Yes, the 2016 class has barely signed and we're talking about 2017 - which the Notre Dame staff has been doing for over a year now. Few things are more "what have you done for me lately" than college football recruiting, it would seem. It's time for us here at OFD to turn our attention now to 2017 as well, with a positional breakdown of key targets for the Irish this cycle. Notre Dame laid some excellent groundwork for this cycle and, if they can swing another year of being in the playoff hunt, could build serious momentum towards a top 5 or better class. Honest.
Note that this is NOT an exhaustive list of 2017 offers - these are the kids that are top targets and/or have already allowed Notre Dame to get some traction.
Without further ado, then, we present the key targets for the Irish, noted with their 247 Composite overall and position rankings:
The staff had been all in on pro-style passer Hunter Johnson (#17/#1) in the early part of the cycle, and had to hit the reset button when Johnson committed to Tennessee. He later flipped to Clemson less than a week after they offered and without visiting, which was kind of weird, but which is also a separate story. Note that I said reset button and not panic button, by the way - Kelly and Sanford went back to the drawing board in an orderly fashion and began evaluating other prospects.
One name to keep an eye on is definitely Texas dual-threat prospect Avery Davis (#205/#6); he took an unofficial visit last fall and the staff really likes him. His game has been likened to Everett Golson's, but presumably only the good parts.
There are no other offers out right now, but there are some evaluations ongoing. The Irish will probably throw a couple of offers out soon, now that the 2016 class is signed and Sanford can turn his full attention to 2017.
There's no bigger backfield fish in this class than Alabama commit Najee Harris (#2/#1), who the Irish have been working on for some time. He intends to take all his visits despite being committed to the Tide and has specifically mentioned visiting Notre Dame, so I supposed technically there's some sliver of hope here. Technically.
Keep an eye on DeMatha product Anthony McFarland (#30/#2 all-purpose back) as well, who has talked about taking a summer visit to Notre Dame. If I had to bet I'd say he'll stay in the South, but it's early yet.
Stephen Carr (#37/#2) is still committed to USC, but announced last month that he's opening his recruitment back up. Interesting. He wanted a Notre Dame offer, and he finally got one last week. A developing story...
Texan JK Dobbins (#55/#4) just picked up a Notre Dame offer last week and also could visit this summer. I love, not like, this kid's film. Tremendous athlete. According to ISD's Matt Freeman, Dobbins was "fired up" to get the offer. Please please please....
AJ Dillon (#228/#18) is a 230-pound wrecking ball of a back who also happens to be Thom Gatewood's grandson. The Notre Dame offer was huge for him, and you can probably consider him to be on commit watch the next time he makes it to campus.
One prospect to know who doesn't have an offer yet is Bishop Gorman's Biaggio Ali-Walsh (#521/#9 all-purpose back), a blazer who has drawn some interest from Notre Dame and could see an offer come his way in the next few months. His grandfather is none other than The Greatest himself. Yes, that Ali.
Cass Tech star Donovan Peoples-Jones (#10/#1) just made it out to Notre Dame's elite junior day in January and loved it. He has also built up a very good relationship with fellow Detroit native Keith Gilmore. Ohio State and Michigan State will be hard to fight off here, but the Irish are definitely in it for the consensus five star.
Joseph Lewis (#22/#4) out of California will be tough to pull off the west coast, but - in what will become a theme for the Irish assistants mentioned here - has built a good relationship with Mike Denbrock and will likely give Notre Dame at least some measure of real thought.
Osiris St. Brown (#76/#13), younger brother of Equanimeous and, according to many, a better prospect, is widely considered to be a very strong Notre Dame lean. He'll go through the process, and Stanford is in the picture, but the Irish are firmly in the driver's seat here.
Nutmeg State prospect Tarik Black (#89/#15) picked up an Irish offer just last week and is already talking about setting up a visit. He and AJ Dillon are friends, which could of course mean something or nothing. What's completely clear is that Black is very much interested in Notre Dame.
Texan Charleston Rambo (#168/#23) picked up a Notre Dame offer a few weeks ago. Significantly, he's the teammate of Irish QB target Avery Davis and the two could visit Notre Dame together sometime over the next few months. Notre Dame is in much better shape with Davis than Rambo (heh), but if he gets on campus that could change.
