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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 18 Joe Wilkins, cornerback, incoming freshman

Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2, 175 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Incoming freshman with four years of eligibility remaining, including the 2018 season.
Depth chart: When he committed, Wilkins pointed out how Notre Dame’s depth chart looked at cornerback. He saw an immediate opportunity there, and it has gotten only thinner since thanks to the transfer of fifth-year Nick Watkins. Wilkins is not yet in the two-deep, but he and the three other cornerbacks in the recruiting class will each have the chance to be the first man off the bench considering college defenses occasionally need four cornerbacks on the field in 2018.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect, Wilkins was long a clear Irish lean while weighing wide-spread offers from South Carolina, South Florida and Louisville as well as Washington State, Arizona and Michigan State.

Wilkins played both receiver and cornerback in high school with much success on both sides of the ball. As the Notre Dame class of 2018 grew to include four cornerbacks — with the National Signing Day surprise of Noah Boykin being the fourth — there was some outside consideration of moving Wilkins to receiver. Irish cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght found nothing appealing about that possibility.

“[Wilkins’] length and ball skills can really make him an outstanding boundary corner,” Lyght said on National Signing Day. “For us, his background is more on the offensive side of the ball, which is okay, but he came along his senior year defensively, becoming a more sure tackler. I think that, with his length and speed, he can become an outstanding press corner.”

Wilkins also saw little merit to playing offensively. When he committed in November, he told Blue & Gold Illustrated he recognized the recruiting mishap of Notre Dame’s previous class.

“They don’t have any freshman corners right now,” Wilkins said. “I’m definitely going to get a chance to play early and to compete for a spot.”

“Watkins will be in his final season of eligibility in 2018. [Junior Julian] Love will have two remaining — as will his classmates Troy Pride and Donte Vaughn and [senior] Shaun Crawford — but another starring season could prompt NFL talk. The chances will be there for Wilkins, as he suggested. Last year’s recruiting failure is very much Wilkins’ gain.”

Notre Dame needs at least five cornerbacks ready for competition, preferably six. That means a freshman or two will work with the defense all season long, not paying any heed to the scout team. That could be Wilkins. Of the quartet in the class, Wilkins may have the most college-ready body, his length perhaps compensating for some inexperience and time not yet spent in a collegiate strength and conditioning program.

That would position Wilkins for early mop-up duties and late-season situational work. He does already have a grasp on route-running from both sides of the equation.

If absolutely nothing else, Wilkins projects as an immediate special teams contributor on coverage units.

By no means should one project every three-star defensive back to become a sophomore second-team All-American. Love’s leap is an outlier in that respect. Frankly, that feels like a vast understatement.

That disclaimer considered, looking at some of what led to Love’s sudden arrival could provide a route toward large contributions for Wilkins. Love took advantage of early playing time brought about by injuries and dismissals, playing well enough as a freshman in 2016 to have a lead on the rest of his position group heading into his sophomore season. That comfort gave him the confidence to play in a record-setting manner in 2017.

The Irish do not want Wilkins to play extensively in 2018. That would only follow injuries and/or dismissals. Whether or not those occur, though, the vacuum in the class ahead of him will create a chance for Wilkins sooner than later. If he can perform solidly then, he could follow Love’s model, just probably not with 2.95 interceptions returned for touchdowns in one season while breaking up another 20 passes.

Any time a consensus three-star prospect becomes a multi-year starter, it should be considered a win both in recruiting and in development. There is reason to believe Wilkins is the next example of such, simply via current roster construction.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 98 Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman
No. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle, junior
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, right tackle, sophomore
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 70 Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 69 Aaron Banks, offensive tackle, sophomore
No. 68 Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 60 Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 57 Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman, senior
No. 57 (theoretically) Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 56 John Dirksen, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, defensive tackle, fifth-year senior
No. 54 John Shannon, long snapper, junior
No. 53 Khalid Kareem, defensive end, junior
No. 53 Sam Mustipher, center and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 52 Bo Bauer, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 47 Kofi Wardlow, defensive end, sophomore
No. 45 Jonathan Jones, linebacker, junior
No. 44 Jamir Jones, defensive end, junior
No. 42 Julian Okwara, defensive end, junior
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 40 Drew White, linebacker, sophomore
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, kickoff specialist, sophomore
No. 34 Jahmir Smith, running back, early-enrolled freshman
No. 33 Shayne Simon, linebacker, incoming freshman
No. 31 Jack Lamb, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 30 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, linebacker, sophomore
No. 29 Ovie Oghoufo, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 28 Nicco Fertitta, safety, senior
No. 27 Julian Love, cornerback, junior, second-team All-American
No. 25 Braden Lenzy, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 24 Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 24 Nick Coleman, defensive back, senior
No. 23 Drue Tranquill, linebacker, two-time captain, fifth-year senior
No. 22 Asmar Bilal, rover, senior
No. 21 Jalen Elliott, safety, junior
No. 20 Shaun Crawford, nickelback, senior
No. 20 C’Bo Flemister, running back, incoming freshman
No. 19 Justin Yoon, placekicker, senior
No. 19 Justin Ademilola, defensive end, incoming freshman

No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer

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