On National Signing Day, we gave a review of the 2016 class and our scores for each player. We've already gone into more detail about the offensive backfield, receivers, offensive linemen, defensive linemen, and linebackers; today, we close the loop with the defensive backs. The Notre Dame staff had to hit the secondary hard in this cycle, and did they ever - they signed five true defensive back prospects and two swing prospects (DJ Morgan and Spencer Perry, who we covered yesterday in the linebacker post).
The transcript of Coach Brian Kelly's press conference on national signing day can be found here.
|Irish Defensive Back Signees|
|.909||Troy Pride||Greer, SC||6-0/175||Corner|
|.895||Donte Vaughn||Memphis, TN||6-3/192||Corner/Safety|
|.872||Jalen Elliott||Richmond, VA||6-1/175||Corner/Safety|
|.871||Devin Studstill||Riviera Beach, FL||6-1/180||Safety|
|.871||Julian Love||Westchester, IL||5-11/175||Corner|
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
CB Troy Pride
OFD Average: 89.3
If reports are to be believed, the Notre Dame staff might've given Pride a 95 if they were filling out these scores - supposedly he was one of the top corners on their board throughout the 2016 cycle. And maybe they're right; Pride was a somewhat under-the-radar prospect, at least for the recruiting services, until he turned in a dominant senior season and a Blue-Grey game MVP performance and made some big jumps in the final rankings from all but ESPN. He can flat out fly and already looks very good in coverage. I can't find any highlights of him in run support, but given the total lack of concern for his physical well-being that he shows on the kick block team I don't think he'll have any problem at least mixing it up. With Russell leaving for the NFL, I think Pride has a shot to push for the two-deep this year, and I'd definitely expect him to be there in 2017 after Cole Luke is gone and possibly even pushing for a starting spot.
Your prototypical cover corner with ample height and stupid long arms. Looks very polished for his age and comfortable playing man coverage and running with receivers on their hip. Displays good ball skills and both initial burst and long distance speed. Reminds me a lot of a smaller but quicker version of Nick Watkins coming out of high school. If I had to pick Pride would be my most game-ready freshman from the corners by quite a distance and someone who is going to be very hard to keep off the field in 2016 if he can hold up to the step up in physicality in college. Tackling ability might be a concern so that could hold him back from shooting up the depth chart. Once he's physically ready I think Pride has No. 1 corner potential on the team.
Jamie U: 89
Pride has all the tools to be a great man coverage corner. He checks off all the boxes in terms of height, length, and athleticism. He has great ball skills and his mirroring skills are very good. His short area quickness really stands out and his deep speed is not too shabby either. The only thing that will keep him off the field this fall is his strength. He needs to get quite a bit stronger and he struggled a bit as a tackler. On a team that plays Navy every year, that's not going to help him see the field. Once he improves that part of his game, I think he is going to play and play a lot. He could be a starter for multiple seasons and a very high level one.
CB/S Donte Vaughn
OFD Average: 85.7
At 6'3" and 195 pounds, Vaughn is probably the biggest corner the Irish have recruited since I've been following this stuff, which is longer than I'd care to admit. I'm really interested in how that jumbo corner role is integrated into VanGorder's defensive plan; Vaughn doesn't have the fluidity and speed to cover the shiftier receivers, but put him on a guy like Devin Cajuste and Cajuste could have a very long day. My guess is that Vaughn will ultimately be a sort of situational corner, specializing in match-ups - unless he moves to safety, as the guys note is a possibility. I'm also pleased that, like Tony Jones, he comes from a school that hasn't sent anyone to Notre Dame before.
Vaughn is right up there as one of the most forgotten members of this class. The Irish were in a great spot with him since last spring but then he took his time with the process and ended up giving his verbal to Notre Dame in October when everyone was concentrating on the season at hand. There really isn't much film on Vaughn which makes him difficult to judge coming out of high school. In the little clips that are out there you can see what you'd expect to find--someone lanky and athletic. He's listed as tall as 6-3 which means he's probably closer to 6-2 which then also means it's a near-lock Vaughn won't be staying at corner. At his size he'd have to be outrageously athletic to play corner--even with a defensive scheme switch--and I'm not sure he's that elite of an athlete. I wouldn't be surprised if Vaughn turns into a starter but I do think with his size he's going to be more raw of a prospect if he's transitioning to safety. Nice prospect that I'm excited to see where he's at after some time in the program.
Jamie U: 86
I like what Vaughn can do at corner, but I do think he is a bit limited there. He doesn't have great long speed and I question how he will do if asked to play off-coverage. I do think he has the tools to excel in press and if that's how they envision him in their scheme. It's hard not to love his size and how long he is. If not, then safety might be the best spot for him. He is a very strong tackler and whether it is at safety or corner, Vaughn is going to be a contributor for the Irish eventually.
CB/S Jalen Elliott
OFD Average: 87.0
Well, one thing is for sure - the Notre Dame staff absolutely LOVES Elliott, regardless of what the services say. He has the versatility to play corner or safety, and as Jamie notes he'll get his shot at corner first, but I like him eventually as a free safety. There's not much film of Elliott on defense, but what there is looks pretty good. He especially looks very natural in zone coverage, dropping and adjusting effortlessly and creating havoc in the passing game. He'll likely get a chance to develop physically and learn the position before he's called on, but I think when he's called on - possibly as soon next year - he'll be more than ready. There's also some chatter already that he could be a potential leader for this class, with the words "future captain" being tossed around by some. I'll be very interested to see how he does under the lights, because there are some big expectations on him right now.
