In his first year of recruiting for Notre Dame, Brian Kelly and his staff have come up aces. Combing the country for the players they need to fit their schemes, Kelly has filled vital needs, increased overall team speed, while creating a future front seven that has the potential to be dominant and powerful. The 2011 Fighting Irish class of 23 verbal commitments come from 14 states. Kelly's staff offered prospects from 33 states.
Overall Class Rating - A
'I've found that prayers work best when you have big players.' Knute Rockne
Following Rock's advice, the Irish recruited some talented big men - Big Skill players with versatility.
My Top 9 -
Aaron Lynch - The top defensive end in Florida showed how dominant his pass rush could be in the Army All-American game. 247 rates Lynch the 6th best player nationally.
Matthew Hegarty - This offensive tackle may protect Irish QB's blindsides for years.
Ishaq Williams - The #1 or #2 ranked weakside defensive end is destined to play outside linebacker with speed to cover RBs or rush the passer.
Ben Koyack - The top ranked tight end in this year's class will provide another receiving weapon in Kelly's spread offense.
Stephon Tuitt - Rivals' number two SDE should penetrate opponents' backfields and stuff the run for the Irish.
Ben Councell - Councell has risen from three star ranking to Rivals' #5 weakside defensive end after a monster game at the Carolinas Shrine Bowl with thirteen tackles. Ben will join Ishaq as an outside linebacker with speed and pass rushing ability.
George Atkinson and DaVaris Daniels - The Irish get two of 247s top fifteen wide receivers. Atkinson is picked as one of the top ten fastest prospects in the nation.
Troy Niklas - This California player visited Notre Dame this past weekend with all its snow and chose ND over USC. He is versatile enough to play TE, OL and DE in high school.
Most Likely Early Contributors - Aaron Lynch, Ishaq Williams, Stephon Tuitt. Lynch and Williams have entered Notre Dame early with the benefit from the strength and conditioning program and spring practices prior to the 2011 season.
'Motivation is simple. You eliminate those who are not motivated.' Lou Holtz
Top Class Sleepers - These players are motivated. Ben Councell - The Asheville, NC DE/OLB has emerged due to recent performances, but many coaches long preferred him to higher ranked DEs. Everett Golson - This dual threat quarterback switched from North Carolina to the Irish. He is sixth all-time nationally with 148 passing touchdowns, but lacked media coverage in South Carolina. Cam McDaniel from Texas powerhouse Coppell ranked 4th nationally in scoring, 18.6 pts/game, but is neglected in RB rankings.
The One That Got Away - Savon Huggins, Jersey City, NJ. Rivals #7 RB - Huggins chose in-state Rutgers.
Hey, Jealousy - George Farmer, Gardena, CA. The top ranked WR in this class and #3 overall player by Rivals chose USC.
I'm From Mizzourah - Matthias Farley, Charlotte, NC. Matthias may eventually be one of an Irish safety, but needs to show himself against the competition Irish practices will bring.
'It isn't necessary to see a good tackle. You can hear it.' Knute Rockne
Strongest Position Group - Defensive Line - The Irish may have one of the best defensive line recruiting groups in recent memory, which may soon evoke Rockne's saying. Some like Ishaq Williams and Ben Councell will become OLB. Stephon Tuitt, Aaron Lynch and Chase Hounshell, who decommited from Florida, will stay on the DL. Brad Carrico, Tony Springmann and Troy Niklas have the flexibility to play offensive line or defensive line.
Weakest Position Group - Running Back - With recent misses on Savon Huggins and Amir Carlisle and Cam McDaniel possibly headed towards split end, the Irish lack a true running back in this class. Rivals does not even rank Notre Dame in the top 50 teams for running back.
'Show me a good and gracious loser, and I'll show you a failure.' Knute Rockne
Narrative: When Jordan Prestwood, OT, and Aaron Lynch decommited for Florida State in October and Stephon Tuitt baled for Georgia Tech in January, the Kelly staff fought back, regaining Lynch's and Tuitt's commitments. They convinced Chase Hounshell, DE, to switch from Florida to Notre Dame. They fought for Everett Golson to become their QB, and got commitments from Cam McDaniel and Bennett Okotcha of Coppell.
Did class address need?
Four areas were huge needs for the Irish - 1. Defensive End - Two starting seniors were backed up only by two commits offered late last year after Kelly was hired. The Irish had had only those two commits in two years. This need was filled in spades.
2. Outside Linebackers - The Irish needed speed and pass rushing ability and got Williams, Councell and Anthony Rabasa.
3. Cornerback - Only two CB commitments in three years required a freshman this enter the two deep. The Irish have three cornerback commitments.
4. Safety - One safety in two years left the Irish thin. Eilar Hardy and Matthias Farley will provide them with help in that crucial area.
Overall: The Irish fill all their needs with the 2011 class. The defensive line haul is astounding and the subject of national recruiting services conversations. Notre Dame showed a rebirth in being able to draw top ranked talent to South Bend. Combined with the Irish's finish in November and their bowl win against Miami, this Irish recruiting class adds speed, power, depth and talent. Perhaps we can consider their biggest addition to next year's squad was the decision by Michael Floyd to return for his senior season, anchoring the wide receiver corps.
Closing Thoughts: We may look back on the 2011 class as the turning point for Irish fortunes. Kelly helps his potent offense by recruiting a top defense. The Irish can enter 2012 by targeting some top recruits instead of scrambling to fill positional needs and bringing along players a year too quickly. Expect Kelly to concentrate on recruiting up the middle - RB, QB, C, NT, ILB, S - while further bringing top talent into South Bend across the board with more speed. The 2011 Irish team will show how much Kelly and his staff can coach his players up to their full potential.
ND Roster Breakdown (updated with signings and announced fifth years)
Look forward to Eric Murtaugh's in-depth analysis of each player later this week. Thanks to Aaron Lynch for the quote.