Notre Dame is almost certainly done here, even this early in the cycle, with what is almost certain to be the best tight end class in the country. Texan Brock Wright (#29/#1) is the highest-rated Notre Dame tight end commit since Kyle Rudolph, and at first glance their games look very similar. No pressure, kid. Cole Kmet (#194/#4) out of Illinois would be the top guy in just about anyone else's class; he fits more of the blocking tight end mold but is a very credible receiver as well.
Both are very solid commits, and barring something really unusual I don't think Notre Dame will even send out any other offers at the position.
There is one other extant offer at tight end, though - Virginia's Brandon Gaddy (NR/NR). I normally wouldn't think there's anything to see here with Wright and Kmet in the fold already, but Brandon's twin brother, defensive tackle Breyon Gaddy (#161/#11), happens to also be a key Irish target. Hmm.
Stop me if you've heard this one - Harry Hiestand has already zeroed in on some top talent, has secured a couple of commitments, and has a couple of other very highly rated guys very interested in Notre Dame. I could be talking about any of the last three or four recruiting cycles, but right now of course I'm talking about 2017.
Already in the fold are Pennsylvanian Josh Lugg (#136/#21 OT), whose stock should continue to rise as he spends more time on the offensive line - he was a receiver in eighth grade and a tight end in ninth and tenth, but he just kept growing - and Floridian Dillan Gibbons (#353/#42 OT), Notre Dame's first commitment in the 2017 class, who plays tackle now but will likely be a guard at the next level.
Hiestand's remaining targets include a number of the most highly sought-after names in this cycle; he'll put his reputation on the line once again in going after these guys. The Irish will look to sign at least two and most likely three more linemen to go with Lugg and Gibbons.
Austin Jackson (#14/#4 OT) out of Arizona has been a top priority for the Notre Dame staff. He has talked about making a number of visits this spring and summer, with Notre Dame among his potential destinations.
California product Wyatt Davis (#27/#6 OT) visited for Irish Invasion last year and is a teammate of 2016 signee DJ Morgan. Notre Dame made an impression last summer and Davis has continued to say good things since then, including the possibility of a visit during the summer. The staff just visited his school last month.
High four-star Kentucky tackle Jedrick Wills (#53/#8) has visited Notre Dame a couple of times, most recently for the January elite junior day. He really hit it off with Hiestand and definitely has real interest, but the Irish will have to work hard to get him out of his home state. He was going to come to the January junior day but his area was hit pretty hard by snow; look for him to be at the next one.
Notre Dame visited tackle Trey Smith (#62/#9) in January and will continue to stay on the talented Tennessean. He has talked recently about how strong his interest is in Notre Dame and that he plans to set up a visit at some point.
Texan Austin Deculus (#77/#13) picked up a Notre Dame offer a few weeks ago. He seems to be pretty set on playing ball in the South, in fact so much so that I'm only included him on this list for one reason - he's teammates with Brock Wright, who will try to talk him into visiting South Bend at some point. It's a long shot, but as Lloyd Christmas would say, there's a chance.
Notre Dame has already secured a commitment from Georgian Robert Beal (#50/#3 WDE), one of the truly elite pass rushers in this class and a kid whose ranking could climb even higher before the next signing day rolls around. While he looks to be solid now - he loves Notre Dame and has family in South Bend - something to watch is where his twin sister, who runs track, heads for college. There's no guarantee it'll affect him, but it's something to keep tabs on.
Iowa legacy AJ Epenesa (#13/#1 SDE), arguably Notre Dame's top 2017 target regardless of position, committed to the Hawkeyes last month. It wasn't such a surprise that he picked Iowa, but I did think he would wait a little longer before committing. I wouldn't be entirely surprised if some Notre Dame buzz continues on him through the cycle, given his family's connection to Bob Elliott, but this recruitment reminds me a little of Allen Lazard's. Like Lazard, Epenesa picked a legacy school when there were multiple clearly better options on the table, at least from a football standpoint - those tend to be really hard kids to flip.
