016. That's awfully strong, and shows that Kelly's program not only is recruiting well, but also successfully developing those players. 

Is Brian Kelly out at Notre Dame if new QB Brandon Wimbush’s rocket arm doesn’t deliver for Irish in 2017?

Is Brian Kelly out at Notre Dame if new QB Brandon Wimbush’s rocket arm doesn’t deliver for Irish in 2017?

A 4-8 season in 2016 has put Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly firmly on the hot seat as he heads into his eighth season with the Fighting Irish.

In response to a tumultuous season, Kelly made major changes to his staff this past offseason by hiring new coordinators on both sides of the ball.

Mike Elko, who previously led Wake Forest to an FBS Top-40 total defense ranking, was hired by Kelly to be Notre Dame's defensive coordinator, and Chip Long — former offensive coordinator at Memphis — will now be in charge of the Fighting Irish offense.

However, the biggest change and arguably the No. 1 factor in Kelly's long-term future in South Bend, will be the person under center in 2017.

Barring an unforeseen circumstance, junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush — a former Rivals four-star recruit — will lead Notre Dame out of the tunnel in Week 1 vs. Temple.

Wimbush has only thrown five passes during his time at Notre Dame, but showed what kind of talent he has with a 58-yard rushing touchdown as a freshman in 2015.

Wimbush was one of the focal points of a recent Rivals story regarding quarterbacks who will be facing pressure in 2017

Earlier this week, Rivals Recruiting Director Mike Farrell gave his scouting report on the Notre Dame quarterback.


I’m a big fan of Wimbush but that hasn’t always been the case. It’s not that I didn’t like him when I first scouted him before his high school career took off, but what I saw way back when was a kid who had a rocket arm and zero touch. But throughout his high school career he improved every time I saw him, showed much more than just a strong arm and flashed impressive poise for his age.

I’ve seen very limited action when it comes to Wimbush in college as he hasn’t played often and his spring game performance had ups and downs, but I believe in this kid’s ability. He can extend the play, has that great arm and just needs to get comfortable in the Notre Dame offense and make sure he doesn’t try to use that cannon to fit the ball into tight spots. I can see him having some growing pains this season, but as he gets more comfortable and learns to take what the defense gives him while keeping defenses off balance with his athletic ability, I think he’ll finish strong.

Will Wimbush's rocket arm be enough to save Kelly from the hot seat?

That's still to be determined.

Two views of Notre Dame's 2017 signing day class

Two views of Notre Dame's 2017 signing day class

After a handful of late additions sent in their national letters of intent to the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, Notre Dame on Wednesday announced its 21-player recruiting class of 2017. There are a couple of ways to view the end of what was a volatile recruiting period for the Irish:

The glass-half-full take:

Two and a half months after wrapping up an embarrassing 4-8 season, Notre Dame's 2017 recruiting class ranks 11th by 247 Sports, 13th by Rivals, 13th by Scout and 16th by ESPN. In fact, Notre Dame actually ranks higher this year in 247 Sports' composite rankings (11th) than it did in 2016 (15th), when the Irish were coming off a 10-win season and a Fiesta Bowl berth. 

Nearly scraping together a top-10 class after going 4-8 and losing four assistant coaches in Mike Sanford, Mike Denbrock, Scott Booker and Keith Gilmore is an impressive feat (Greg Hudson was only an interim defensive coordinator, and Brian VanGorder was far from a reliable recruiter). Plenty of kudos should be extended the way of recruiting coordinator/defensive line coach Mike Elston for heading up the program's efforts to keep what began as a pretty strong class from disintegrating. 

Additionally, coach Brian Kelly pointed to the work of the 15 verbally-committed players who stuck with their pledges even as Notre Dame sustained a string of confounding losses and significant coaching turnover. 

"We couldn't be where we are today unless we had 15 student-athletes that were committed to Notre Dame from the start to the finish," Kelly said. "Really during a very difficult season, this group of 15 really had to endure the things that would occur out there in recruiting during a very difficult season. Other schools reminding them about a very difficult season that we had. Then there was them sticking together because of why they wanted to come to Notre Dame."

