Well everybody, the inaugural early signing period for NCAA football is upon us, and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, while also still in the hunt for a few top targets, signed 20 new and talented players from the class of 2018.
This is probably the most talented recruiting class in 4 or 5 years for Brian Kelly’s program, and is a testament to the energy, effort and talent that guys like Mike Elko, Chip Long, Todd Lyght, and Brian Polian (among others) are contributing on the recruiting trail right now.
So, considering this impressive early haul with potentially more to come by February, let’s take a look at the guys who I personally believe are the most significant signees in this class.
1. Derrik Allen
It’s been the case for a couple years now, so this is going to sound like a broken record: Notre Dame is severely lacking in both top-end talent and in ready-to-play depth at the safety positions.
Guys like Nick Coleman, Jalen Elliott, and Devin Studstill played decently well this past season, but there were still mistakes and major vulnerabilities that were evident, and these were only magnified by the poor safety recruiting turned in by Brian VanGorder and his defensive staff over the past few recruiting cycles. Navy transfer Alohi Gilman is reportedly a very good player, but he has yet to play a down for the Irish and thus is still somewhat of an unknown.
So, getting any safety talent in the class of 2018 is huge. However, Todd Lyght and Mike Elko didn’t just go get a decent safety who could maybe someday start. Instead, they went down into Georgia and pulled out an ELITE safety with size, speed, ball skills, and the right mentality to make him a superstar.
Allen is going to be borderline ready to play D1 football as soon as he steps on campus, and to me he’s the most important recruit in this class — a tough, talented, freak athlete who will anchor the back end of a Mike Elko defense for the next 3-4 years. He held offers from just about anyone and everyone, including Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, and Virginia Tech.
I don’t want to put too much pressure on the young kid, but I believe he serves as the savior of the safety position, putting to rest the seemingly never-ending sequence of coming up short on top safety talent in recruiting.
Derrik Allen is about to be THE REAL DEAL back there, folks.
2. Phil Jurkovec
I really wanted to put Phil a little further down this list just because I think there are other positions where ND is in even more dire need of talent, but considering the passing offense that ND put forth during the 2017 season, I’m not sure I can. Additionally, if he turns out to be as good as people think he will be, then he really should be number 1. For now, though, I’ll keep him here.
No matter where he is in this list, Jurkovec comes in as a universally-lauded QB prospect with the combination of size, speed, and arm that is necessary for a QB to excel in a Run-Pass Option offense. He put up eye-popping numbers against pretty damn strong competition in Pennsylvania, and could legitimately come in and push the upperclassmen a bit for their jobs.
Like Allen, he held offers from a bunch of great college football programs, including Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and more.
I’m not of the persuasion that Jurkovec can unseat Brandon Wimbush next year, or even that he should (I don’t think Ian Book or Avery Davis should, either, but if Wimbush struggles, at some point Long and Kelly may need to go another direction), but he’s going to come in as a pretty polished passer and runner, and if guys like Book and Davis aren’t careful, he could catapult himself up the depth chart in a hurry.
He’s that good, and there’s a reason lots of people see him as the next great Notre Dame QB.
3. Jayson Ademilola
Defensive line depth and talent is always hard to come by in football, but Notre Dame especially seems to struggle to bring in elite guys up front on defense.
Ademilola is a stout, talented defensive tackle who will be very important right away, considering the lack of interior defensive line depth behind Jerry Tillery (assuming he stays for his senior year), Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, and Kurt Hinish (Darnell Ewell should be ready to start contributing, but after that, who else can hold down the middle?).
Analysts raved about Jayson during all of the recruiting camps, competitions, etc., and so it would not be a surprise if he came in and competed for some reps in relief of the starters almost immediately. He held offers from just about everybody, including Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State. Clearly, the kid has some major skill that everyone wanted.
He’s very talented, and getting talent at this position is rare enough that his signing is MASSIVELY important to the program. He will be anchoring the Notre Dame defensive line soon enough, and Irish fans will likely enjoy the result of that.
4. Kevin Austin
The Notre Dame receiving corps was not good in 2017. Of course, part of that was due to Wimbush’s struggles, and part was due to the amount that the Irish ran with its award-winning offensive line and Josh Adams.
But in the times the receivers were called upon to make big plays, not many were made. Chase Claypool showed he can be pretty good (along with some drops), and Kevin Stepherson emerged as potentially the best receiver on the team (take that for what it’s worth), but overall a lot of guys seemed to regress (Equanimeous St. Brown), disappoint (Alizé Jones), or completely disappear (paging CJ Sanders).
The Irish are in desperate need of a star at the position — a guy who is bigger, faster, and more talented than everyone else on the field, and who can be virtually unstoppable if the ball gets anywhere near his hands. Maybe a guy with offers from Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oregon, USC, Wisconsin, and more?
In Kevin Austin, the Irish have a potential guy like that. Watching his high school highlights, he reminds me somewhat of Michael Floyd. He’s got fantastic size, length, hands, etc., but also the athleticism and speed to simply outrun people.
He’s the total package, and I’m incredibly excited to see what he can do at the next level. He could push for playing time immediately, and maybe even finish the season as one of the team’s best wideouts, depending how things shake out. Hopefully the ND offense is able to get him the ball enough to find out.
5. Houston Griffith
It’s been a while since Notre Dame has had an absolutely dominant cornerback. Julian Love was pretty damn close this past year despite some limitations in speed, and KeiVarae Russell could have been an All-American if not for his suspension his junior year. For the most part, though, ND corners seem to always have some fatal flaw that keeps them from being great.