IMG Academy star Joshua Kaindoh (#17/#1 WDE) is a Notre Dame type of kid and will likely give the Irish a serious look. Obviously the competition will be very steep, but the Notre Dame message will resonate with him. And, of course, 2016 ambassador Tony Jones has not been shy about how hard he has lobbied and will continue to lobby Kaindoh to visit and understand Notre Dame for himself. Another former teammate, Spencer Perry, is already on campus in South Bend as well.
Chase Young (#69/#4 WDE), DeMatha teammate of 2017 RB target Anthony McFarland, tweeted his excitement over his Notre Dame offer last month and intends to visit sometime this spring. Not too shabby...
Michigan talent Corey Malone-Hatcher (#182/#10 WDE) has visited Notre Dame about eleventy times by now, most recently for the January junior day. Michigan and Alabama are the primary competition here, with most feeling Michigan has the lead. Jim wants to Netflix and chill, Corey. Just roll with it. Or don't, because it's creepy and weird. We would totally get that.
Notre Dame will look to keep the Bishop Gorman pipeline going with Haskell Garrett (#78/#4). Complicating things slightly is the fact that he just committed to Ohio State Wednesday, a week after they offered and without ever visiting their campus. Garrett picked up an Irish offer in December and said at the time that "Notre Dame definitely leads." He's one of the staff's premier targets and will no doubt still get plenty of interest from Todd Lyght and Keith Gilmore. Plus, probably, Ronnie Stanley, Alize Jones, and Nicco Fertitta.
Virginian Breyon Gaddy (#161/#11), who we mentioned above in connection with his brother Brandon, will be extremely difficult to pull out of the South; Clemson is really going strong with him right now, and Brent Venables is personally recruiting the Gaddys. He does have some legitimate interest in Notre Dame, though.
Ohio State pledge Jerron Cage (#218/#14), whose older brother Daniel is in the trenches for Notre Dame, is one to watch. He committed to Ohio State back in July but, towards the end of the season, there were some rumors of a wandering eye and Notre Dame was among the places the eye was wandering to. Another recruitment to keep tabs on.
New Jersey three-star Dalyn Wade-Perry (#354/#24) is a high-academic kid who has interest in Stanford and Notre Dame and offers from Duke, Northwestern, and Vandy. He also has offers from Alabama, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Penn State, South Carolina, and Tennessee, among others, which doesn't really sound like a three star offer list. Irish trivia: He's from the same town as former Notre Dame basketball star Troy Murphy, which is virtually a lock to have no impact whatsoever on his recruitment.
Ubertalent Dylan Moses (#1/#1 OLB) had a number of offers all the way back in eighth grade - and before you chuckle, just know that one of those offers was from Notre Dame. The Louisianan was committed to LSU for a long time, but he decommitted in August and just transferred to IMG Academy. It seems like his recruitment will be more open than expected. It would be a shock if the Irish can get any serious traction here, but they'll definitely try.
Drew Singleton (#96/#7 OLB) just picked up a Notre Dame offer, but it may be tough to beat Michigan for the Paramus Catholic star. The draw of his former coach, Jabril Peppers, and Rashan Gary might just be too much to overcome.
Pennsylvanian David Adams (#99/#2 ILB) picked up an Irish offer back in the fall and visited for the USC game. He has very serious interest in Notre Dame, but something to watch there is that his friends Damar Hamlin and Paris Ford both committed to Pitt. Pitt and Penn State will be heavy players here.
Florida State commit VanDarius Cowan (#107/#8 OLB) has flirted with Notre Dame on and off and could potentially visit in the fall. He would be tough to flip, but former teammates Te'Von Coney and Devin Studstill could keep him interested enough to think about it.
Could Antjuan Simmons (#362/#24 OLB) give Notre Dame a linebacker from Ann Arbor in consecutive cycles? Possibly. The Irish are firm players in his recruitment, as evidenced by his visits for Irish Invasion last year and for January's junior day. He has built a good relationship with area recruiter Keith Gilmore.
Georgian Deangelo Gibbs (#9/#1) has talked recently about visiting Notre Dame over the summer; one of the big reasons he's interested is - wait for it - Brian VanGorder, because they really hit it off. He can cover like an elite corner, and at 6'2" and 204 pounds already he also has the size to play safety.
