The OFD recruiting team spent a lot of time putting together our thoughts and grades on each individual player in the recruiting class, but this a chance to get a little bit more specific as to what kind of players Notre Dame is getting and what we can expect to see from this fall and beyond.
It's sort of an awards type of deal. Think of it as a less serious version of the Academy Awards of recruiting. It's more casual. Not People's Choice Awards casual because, I mean, come on. More like The Golden Globes casual.
Without further ado...
Best position group
It has to go to the three linebackers that are coming in with a slight win over the wide receivers. I can't recall the last time Notre Dame brought in a set of linebackers that were this athletic. There have been years where Notre Dame has signed good linebackers, but there always seemed to be one or two that I deemed as reaches. Not this year.
I can see all three of Josh Barajas, Te'von Coney, and Asmar Bilal developing into really good players and adding the kind of speed that has been pretty rare at the linebacker position outside of Jaylon Smith.
Best chance to make an immediate impact
I'm not going to include Justin Yoon in this because it's fairly obvious that he is going to have to make an impact in the kicking game as a true freshman. Taking him out of equation, I'll take Shaun Crawford. Whether it is as a returner or at cornerback, he's too talented to not see the field early. I don't expect him to be thrown to the wolves right away, but I do expect him to turn some heads with his explosive speed when he enrolls in the summer.
Best chance to score on his first touch
CJ Sanders is a different kind of slot receiver that Notre Dame has not really had under Brian Kelly and that's why I think he can establish himself as a player used in certain packages on offense. He has the speed to run by people and can make tacklers miss in space. I'm excited for the first time he is going to touch the ball for Notre Dame. It's likely he won't score, but the threat of him doing it is going to be present when he does.
Most likely to redshirt
I thought about choosing Bo Wallace for this, but there is always the chance he can put on some significant weight before fall camp comes around. That's the big thing that's holding Wallace back and if they think he is physically capable of competing and he is one of their better pass rushers, then he should somehow find a way to get onto the field.
If not Wallace, it has to be Trevor Ruhland. Ruhland has some maturing to do physically as well and comes from a completely different offensive scheme at his high school than the one Notre Dame runs under Kelly. There will be a steep learning curve for him. I do love his potential down the road though. He competes hard on every snap and has a nasty edge to his game. If I was giving out a "Freshman most likely to get in a fight during camp" award, then he'd be my selection for that as well.
Equanimeous St. Brown. I plan on either retiring this award or making this the Equanimeous St. Brown award in future years.
Best at listening to The Rock and know his role
That would have to be Nicco Fertitta. He'll never be a deep safety for the Irish. That wouldn't fit him. What fits him is to be a college football version of the little ball of hate and bring an intensity to special teams and, eventually, in certain packages on defense. I think he'll not only know his role, but embrace it.
Best chance of playing earlier than you might expect
Not that I want to promote a future quarterback controversy, but I have a hard time believing that Brandon Wimbush might not create one with how talented he is. I think Wimbush can push Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer for the quarterback job as early as 2016. I would not be surprised if his play in practice put him the in the mix at that time.
Best chance of Tom Hicks mentioning on an NBC telecast that he competed in a triathlon
Get ready everyone. As soon as Jerry Tillery starts to see any playing time on offense or defense, this is going to be mentioned a lot. There's a very good chance that this is going to be the replacement for "Joe Schmidt walked-on at Notre Dame". I appreciate the effort, but we know.
Most likely to get compared to a former Notre Dame player
I'm sure you've heard it a lot already. Alize Jones can be a lot like Tyler Eifert for Notre Dame. You'll here it a lot early in his career until he establishes himself because it's true. Jones has the physical skills to play in the Eifert role for Notre Dame. They are different players and it sounds crazy to say that Jones may be a better athlete than Eifert was. It's going to be fun to see if Jones can be the one who eventually breaks Eifert's receiving records for a tight end.
Most intriguing player(s) to watch develop over the next few years
I have to mention three players because I truly am curious to see what kind of players they are going to be at the college level. The first is Jalen Guyton. He's everybody's pick for most underrated in this class and I won't argue against anyone who feels that way. He put up prolific numbers against very good competition in high school, yet he is the lowest rated receiver the Irish signed in this class. With all of the depth at the receiver position, can he separate himself from the pack?
The second player is Nick Coleman. He's one of the most versatile athletes in this class and they project him at cornerback, but he is pretty raw in his technique right now. Can he be the kind of guy who makes a jump after concentrating on cornerback like KeiVarae Russell did?
The third player is Elijah Taylor. Taylor is the highest rated defensive lineman in this class. He's a composite 4 star player and Notre Dame beat out teams like Ohio State and Tennessee for his commitment. Yet, I'm really unsure of what the Irish are getting in Taylor. His film doesn't wow you with splash plays in the backfield, but is that his high school team's passive defensive scheme or is he just not explosive? I heard Brian Kelly call him unblockable at the high school level during his press conference yesterday so he obviously believes in what kind of player that Taylor can become. Is he going to emerge as force at defensive tackle? I honestly have no idea and I can't wait to see what Mike Elston is going to do with him.