Houston Griffith’s signing, then, is absolutely huge for Mike Elko and Todd Lyght and their secondary. He comes in as a 6’1”, 192-pound corner with the length, ball skills, and coverage ability to truly shut anyone down. He could push for time at the corner spot opposite Love, as Nick Watkins is a known, okay commodity (assuming he comes back for a 5th year), and Troy Pride and Donte Vaughn have both yet to emerge as anything more than promising depth (Pride especially struggled a bit in the last few games of the year, and Vaughn registered almost no time at all last season).
The great thing about a big, talented DB like Griffith, though, is that he could also slide to safety if needed. Lots of people actually think that’s his likeliest future and his most natural position, but the fact that he’s also a great corner and will probably start out at that position speaks volumes in terms of his versatility and athleticism. He was offered by the likes of Florida State, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Texas, USC, Virginia Tech, and Wisconsin, and was committed to Florida State for a time, before Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M and Griffith reopened his recruitment.
Getting guys like Allen and Griffith to hold down the defensive backfield is absolutely huge in a world where more and more of football is passing-focused, and especially considering the 2017 class was so light on defensive backs.
Houston Griffith is going to be a very important piece to the puzzle and probably a star at ND — I feel very confident in saying that.
6. Shayne Simon
Drue Tranquill won’t be around forever, folks. He’s been fantastic in Mike Elko’s “Rover” position, but with just one year of eligibility left, the Irish need to make sure they have an established heir to the Rover throne.
Asmar Bilal is currently the backup, and he’s athletic enough to probably do a fine job. But Shayne Simon was BORN to play this position, with a combination of physicality and speed/coverage ability that will make him a force to be reckoned with on defense. Simon held offers from Michigan, NC State, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State, Stanford, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and others. He didn’t quite have all the big boys knocking on his door, but he’s an exceptional athlete with the smarts and instincts to really excel at Rover, just like Tranquill.
Watching Drue Tranquill fly all over the field and make plays in a number of situations has been a joy to watch this past season. Watching Shayne Simon do the same, hopefully with better health all throughout his career (KNOCK ON WOOD), is going to be just as much of a joy, if not more so considering the amount of talent Simon is going to have around him as he makes plays.
T-7. Jack Lamb and Matt “Bo” Bauer
Mike Elko’s 2017 defense was largely driven by some fantastic linebacker play, as guys like Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini were tackling machines while Te’von Coney emerged as the best of the bunch.
With Morgan and Martini departing the program via graduation, though, the linebacking corps is going to look very different next season. Guys like Jamir Jones and Jonathon Jones and probably a bunch of other Joneses will be asked to fill the 153-tackle void those seniors are leaving behind.
So, with the loss of key linebackers and no proven replacements to ensure the defense doesn’t miss a beat in the middle, it’s absolutely key that the Irish bring in some very good linebackers in this recruiting class.
Elko and co. went out and got themselves some absolute studs at the position, as Jack Lamb is a 6’4”, 220-pound freak who’s ranked as the 6th-best inside linebacker in his class and appears to be the heir apparent to the middle linebacker throne. His highlights are fraught with HUGE hits, and he just looks like he can do everything you’d want a middle linebacker to be able to do. Before signing with ND, Lamb held offers from Oklahoma, Penn State, Oregon, TCU, Washington, UCLA, and Utah, among others.
Matt “Bo” Bauer, meanwhile, is 6’3” and 220 pounds, and was an absolute machine in his senior year at Cathedral Prep in Pennsylvania, accumulating 96 tackles and 9 sacks en route to leading his team to a state title. He flies to the ball and the aggression he shows on the field makes him a very exciting linebacker to watch. Before signing with ND, he held offers from Michigan State, Penn State, West Virginia, and more, and he also finished as a finalist for the High School Butkus Award, which is given to the best linebacker in the country.
Both of these guys look like they’ll be fantastic linebackers for ND during their careers, and the depth and talent they provide will be huge for a unit losing a couple of its leaders.
9. TaRiq Bracy
I’m going to keep this one simple — you can never have too many great athletes.
TaRiq Bracy is an exceptional athlete who has the speed and ball skills to play corner, but also the shiftiness and breakaway acceleration to be a contributor in the kick return game, and even on offense if needed.
He held offers from a lot of west coast squads like Boise State, Washington State, Utah, California, etc., but don’t let the 3-star cohort distract you from his talent.
Just check out his highlights for yourself.
I’m excited to see how soon ND can get Bracy on the field — he’s a versatile guy with a ton of potential.
T-10. George Takacs/Tommy Tremble
Last but not least, I can’t write about important recruits for Tight End U without mentioning that for the second class in a row, the Irish pulled in a deadly tandem of tight ends.
Last year, Notre Dame managed to snag Brock Wright and Cole Kmet, two huge, athletic tight ends ranked at the top of their class.
In this 2018 class, ND brought in a couple more very talented bookends for the offensive line. George Takacs is the 12th-best TE in the class, and I have a feeling that Jurkovec is going to LOVE having a 6’7” target to throw to in the red zone. He held other offers from Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and many more.
Tremble is 3 inches shorter than Takacs at 6’4”, but brings a completely unique skill set to the team considering his athleticism and speed for a tight end. In the mold of guys like Alizé Jones in terms of body type and the way he can move, Tremble was a nice recent get over competitors who offered like Michigan, UCLA, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina, and West Virginia. He’ll give Chip Long a great mismatch to employ for big gains against opposing defenses.