With a name like Stanford Samuels (#34/#7) you'd imagine he should end up in Palo Alto, but the Florida product and Seminole legacy is likely to stay home. He had some nice things to say about Notre Dame last fall, including Todd Lyght, and Michigan is a player here as well, but I'd be pretty surprised if he doesn't end up in Tallahassee.
Georgia speedster Jamyest Williams (#51/#5 ATH) made some waves when he visited Notre Dame a few weeks ago for the elite junior day event. Coming on his own dime from Georgia, in January, should tell you that he's interested. He called his visit "great" and put the Irish in his top five. Don't toy with me, kid...
Chevin Calloway (#84/#11) is interested but might be tough to pull out of Texas. Something else to watch is that he picked up his first offer from then Notre Dame assistant coach Kerry Cooks, and Oklahoma is now one of his top schools; if the recruitment of 2016 LB Caleb Kelly is any indication, Cooks will be extremely, ahem, aggressive in recruiting against Notre Dame. What could work in Notre Dame's favor, though, is that Calloway is a former teammate of current Irish corner Nick Watkins. The game is afoot.
Michigan product Ambry Thomas (#132/#12) visited Notre Dame for the Texas game and the January junior day. He goes to Martin Luther King High School in Detroit, where 2016 Notre Dame recruit and Michigan State signee Donnie Corley is from. The Spartans will be big players here too, but Keith Gilmore has once again done a great job of building a relationship with a Detroit kid and has the Irish legitimately in the race here.
Ohioan Tyrell Ajian (#193/#17 ATH) visited Notre Dame for the Texas game and is high on Notre Dame. Kentucky has also made an early move, and there are a host of other solid programs that have offered as well. The wild card here is Ohio State; at one point last summer the consensus was that Ajian would commit to the Buckeyes on the spot if offered. They haven't yet, and you have to wonder if there's a point where Ajian would get tired of waiting for them.
Elite Texan Jeffrey Okudah (#7/#1) has drawn interest from just about everyone in the country, as you might expect. Notre Dame offered back in May and has gained little if any traction here, but hasn't been officially eliminated yet either. Ohio State is in great position, although he has also specifically mentioned interest in Stanford. There's hope!
At point point last summer, it seemed Isaiah Pryor (#43/#2) was nearing lock status for Notre Dame. He visited in April and got an offer on the spot, and things were looking good. He didn't make it to Irish Invasion in June, and then he committed to Ohio State without ever having visited them in July. Kind of odd. He transferred to IMG Academy, where the Notre Dame staff visited him in January. He looks solid to the Buckeyes now but obviously the Irish will continue to work on him.
Steel City prospect Paris Ford (#92/#6) is another kid who looked like a near-lock for Notre Dame - he's Darrin Walls's brother and he called his Notre Dame offer the best birthday gift he could ever have received. And then he committed to Pitt, with whom his good friend and erstwhile Irish target 2016 CB Damar Hamlin later signed. I doubt we'll be able to get back into the picture here, but I'd imagine we'll at least kick the tires from time to time.
Notre Dame just offered Florida talent Daniel Wright (#96/#7) a couple of weeks ago. He'll be difficult to pull out of the South, and maybe even out of the state, but it's worth noting that his good friend and former teammate is 2016 Notre Dame signee Deon McIntosh. Will that be enough to get the Irish into the conversation?
Dipping back into Detroit again, Cass Tech star Jaylen Kelly-Powell (#290/#22) is a guy the Notre Dame staff has been tracking for quite some time. Michigan and Ohio State loom large here, but Kelly-Powell has already made a couple of visits to Notre Dame, including the recent junior day with teammate Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Notre Dame is very much in it. If the Irish are going to pull a couple of kids from Cass Tech, a Donovan and a Kelly seem as likely a pair as any.
Indianan RJ Potts (#297/#23) was an early offer in this cycle for Notre Dame, landing his invitation last summer after visiting in April. His recruitment is very quiet right now, but the offer was big for him and the Irish will probably be as much a part of the story here as they want to be.