How many can we take? It's a question asked many times per year and there's never really a concrete answer. Coming down the stretch last month we were told that Notre Dame was willing to take 25 or 26 recruits for 2016 but fell short of that mark on Signing Day.
By now, you've become accustomed to our initial projections a year out from the next NSD to be very low only to see the Irish take a lot of bodies. In fact, last year I was discussing how it would be pretty amazing if Notre Dame was able to take its 4th straight recruiting class of at least 20 players and they did just that.
Back in February 2014 we projected an early number of 14 scholarships available and the 2015 class ended up with 24 bodies. Last year, we projected 11 scholarship early on and Notre Dame finished with 23 players for the 2016 class. That's a two-year average an additional 11 bodies from this original scholarship predictions a full year out from the class signing.
Something to keep in mind, perhaps.
Out of Eligibility Following the 2016 Season:
OT Mark Harrell, NT Jarron Jones, S Avery Sebastian, S John Turner, S Nicky Baratti, LS Scott Daly, WR Corey Robinson, DE Isaac Rochell, LB James Onwualu, CB Cole Luke, CB Devin Butler, S Max Redfield.
Before you ask, the loss of Elmer does not affect the 2017 scholarship numbers. He was a rising senior who was done after 2016 anyway. For this upcoming fall's numbers the Irish currently sit at 86 scholarships with all 6 of the above graduate students included. Notre Dame is in the process of looking for one more graduate transfer and you can bet at least a couple walk-ons will have scholarships available come August.
2017-18 Academic Classes:
4 Verbal Freshmen
10 Graduate Students
78 Total Scholarships
Like this time last year, Notre Dame is beginning the cycle with 11 available scholarships. Over the last year the Irish saw Steve Elmer, Jaylon Smith, Will Fuller, Keivarae Russell, C.J. Prosise, and Ronnie Stanley leave with eligibility remaining, both Michael Deeb and Mike Heuerman were placed on medical scholarships, and Greg Bryant, Kolin Hill, Jhonny Williams, Tyler Luatua, Bo Wallace, and Jalen Guyton transferred.
That's how a starting point of 11 scholarships grew to the program being able to take as many as 25 bodies for this past 2016 cycle.
List of Eligible 2017 Grad Students:
OL Mike McGlinchey
QB Malik Zaire
RB Tarean Folston
WR Torii Hunter
TE Durham Smythe
OL Colin McGovern
OL Hunter Bivin
DE Doug Randolph
OL John Montelus
DT Jacob Matuska
Notre Dame would love to have all 5 of the Tier 1 players back for 2017 but Folston is almost assuredly gone as a graduating running back and McGlinchey is going to be among the most sought after tackles in next spring's draft. No one would blame Zaire for leaving after 2016 depending on how the quarterback competition plays out into next season so we'll see on that.
McGovern should be in the middle of a fight for the open right guard spot vacated by Elmer and might get bumped up to Tier 1 based on those results. Both Bivin and Randolph are nominally backups at their positions but perhaps closer to Tier 3 than they are Tier 1.
Both Montelus and Matuska have not broken through into the two-deep yet and are the least valued graduate students as things stand today. More on Montelus below.
Roster (4): Kizer RS SO, Zaire RS JR, Wimbush SO, Book FR
Notre Dame plans on grabbing a quarterback for 2017 which gets an appreciative nod from the "take a quarterback every cycle" fans. Can I at least throw it out there that the Irish *could* skip quarterback for 2017 if they wanted to? More to the point, there will be a lot of bodies here for 2017 if no one leaves. This is where I point out again that Wimbush will have to display patience not normally seen from blue-chip quarterbacks because he's in for a long, long 2016 with a redshirt on his back.
Roster (6): Adams SO, Folston RS JR, D. Williams SO, Brent, RS SO, T. Jones FR, McIntosh FR
We don't expect Folston to exercise a graduate season so he's likely gone and who knows if Brent will stay at this position for the long-term. While 6 bodies today seems like a ton for a Brian Kelly offense, and Tony Jones should be physically ready to play as a true freshman, this isn't a position to ignore for 2017.
Roster (9): Robinson SR, Hunter RS JR, St. Brown SO, Sanders SO, Holmes RS SO, Boykin RS FR, McKinley FR, Claypool FR, Stepherson FR
I can't remember the last time the Irish went into a season with fewer than 10 wide receivers on scholarship. This will probably be rectified by moving Brent again, finally signing Demetris Robertson, or adding a grad transfer. A two-deep unable to go 5-wide in practice? Unthinkable!
Roster (3): Smythe RS JR, A. Jones SO, Weishar RS SO
Commits (2): Brock Wright, Cole Kmet
The transfer of Luatua wasn't great news for the depth at tight end and I think someone is going to move here before spring practice. Matuska makes the most sense to fill the role left by Chase Hounshell. He's completely buried on the depth chart on the defensive line, played the position in high school, and is more valuable on offense in 2016 and 2017 where his graduate year could allow one of the '17 freshmen to redshirt. Matuksa (6'4" 295 pounds) would be a massive tight end but he could slim down into an effective fourth blocker for this group.