Five of those players enrolled early — tight end Brock Wright, offensive linemen Robert Gainsay and Aaron Banks, running back C.J. Holmes and safety Isaiah Robertson, all of whom 247 sports rated as four-star recruits — and guys like tight end Cole Kmet, quarterback Avery Davis and offensive linemen Joshua Lugg never wavered, too. 

That those players stuck together helped Notre Dame maintain a good base after the NCAA-mandated dead period lifted after the College Football Playoff title game last month, and new coaches Brian Polian, Mike Elko, Clark Lea, Chip Long and DelVaughn Alexander were able to bring in six late additions to the class: safety Jordan Genmark Heath, wide receiver Jafar Armstrong, kicker Jonathan Doerer, defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and defensive lineman Kofi Wardlow. 

Armstrong, Tagovailoa and Wardlow all filled red-line positions of need, while adding more players to increase the pool of talent available to Elko is hardly a bad thing. 

But the optimistic viewpoint here is the deck was stacked against Notre Dame in recruiting, and they actually turned out a pretty good hand thanks to a complete effort from everyone in the athletic department. 

"Every weekend, Jack Swarbrick, our athletic director, met with our recruits," Kelly said. "That's unusual. I don't think that happens everywhere that your athletic director makes himself able to meet with recruits.

"In a lot of instances he had to be there to support our football program and talk to recruits about where this program is and where it's going. There are questions when a family comes on campus. He reminded them about the investment we were making in staff and what we were doing for the present and for the future. So having Jack's involvement in this was absolutely crucial to get to where we are."

Now, for the glass-half-empty take:

Notre Dame had six players decommit, five of whom were at positions of need (defensive line, cornerback, wide receiver). Only four-star defensive end Robert Beal jumped ship before Notre Dame's fall tailspin was underway, and four of those six decommitting players were four-star recruits. 

Notre Dame wound up replacing them with six late commitments, but five of those late-deciding players were three-star recruits and one (Doerner) was a two-star player. That's a good recipe for slipping from having a top-10 class to one on the outside looking in. 

A common lament among fans is that Notre Dame has struggled to sign five-star recruits lately, and while it's true the Irish haven't done that since 2013 — Jaylon Smith and Max Redfield, as rated by 247 Sports — that's not as big an issue as it may seem. Just look at the disparity in college success between Smith and Redfield as a front-and-center example of how a five-star rating doesn't guarantee success in college. Signing more four/five-star recruits than two/three-star ones is far more important (more on that in a bit). 

But the bigger issue with Notre Dame's 2017 class perhaps has more to do with its 2016 class. Notre Dame lost ace recruiters Tony Alford and Kerry Cooks after the 2014 season and re-worked its entire recruiting operation in response, which led to little oomph in a 2016 class that, based on the prior season, should've been much better than it was. 

Last year's group could ultimately build a legacy as a less-heralded crop of recruits that went on to success — the strong debuts of 247 Sports three-stars in cornerback Julian Love and wide receiver Kevin Stepherson were good starts — but there's a long way to go there. 

If 2016 was supposed to be a more transitional recruiting class, though, then 2017 represents a massive missed opportunity. Going 4-8 with all the right recruiting machinations in place is a glaring shortcoming for the future of the program — even a nine-win season could've allowed Notre Dame to hang on to some of those four-star players it lost and earn a top-10 class ranking. 

More importantly than a top-10 class, though, is pulling in more four- and five-star recruits than two and-three star ones. Notre Dame didn't do that in 2017 (10 four-star recruits out of 21) or 2016 (10 four-star recruits out of 23) after hitting that benchmark each of the last three recruiting cycles. That's a worrying trend given the correlation between signing a majority of four- and five-star recruits and winning a championship

The last two recruiting cycles have been, in that context, significant disappointment. While strong classes in 2014 and 2015 could prop up a playoff run as soon as this fall, the future of the program may not be on solid footing even if the Irish engineer a major turnaround in 2017. Next year's class likely will be critical to the long-term success of the program under Kelly, presuming he's still around to usher in the next group of recruits in February of 2018.