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An Early Look at the Positional Needs for the 2016 Notre Dame Recruiting Class

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The 2016 Big Board will begin soon but first an early look at the positional needs facing the Fighting Irish.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Ready to take a break from recruiting? Well, the clock is ticking for the 2016 recruiting class. Notre Dame has already handed out over 100 offers to current high school juniors and will be turning their attention now to Junior Day and the summer camp season for the next crop of recruits.

For the past few cycles we've initially had forecast 16 or 17 scholarships for that coming February class but Notre Dame has been able to welcome three straight classes of at least 20 recruits--the first time that's happened in the modern era of recruiting since Rivals began ranking classes back in 2002. With those three straight big classes numbers will initially be tight, however, the rising senior class is only 12 players with just 8 of those eligible for a 5th-year in 2016.

With Ronnie Stanley almost assuredly going to the NFL after 2015--and Jarron Jones with KeiVarae Russell also highly rated pro prospects--the 5th-year crop for 2016 could be a maximum of 5 players: C.J. Prosise, Mark Harrell, John Turner, Nicky Baratti# and Scott Daly. Any way you slice it there will be very few 5th-year seniors coming back in 2016.

# Baratti was expected to medically retire but Kelly mentioned in his NSD presser that he'll be practicing (non-contact) this spring. He may very well retire anyway but we have to count him for now.

The current projection as of today for the 2016 class--with Jones and Russell going pro--is a small number of 11 players.

2016 Academic Classes:

  • 5 Graduate Students
  • 22 Seniors
  • 23 Juniors
  • 24 Sophomores
  • 11 Freshmen

85 Total Scholarships

It's going to be tough to get to a class of 20 which makes sense because I don't believe the Irish have brought in four straight 20+ player classes since the mid-to-late 1990's.

Now, you could get strict on the fifth year players (Turner & Harrell might not come back) plus you can factor in Jaylon Smith leaving early too. There will also be inevitable attrition elsewhere on the roster over the next year. Last year the Irish lost Rashad Kinlaw (transfer), Will Mahone (transfer), Nile Sykes (transfer), and Tony Springmann (medical).

But remember, in the past we've been starting at 16 or 17 and then we see attrition and the NFL Draft raise the scholarship limit. Right now, we're having to project that attrition just to get back to over 15 scholarships for 2016.

So, the numbers are tighter than they've ever been in the Brian Kelly era and that's okay. It's a sign of a healthy roster as long as you don't have too many players who are struggling to make an impact.

*Need on a scale of 1 (pass this cycle) to 10 (major focus)

*Number of years of eligibility beginning in 2015 in parentheses

QUARTERBACK

Need: 4

Roster: Golson (1), Zaire (3), Kizer (4), VanGorder (4), Wimbush (4)

You should take a quarterback every year, right? There is every indication that Notre Dame is looking at bringing in another top-flight quarterback for 2016.

Even without factoring in VanGorder (Kelly mentioned in his NSD presser that scholarships to walk-on athletes are 1-year deals but his father's employment muddies the water on that issue) who may come off scholarship there's going to be a lot of young talent for a 2016 signal-caller to deal with when he steps on campus.

RUNNING BACK

Need: 7

Roster: Folston (2), Bryant (3), Adams (4), Williams (4)

Brian Kelly's offense is typically associated with one-back sets and the riding of the hot hand over multiple games. This leads to what I believe is the misconception that Notre Dame is completely fine with just a few running backs. However, in each of the last 3 seasons there have been 3 running backs with at least 50 carries, and it's terrible for development not be able to keep at least another body or two in reserve in case of injuries.

This position should be one of the top focuses for 2016. There's a possibility Folston leaves early for the NFL although I don't think he's among the elite rising juniors but you never know with tailbacks. The staff should have a good sense mid-season where Folston is leaning and if he's bolting then two backs for 2016 would be ideal because it's also doubtful Greg Bryant will be around for a 5th-year in 2017.

WIDE RECEIVER

Need: 2

Roster: Carlisle (1), Brown (1), Prosise (2), Robinson (2), Fuller (2), Hunter (3), Brent (3), Holmes (4), Guyton (4), Sanders (4), Boykin (4), St. Brown (4).

It's not going to happen but Notre Dame could conceivably skip receiver in 2016 if they felt compelled to do so. There's quality balance, a lot of bodies, and a trio of senior starters could return in 2017. Even if someone were to leave early (Fuller, perhaps?) there's enough young talent at a position that is conducive to getting underclassmen on the field.

There have been some rumblings that Brent or Holmes could be switching positions soon. If either of them move the need at receiver jumps up a little bit, but not much.

TIGHT END

Need: 3

Roster: Smythe (3), Heuerman (3), Luatua (3), Weishar (4), Jones (4)

The scary thing for Notre Dame is that 1 career catch from Durham Smythe is all that returns from the entire tight end group. However, 17 years of eligibility is a ton of time left for five young tight ends. This is Notre Dame though, so at least one tight end will be an easy requirement.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Need: 5

Roster: Martin (1), Hegarty (1), Stanley (2), Harrell (2), Elmer (2), McGlinchey (3), McGovern (3), Bivin (3), Montelus (3), Nelson (4), Bars (4), Mustipher (4), Byrne (4), Hoge (4), Ruhland (4)

With incoming freshman Jerry Tillery beginning his career on defense there are only 2 offensive linemen for the 2015 class. The typical reaction to such a haul is to feverishly demand OL be targeted hard in the next cycle but as you can see there are still two full lines of underclassmen stocked in the cupboard.