The staff is certainly hanging their hat on being able to develop a bunch of these defensive backs who aren't real well known commodities at the position coming out of high school. Case in point, there are several experts who absolutely love Elliott in this class but there is precious little film of him playing defensive back. At any rate, there are some factors that point to a ton of potential for this player, including his genes, being a high valued target by in-state DB hawks in Virginia Tech, and he was a highly decorated QB/DB at L.C. Byrd High School in a sneaky good competitive part of the country. It's tough to tell where he settles for a position. To me, he's a lot like Max Redfield in that he somehow looks bigger without pads on so perhaps he does ultimately move to free safety. I'm completely on board with making him a fast, if not a little under-sized safety, because there's such a big need at the position. Still, he's listed at 175 pounds, doesn't have the muscular physique like Redfield, and looks like he needs a lot of time in the weight room before you can stick him out there on defense. With some time in a college weight program he could add 20+ pounds but I'll guess he tops out at 188-192 pounds and develops at corner. Also, he could move to offense at some point in the future. Elliott offers some nice flexibility in a deep defensive back class for Notre Dame.
Jamie U: 88
I am a fan of him as an athlete, but as E said, there isn't a ton of film of him playing defensive back. I see the athletic traits that I believe can translate really well there and obviously the Irish coaching staff see it as well. Virginia Tech thought he could be a heck of a defensive back as well and no one identifies and evaluates players on the back end better than them. Todd Lyght thinks Elliott can compete at corner and he'll get his shot there first. Could he be this year's Nick Coleman? The Irish think so and I don't think it's out of the question he could make the same kind of transition in year one. One thing is for sure, he was viewed as a leader and dynamic player for his high school that led them to a lot of success. You take an athlete like this and figure out the rest later.
S Devin Studstill
OFD Average: 92.0
Studstill was a bit of a puzzling recruit, through no fault of his own; just about every recruiting analyst said he was badly underrated, which sort of makes you wonder why his rating wasn't fixed. Naturally, his film is a lot of fun to watch - he's just so smooth at everything. He could credibly play either free safety or strong safety, but with what we can see of his run/pass recognition now and his fierce downhill attacking style when he identifies run, I love him at strong safety. The thing that makes him stand out versus other recent strong safeties at Notre Dame (recent meaning over the last forever or so) is that he looks really good in coverage also - you're not trading off in one department to get his skills in the other department. He can run, he can hit, he can cover man and he can cover zone. He has a chance to push for serious playing time this year, especially as an early enrollee, and perhaps even win the starting job vacated by Elijah Shumate. I expect him to be the full-time starter by 2017 at the latest.
Studstill is a tremendous athlete. He's easily one of the most underrated prospects to come to Notre Dame in years - I haven't read anyone across the recruiting spectrum say he's even close to properly rated. I love his ability to diagnose plays, seems to really have the valuable safety skills that the staff has coveted since recruiting him. He's got great instincts and killer closing speed. When he makes up his mind to attack he's a special player. Studstill's ball skills aren't too shabby either and he could even make it as a receiver if there wasn't such a huge need at safety. I can remember hearing about him back when we were just learning about former Palm Beach Gardens teammate Te'von Coney and found it interesting we were in so early on a non-national recruit. The Irish spent all this time on a 3-star and it'll be completely worth it and more. I wouldn't argue if someone thinks Studstill is pound-for-pound the best safety prospect to come to Notre Dame in several cycles.
Jamie U: 91
I don't know if I would say Studstill is the best safety prospect to come to Notre Dame in several cycles when the Irish signed Max Redfield in 2013 and he was a 5 star prospect (even if he hasn't lived up to that potential yet). He is the most ready to play safety prospect they have signed in a while, though. I love his instincts both versus the run and the pass. He recognizes and attacks. Combine that with his athleticism and that's why he is a playmaker. I would be surprised if he wasn't in the two deep this fall and I do think he'll compete for the open safety spot.
CB Julian Love
OFD Average: 88.3
Love is kind of a forgotten man as one of the earliest commits in this class, but I think Irish fans should pay attention to him. For one, he would've crawled over broken glass to get to Notre Dame, and that kind of mentality really helps a team. The main thing, though, is that he's no cheerleader - this kid can play. He might not be an elite talent, but ask Chicago-area coaches about him and they'll tell you that he was a game-changer on both sides of the ball. Like Tony Jones, he's not exceptional at anything but he's really good at everything, and he'll find a home. I think he could find a pretty substantial role as a nickel back or a third corner. He's a little undersized to be a safety in college, but he's a terrific athlete and I wouldn't necessarily rule that out for him either. Love is a kid who will give the coaching staff options, gladly go wherever they tell him to go, and make plays wherever he ends up. I really like this kid.
My darkhorse player and right up there with Studstill as the most undervalued member of the class by the recruiting services. In many ways Love reminds me a lot of Keivarae Russell and Nick Coleman coming out of high school, especially the latter who was my sleeper of last year's class. In terms of speed, agility, and athleticism I think Love has the skills to be the best defensive back out of this haul. There might not be an absolute can't miss 5-star to compare him to but with all the bodies in the backfield for this class that's high praise from me. He's not very big and should be able to develop right away at corner. That's if he's not too electric and gets moved to the other side of the ball because he was a fantastic offensive weapon in high school. Overall, one of my favorite players in the class. Love is a "local" kid from Illinois, fits in well with the school, and should be on track to be a great player for the Irish. Even if he doesn't become a great player I'm sensing a future strong leader for the program and possibly a future captain.
Jamie U: 88
Love didn't receive the kind of accolades he probably deserved because he played multiple positions in high school that weren't where he is going to play in college. He lit it up as a running back/receiver on offense and was an impact player at safety on defense. There isn't much I don't like about him. He has all of the athletic traits to be a terrific option as a nickel corner and he could be an impact blitzer from that spot. He tackles above his weight class and is just a really good football player. He'll need some work on technique and it could prevent him from seeing the field this fall, but athletically he is ready to play now.