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2015 Notre Dame Recruiting: Scholarships & Roster Depth

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Recruiting has taken a positive turn since the summer now it's time for a numbers update.

Brandon Wimbush from the New York NFTC.
Brandon Wimbush from the New York NFTC.
Student Sports

It's been 3 months since our last scholarship and roster depth update post. Naturally a lot has happened with Fighting Irish recruiting since then so we're here to make sense of all the moves.

Let's get to the numbers!

Out of Eligibility Following 2014 Season:

OL Lombard, DT Utupo, LB Moore, CB Riggs, S Collinsworth, RB McDaniel, TE Koyack, DE Williams, CB Atkinson, K/P Brindza

The big news from this list is the high probability of Ishaq Williams returning in 2015 after missing the entire 2014 football season due to academic suspension. His return makes the scholarship situation just a little tighter for Notre Dame. Also, keep in mind Austin Collinsworth may petition for a 6th-year of eligibility if he does not play the rest of the season after dislocating his shoulder and slightly tearing his labrum. I would expect with the poor depth at safety that he will play if healthy.

2015-16 Academic Classes

  • 20 Verbal Freshmen Commits
  • 23 Sophomores
  • 22 Juniors
  • 12 Seniors (includes Baratti)
  • 16 Fifth-Year Seniors

93 Total Scholarships

The additions of quarterback Brandon Wimbush, defensive end Bo Wallace, and linebacker Asmar Bilal give Notre Dame 20 commits in the current recruiting class. The soon-to-be rising sophomore class moves up to 23 bodies with the scholarship given to quarterback Montgomery VanGorder. A pair of former walk-ons and current seniors in quarterback Charlie Fiessinger and corner Connor Cavalaris have added scholarships and both are eligible for a fifth year of eligibility. We will continue to include corner Keivarae Russell among the scholarship players as he plans to return in the summer. As of now, Ishaq Williams replaces DaVaris Daniels on the fifth-year list as the latter does not appear to be coming back to Notre Dame.

List of 5th-Year Seniors

*Tier 1

QB Golson

OL Martin

LB Schmidt

DE Williams

CB Farley

WR Carlisle

OL Hegarty

OL Hanratty

*Tier 2

S Hardy

LB Grace

LB Councell

*Tier 3

DE Rabasa

DE Hounshell

CB Brown

CB Cavalaris

QB Fiessinger

The football season has brought a ton of change to the projected fifth-year returnees. Tony Springmann's career ended due to injuries while Hardy returns to practice soon but is expected to transfer after this season while he spends time on the scout team and gets his degree.  Both Grace and Councell are going to be insanely tough decisions and it's not looking good for them. The former may never fully recover from his leg injury and could be placed on medical scholarship. The latter is still very talented but possibly not quite 100% this year, a poor fit for the defense, and currently not playing enough to warrant a fifth year.

If we project all 8 players from the Tier 1 coming back for a 5th-year that would leave room for 1 more recruit in the 2015 class, with the assumption that safety Nicky Baratti will be put on medical scholarship following his third shoulder injury. If Baratti is done that would shrink the rising senior class to just 11 players.

Once this class hits 21 recruits there will either need to be attrition (medical scholarships, leaving for the NFL, transfers, etc.) or the staff will have to begin crossing off the Tier 1 players returning for a fifth season in order to fit in additional 2015 freshmen. Also, the history of recruiting suggests there will be a decommit or two which would give the staff some more breathing room.

QUARTERBACK

Roster (5): Golson, Fiessinger, Zaire, Kizer, VanGorder

Commits (1): Wimbush

If Golson does not leave for the NFL then the Irish will have 5 quarterbacks on scholarship in 2015. That is a lot, especially with the possible comfort of Malik Henry joining the ranks in a couple months from the 2016 class. There still isn't much clarity on the future of Montgomery VanGorder, son of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, and what is going to happen to him in 2015 and beyond. From a purely cold roster numbers viewpoint keeping VanGorder on scholarship for 3 more years makes little to no sense at all.