We don't know the fifth-year situation for 2015 but they don't matter for 2016 projections anyway. But here's the thing, there have been rumors of at least one serious medical issue for an offensive lineman, add in the fact that Stanley is surely leaving for the NFL after next year, and that Harrell is far from a lock for his own fifth-year in 2016. That means this list could get down to 10 bodies rather quickly.

Three more linemen in 2016 feels like a good target.

DEFENSIVE END

Need: 8

Roster: I. Williams (1), Okwara (1), Trumbetti (3), Blankenship (3), Hill (3), J. Williams (4), Wallace (4)

Barring a redshirt situation with Okwara (he's still 19 years old and won't turn 20 until the summer!) we're looking at 5 ends coming back for 2016. That's not terrible but at least two prospects should be an early target for the upcoming recruiting class.

Andrew Trumbetti had a nice freshman season (21 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 5 QBH) and has a promising career ahead of him as a likely multi-year starter. The rest of this position group has a lot of question marks. The defense could really use a Top 150-type talent who can make an impact as a freshman in 2016.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Need: 4

Roster: Day (1), Jones (2), Rochell (2), Matuska (3), Hayes (3), Cage (3), Mokwuah (4), Bonner (4), Tiassum (4), Dew-Treadway (4), Taylor (4), Tillery (4)

All. The. Bodies. You can see why moving Tillery (besides his potential being greater at OT per just about everyone) is a bit of a head scratcher. Nevertheless, Rochell is kind of a swing guy at the end position plus if Jarron Jones turns pro after 2015 and Tillery goes back to offense, then the depth here could move from overflowing to merely well stocked.

I prefer this spot to be a little over-recruited and that's exactly what they've done recently. There's flexibility to start out looking at one spot but when the numbers inevitably grow shooting for a second body isn't a bad idea.

LINEBACKER

Need: 4

Roster: Schmidt (1), Grace (1), Turner (2), J. Smith (2), Onwualu (2), Randolph (3), Deeb (3), Morgan (3), Martini (3), Bilal (4), Barajas (4), Coney (4)

The linebacker situation could best be described as healthy, although now is not the time to pull a Diaco and lose focus on bringing in additional bodies. The staff has brought in 6 players over the last two cycles (if you're inclined to include Tranquill as he might end up at linebacker long-term) and that is about as much young depth as you can build in a 4-3 with 85 scholarships to work with.

The one thing that is concerning is that two seniors are moving on after 2015, Turner has made no impact throughout his career, Jaylon could easily go pro, and we're still unsure what kind of development we're going to see out of the likes of Randolph and Deeb.

This position feels a lot like defensive tackle in that it won't be a major focus early on but another body probably gets targeted later in the process.

CORNER

Need: 6

Roster: Russell (2), Butler (2), Luke (2), Watkins (3), Coleman (4), Crawford (4), White (4)

Despite bringing in 3 corners a couple days ago this position should remain among the most important for 2016. There's been plenty of talk about Butler or White moving to safety so who knows how that will play out. We're also not sure if Russell will even entertain coming back for a fifth season (70/30 that 2015 is his last year, IMO) and Cole Luke's stock could be high enough for an early entrance into the NFL, too.

Brian Kelly mentioned yesterday that corner (not safety) was the major focus for 2015 and you can surmise that was largely due to the feeling that Russell and Luke may not be around much longer. It would seem without a doubt that two more corners is the initial target for 2016.

SAFETY

Need: 9

Roster: Farley (1), Shumate (1), Redfield (2), Tranquill (3), Williams (4), Fertitta (4)

In our initial outlook for 2015 last February I mentioned that grabbing 2 safeties would be fine. However, Farley and Turner switched positions, Hardy isn't coming back for a 5th-year, Tranquill may already have grown into a linebacker, plus one of the safeties in this class (Fertitta) isn't expected to play strong or free safety in his career.

We're leaving Farley and Fertitta here but if they're not 'true' safeties then there are even worse problems with depth. Brian Kelly mentioned bringing in another graduate transfer (or two!) and it's expected someone is coming to play safety, but irregardless, Notre Dame is basically in the same position they were in last year needing two or three safeties for 2016.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Need: 2

Roster: Daly (2), Newsome (4), Yoon (4)

Time for some new blood as Newsome and Yoon move into starting positions on the same eligibility track, although the former came in last cycle and will be a redshirt freshman.

Unless either of those players perform poorly it'll be another couple years before the staff needs to think about using scholarships, although replacing both of them at the same time isn't ideal. As a long snapper Daly has two more years but it's basically a 50/50 proposition that his position will use a scholarship once he's gone.

363 Days Away Guess at the Positional Targets

  • 1 QB
  • 2 RB
  • 1 WR
  • 1 TE
  • 3 OL
  • 2 DE
  • 1 DT
  • 2 LB
  • 2 CB
  • 2 S

That's a class of 17 bodies. One way to get that 17 is for Prosise and Daly to be the only 5th-year seniors, Jaylon Smith goes pro, and there is attrition for 2 more players. Not entirely implausible, right?

A class any bigger would require attrition much greater than usual.