Roster (6): McGlinchey RS Jr, Bars RS SO, Harrell GR SR, Bivin RS JR, Kraemer FR, Eichenberg FR
Commit (1): Josh Lugg
Brian Kelly has already noted that offensive line will be a major focus for 2017 so we can expect plenty more bodies here coming soon. If both Kraemer and Eichenberg remain at tackle obviously that lessens the need for two blue-chip talents to come in right behind them.
INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Roster (8): Nelson RS SO, McGovern RS JR, Mustipher RS SO, Hoge RS FR, Montelus RS Jr, Byrne RS SO, Ruhland RS FR, Boudreaux FR
Commit (1): Dillan Gibbons
The OFD odds have 3 out of the first 4 names listed above as the starters for 2016 while Tristen Hoge holding down a starting position for the next 4 campaigns changes things a little bit more than Colin McGovern for half that time. There's plenty of bodies here but also a lot of sorting through contenders and pretenders in the coming months.
Additionally, there are some rumors that John Montelus has moved to the defensive line. On the surface it would seem odd for him to move given he's been battling for right guard backup minutes and Elmer just left the team. However, if one of the two centers (Mustipher or Hoge) are among the best 5 linemen and McGovern has completely passed Montelus then that's a tough situation for an academic senior to be still running with the third-team.
Roster (9): Rochell SR, Trumbetti JR, Bonner RS SO, Randolph RS JR, Blankenship JR, Kareem FR, D. Hayes FR, Okwara FR, Ogundeji FR
Four new bodies enter the mix this fall, two of whom are on campus for spring, although Daelin Hayes will be limited after shoulder surgery when practice begins in less than a month. How quickly the likes of Kareem, Hayes, and Okwara can be utilized may determine how much emphasis there will be on this position for 2017.
Roster (9): Jar. Jones GR SR, Tillery SO, Cage JR, Hayes RS SO, Matuska RS JR, Mokwuah RS SO, Taylor RS FR, Dew-Treadway RS FR, Tiassum RS FR
The Irish completely ignored DT this past cycle and still there are 9 bodies available. Why would Montelus move here with this glut of players? One, it's easier to get into the rotation, both in practice and games, from defensive line. Two, as many as six of these players are unproven commodities. Three, Montelus could fill the hole left by Matuska if the latter does move to tight end.
Roster (9): Onwualu SR, Martini JR, N. Morgan JR, Coney SO, Bilal RS FR, Barajas RS FR, Jo. Jones FR, Perry FR, Jam. Jones FR
Some may be surprised to see so many bodies at linebacker but we believe Spencer Perry and Jamir Jones stick at this position as freshmen. Perry especially may be needed for the spring with Martini and Coney dealing with injuries.
Roster (9): Luke SR, Butler SR, Watkins JR, Coleman SO, Crawford RS FR, White, RS FR, Love FR, Pride FR, Elliott FR
Two seniors will be moving on after 2016 but there's five youngsters with 20 years of eligibility left. As I've mentioned before I expect Elliott to begin at corner but safety is in play once he's more physically mature.
Roster (10): Redfield SR, Tranquill RS SO, Sebastian GR SR, Baratti GR SR, Turner GR SR, Fertitta SO, M. Williams RS FR, Studstill FR, Vaughn FR, D.J. Morgan FR
So many bodies, so many questions, so much uncertainty. For one, we don't know if both Baratti and Turner will be back in 2016 or whether they'll be moving on to another program. Either way, a total of 4 players minimum will be gone after this fall. After two straight cycles of hard work this position still isn't in great shape.
Roster (4): Daly GR SR, Yoon SO, Newsome RS SO, Shannon FR
The Irish will carry 2 long-snappers in 2016 which isn't ideal but the rest of special teams looks mighty fine with two of the finest young kickers and punters in the nation. There's enough balance on the roster to look for a kicker or punter in 2017 especially if you don't want to look for both in 2018 because that's a class ranking killer.
Remaining Priority Targets for 2017:
As just mentioned there aren't any major holes to address for 2017 so 'high' need is a bit relative. There are already 2 offensive linemen committed and likely a couple of more bodies needed there. Safety, receiver, and linebacker will definitely need 2 recruits at each position.
Everything from the medium to low need sets up for the Irish to be very picky and zero in on elite talent. As such, this doesn't look like it'll be a cycle where Notre Dame is grabbing many 3-star prospects before August. Unless the program gets major traction over the next 5 months be prepared to exert some patience until the season begins.
Can Notre Dame make it a remarkable 5th straight cycle with at least 20 recruits? It can happen but it won't be as easy as last year which was a cycle of heavy attrition. In particularly, there doesn't look like there will be any rising true juniors who are going to leave for the NFL like Will Fuller and Jaylon Smith this past year. The graduate student list is also larger this year which means a heavier emphasis would have to be placed on transfers.
With 10 more scholarships committed compared to the offensive side of the ball I would bet some players will eventually shake loose on the defense. I'm looking at the defensive line and defensive back positions where there are a lot of players who might be jumped early in their careers or become frustrated with their lack of playing time. Up to 3 or 4 transfers from defenders over the next 10 months wouldn't surprise me at all.