RUNNING BACK

Roster (3): McDaniel, Folston, Bryant

Commits (1): Adams

There may be no greater need on the entire roster than at running back. If the numbers allowed it (and they likely will not) taking 3 tailbacks in 2015 would be ideal. However, it is a must that one more body joins Josh Adams and then the following cycle remains important to target a couple more backs.

WIDE RECEIVER

Roster (8): Carlisle, Brown, Prosise, Fuller, Robinson, Hunter, Brent, Holmes

Commits (3): Boykin, Guyton, Sanders

Even without Daniels coming back the wideouts are in a good spot. If Carlisle comes back for a fifth year there should be 11 receivers on the roster for 2015. Adding someone like Equanimeous St. Brown would be a luxury but not a necessity.

TIGHT END

Roster (5): Koyack, Smythe, Heuerman, Luatua, Weishar

Commits (0)

The Irish will lose Ben Koyack but still return four players with a lot of playing time left in their careers. Heuerman is someone to watch for as he's struggled with injuries and gaining weight. It appears the staff will only take Alize Jones in this cycle and if they do it'll give the roster perfect depth at tight end.

CENTER

Roster (2): Martin, Hegarty

Commits (1): Hoge

Although Martin has been moved to left guard due to his hand injury, as a captain he is virtually a lock to return for a fifth year and perhaps move back to center in 2015. As a current starter it would seem likely that Hegarty returns as well. This should allow Hoge to redshirt and become the future at center in 2016 and beyond.

OFFENSIVE GUARD

Roster (7): Lombard, Elmer, Hanratty, Harrell, Montelus, Mustipher, Byrne

Commits (1): Ruhland

Several of these players have bounced from guard to tackle and vice versa in both games and practice but that just shows the flexibility that Heistand's lines have been known for in recent years. Lombard is the only sure loss from this group while it is possible that Hanratty moves on after this season as well. Still, the depth will remain ideal.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

Roster (6): Stanley, McGlinchey, Bivin, McGovern, Nelson, Bars

Commits (1): Tillery

No position on the roster is as stable as offensive line. As I stated in our last Recruiting Big Board it would not be much of a blow if Tillery ultimately flipped to LSU or any other school. As long as Stanley doesn't bolt early for the NFL (extremely unlikely at this point) the Irish will still have 3 teams of tackles without Tillery, plus the 5-star Tommy Kraemer is already in the fold for 2016.

DEFENSIVE END

Roster (9): I. Williams, Okwara, Hounshell, Rabasa, Trumbetti, Blankenship, Bonner, Hill, J. Williams

Commits (1): Wallace

Only 1 commit at this position isn't ideal but if Ishaq returns and both Jhonny Williams and Jonathan Bonner keep their redshirts then things will look fine for the future. However, with Rabasa and Hounshell unlikely to return in 2015 and Ishaq and Okwara out of eligibility after next season this spot will be near the top for targets in 2016.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Roster (8): Day, Jones, Utupo, Rochell, Matuksa, Hayes, Mokwuah, Cage

Commits (3): Taylor, Tiassum, Dew-Treadway

Taking 3 bodies for 2015 is a good way to counteract the possibility of Sheldon Day skipping his senior season and heading to the NFL. With Mokwuah and Hayes currently taking a redshirt and Jones eligible for a fifth year in 2016 the depth here is looking good for the future.

MIKE LINEBACKER

Roster (5): Grace, Schmidt, Moore, Deeb, Morgan

Commits (1): Barajas

If Grace is unable to come back from his injury it's a terrible blow to him yet Notre Dame will still be in solid shape at this position. Returning your starter for 2015 with 3 additional players--the youngest two being early impact-type of recruits--is a far cry from where we were before this current season began.

WILL LINEBACKER

Roster (3): Smith, Randolph, Martini

Commits (1): Bilal

The only issue at this position appears to be that Jaylon may not return in 2016 for his senior season. Otherwise, it's been a pleasant surprise to see Martini step up as a true freshman. Plus, the addition of Bilal adds a nice prospect who can learn behind Jaylon for a season.

