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Notre Dame Football Recruiting 2012: Breaking Down the Backfield

Welcome to the first of what is shaping up to be a five part, in-depth series on the 2012 Notre Dame football recruiting class. I unveiled the OFD average grades for the newest members of the Fighting Irish family last week.

The first installment will focus on the three members added to the backfield: QB Gunner Kiel (who apparently isn't busty enough for Les Miles), RB KeiVarae Russell and RB William Mahone.

The transcript from Coach Brian Kelly's press conference on national signing day can be found here.

Official OFD Recruit Grading Scale:

95-100: Elite impact freshman with All-American potential

90-94: Multi-year starter with All-conference potential

85-89: Eventual starter with chance to play as underclassman

80-84: Raw prospect with decent potential but a couple years away from impact

75-79: Likely a backup

70-74: Reach by the coaching staff

Note: All Height/Weight/40 times as listed on

QB Gunner Kiel

(Columbus, IN - Columbus East) - 6'4"/210/4.65

OFD Average: 95

'12 IN QB Gunner Kiel (via RedshirtScouting)

Brian Kelly's thoughts from the signing day press conference:

Out of Columbus East High School, Gunner Kiel. When you talk about Gunner, first of all, I think you have to appreciate the fact that he comes from a family of quarterbacks. They grew up playin' the game of football. I think one of the things that stands out on my visit to Gunner's home, they had the basketball courts, they had the football fields, and they had the pole barn with the batting cage. This is a young man that comes from a very competitive family; his brothers have played college football, and you can see that when you talk to Gunner.

He's a young man that loves to play the game. That's what you love when you're recruiting, you want to see that passion for the game and that probably stood out more than anything else. Certainly I think we all know about his ranking and how he's perceived. He fits in very well to our offense, somebody that is familiar with the spread, moves his feet very well. As I said earlier about our other early enrollees, really has been impressive to our strength and conditioning staff in his workouts, moves his feet very, very well and has a great focus.

I think when you cut through all of this, in the recruiting process I think everybody has heard about his process, really what you're looking for as a coach is that somebody is happy where he is. You can see that Gunner is happy at Notre Dame, and I think when you're dealing with 17 and 18 years old, the end, for me, is that they're at the right place, and Gunner is at the right place here at Notre Dame because he'll tell you that, Gunner Kiel.

OFD individual grades after the jump

Whiskey: 94

A truly elite prospect that could literally have gone to any program in the country. We should all be ecstatic about having him on board. Strangely, most aren't. As an early enrollee he could definitely spice up the spring QB derby. The only question is how quickly he picks up the system. Kiel has said that he's willing to wait his turn but that definitely doesn't mean 4 years. With Goldrix having a combined 7 years of eligibility remaining this "issue" isn't going away anytime soon. May the best man win....

Eric: 96

Super developed field general with good size and athleticism. Intelligent leader with no glaring weaknesses. Competition in high school drops grade slightly. Has all the tools to become an elite quarterback sooner rather than later.

Burger: 96

What I like most about Gunner is his athleticism. He can make all the throws, but his film showed him running the ball off of the zone read a few times. He's not Andrew Hendrix, but he moves well for a player his size and can punish defenses that don't respect his legs.

Jim: 93

While I fully expect Kiel to take a redshirt year to learn the nuances of Brian Kelly's offense, I won't be surprised if he turns a lot of heads in the spring game. Physically, he is ready to play now. After watching the highlight reel again, the thing that really stands out to me is how physical he is as a runner-similar to a certain QB in Denver who shall remain nameless. Grade took a bit of a hit based on freshman impact, but should help to push the other QBs on the roster and be ready once his opportunity comes.

RB KeiVarae Russell

(Everett, WA - Mariner) -- 6'0"/175/4.55

OFD Average: 88

KeiVarae Russell 2010 Recruiting Video (via DickKalla)

Brian Kelly's thoughts from the signing day press conference:

Out of Everett, Washington, KeiVarae Russell, running back. I think the first thing that hit me when recruiting KeiVarae is his personality, always positive, always talking about the future and what he hopes to accomplish. I love being around young men that have a plan, have an understanding of what their future looks like and how Notre Dame can best help him get there. Always has a smile on his face, always upbeat and, again, he's an outstanding player or we wouldn't be recruiting him. The playing ability fits that profile that we're looking for at the running back position, he lined up in the All Star game as a wide receiver, he can play wide receiver, he can play the running back position and also can be a specialist for us, so he is a guy that has the ability to do a lot of jobs for us, if you will.

Whiskey: 87

Russell's speed and versatility could get him on the field early as he could be lined up just about anywhere. He can be electric with the ball in his hands and a little room to work. He could make an impact right out of the gate if the staff can find ways to get him some touches.

Eric: 88

A more fluid and polished Armando Allen-type player. Quick athlete without top-notch speed. Elusive and hits the hole quickly. Will need to add weight and strength. Should be a quality home run threat at the next level. If durable enough, has starter potential.

Burger: 89

Russell is a playmaker. Whether he ends up in the slot or in the backfield, he's a guy who needs to get 5-10 touches a game, because he's a threat to take it to the house every time he gets the ball. He probably needs to spend some quality time with Longo, but it wouldn't surprise me if he sees the field early on next season.

Jim: 87

Needs to add some weight before making a big impact out of the backfield, but a summer at Longo Beach could put him in at the slot for a few reps in the fall. Excellent acceleration (including a ridiculous 3.8 second 20 yd shuttle time) and elusiveness in the open field. Great hands for a back coming out of high school. Look for Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin to figure out a way to get the ball into his hands sooner rather than later.

RB William Mahone

(Youngstown, OH - Fitch) -- 5'11"/205/4.65

OFD Average: 83

'12 OH HB William Mahone (via RedshirtScouting)

Brian Kelly's thoughts from the signing day press conference:

Out of Austintown, Fitch High School, Will Mahone. When you talk about the running back position here at Notre Dame you've got to be able to do it all, pick up blitzing linebackers, catch the ball, lineup as a wide receiver, run the ball between tackles, get it out on the perimeter. We feel like he has that skill set that we're looking for at the running back position here at Notre Dame. Outstanding athlete, great character kid, and when you look at the players that are out there at the running back position, certainly you could make the case for another five or six or ten players.

What we liked about Will early on is he understood Notre Dame and recognized what was the ultimate goal for him. That was to get a degree, to win a national championship, and to continue on in his football career. We liked the principles in terms of what he was about in this process.

Whiskey: 83

Mahone looks to be a reliable "power" back with decent wheels but at 205 he will likely need to bulk up another 10-15lbs to be more effective in that role. I expect to see him redshirt in 12' and take a couple of years to work himself into regular touches.

Eric: 82

Stocky build with good initial quickness. Power runner with pretty good speed and burst. Smart player with great hands for a back. Shows good patience, but doesn't tippy toe for a bigger runner. Potential might be limited yet is physical enough to be a contributor for three years.

Burger: 85

I think Mahone could be a Jonas Gray-type player. He's not as big as Jonas, but he's a physical player and is deceptively shifty, just like Gray. If he bulks up, he could be a good back in this offense.

Jim: 81

He has a bit of a long stride for a big, powerful back. Definitely fits in the Robert Hughes/Jonas Gray mold, being closer to the latter. A north/south runner with good hands out of the backfield. Projects to play at 220-230 lbs, so likely takes the year as a redshirt to bulk up and learn the nuances of the spread offense.