SAM LINEBACKER

Roster (4): Councell, Turner, Onwualu, Tranquill

Commits (0)

Even if Councell does not come back in 2015 this spot is in good hands mostly because it's not been used all that much under VanGorder so there's not a huge need for quality depth. However, it will be important to define the parameters of this position and eventually find someone worthy of starter minutes. The fact that Tranquill has been cross-training here and at safety isn't great for his development. You'd like to see him settle down at this position moving forward.

CORNER

Roster (9): Russell, Luke, Riggs, Butler, Farley, Cavalaris, Brown, Atkinson, Watkins

Commits (4): Coleman, Crawford, Fertitta, White

Corner is going to lose a lot of bodies soon. All of Riggs, Cavalaris, Brown, and Atkinson should be moving on while it's not a 100% guarantee that Farley comes back for a fifth season, either. Still, Farley probably will come back but there is a reason why 4 corners are already in the fold with the staff still recruiting more.

SAFETY

Roster (5): Collinsworth, Redfield, Shumate, Hardy, Baratti

Commits (1): McKinney

Danger! Danger! The need may be very high at running back but if there is a position that tops the backfield it's definitely safety. If Collinsworth doesn't apply for a 6th-year or doesn't get it if he does apply, and Baratti's career is truly over with his shoulder problems, then the depth here is scary. It does help that both Ashton White and Nicco Fertitta could help out at safety. Ideally, another true safety in 2015 is the goal.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Roster (3): Brindza, Daly, Newsome

Commits (1): Yoon

Kyle Brindza will move on after this season but special teams depth looks great.

Remaining Priority Targets for 2015:

*High Need

Running Back

Safety

*Medium Need

Strong-Side Linebacker

Corner

Defensive End

Wide Receiver

Tight End

*Low Need

Weak-Side Linebacker

Middle Linebacker

Defensive Tackle

Offensive Tackle

Offensive Guard

Offensive Center

Quarterback

Special Teams

We've often talked about how there will always be room for recruits which is both true and untrue. In a vacuum Notre Dame would love to take 7 more bodies from tight end up to running back on the above priority list. However, it's probably not realistic.

Typically the roster has some losses in the spring or summer and we're left saying, "See we could have taken Recruit X back in February!" but hindsight is always 20/20. Some have advocated purposely taking a 2-3 more prospects than we have room for now because in 6 months there will be room. It's a dangerous game to be sure and it's pretty clear that the Irish coaching staff is currently walking that thin line.

This is the tightest the scholarship situation has been at this point in the cycle that I've ever witnessed since we started tracking this stuff several seasons ago. Now, being able to pick and choose from a list of 16 seniors with eligibility for 2015 is going to add some flexibility. However, there's a possibility that the staff will have to turn away players who are playing starter minutes and that has never happened under Brian Kelly. We've seen career third-stringers come back for fifth seasons and that looks like it's definitely not happening this time around.

For illustrative purposes let's say Notre Dame picks up verbals from linebacker Tevon Coney, running back Soso Jamabo, defensive back Frank Buncom, and tight end Alize Jones and the 2015 recruiting class finishes at 24 players.

That'll prevent Hanratty, Hegarty, and Carlisle from fifth years with the Irish. If you add wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and the class goes up to 25 then strike Farley from coming back. That would leave just Golson, Schmidt, Martin, and Ishaq from the Tier 1 list.

It's not the end of the world but things are tight right now. If there is an additional medical scholarship, someone jumps to the NFL, and another player transfers after the regular season--certainly all believable scenarios--then Notre Dame may be able to bring back almost all of the Tier 1 players, but it will be close.

One thing worth watching is Russell and Ishaq essentially being off the books until the summer. That may allow Notre Dame some wiggle room in the 3-month period between National Signing Day and the summer school session to experience further roster attrition.