As 2017’s NCAA football National Signing Day comes to a close, it’s time to assess what kind of talent Notre Dame has been able to pull in after such a devastating 2016 season.
So, let’s look at the absolute top of the 2017 class and see who the most elite and impressive signees were for the Fighting Irish.
Aaron Banks is the epitome of a massive, behemoth offensive lineman. Hailing from California, Banks was a fairly late addition to the class, committing to the Irish on December 9th after narrowing down his decision to ND and Michigan. At 6’7” and 315 pounds in HIGH SCHOOL, Banks projects as a tackle at the next level and is one of five signees to enroll early and get started with team activities this semester.
Adams is an Under Armour All-American who hails from Pennsylvania, where the Irish have been doing very well in the classes of 2017 and 2018. At 6’2” and 224 pounds, Adams is a prototypical inside linebacker who has a likely future as a tackling machine in the middle of the Notre Dame defense.
Coming from Connecticut, CJ Holmes is the sole running back in the 2017 class, and one could even say that label is a stretch for him, considering he’s more of an all-purpose back who will be utilized all over the field due to his size (6-feet, 200 pounds) and speed in the open field. Holmes also enrolled early and could see some playing time depending on how quickly he picks up the offense and how the depth chart shakes out, especially at receiver.
Avery Davis is not talked about that much when looking at this class, despite his 4-star rating and Under Armour All-American status. The early enrollee signal caller from Texas is definitely small for the position (5’11”), but possesses elite athletic ability and speed, as well as a cannon for an arm. Sure, like Ian Book, Davis is sandwiched between all-world QB recruits Brandon Wimbush and Phil Jurkovec (class of 2018 commit), but as Irish fans learned with DeShone Kizer, never count out the less-heralded guy who has the physical tools and competitive drive to succeed.
Okay, now that we’ve covered some of the guys that are very, very good but didn’t crack my Top 5, let’s check out the best of the best in the 2017 Notre Dame class.
Top Five Signees
5. Cole Kmet
Cole Kmet is higher rated in the 247 composite rankings than numbers 3 and 4 on this list, but I slotted him in at number 5 because he isn’t even the best tight end in this Notre Dame class. Nevertheless, Cole Kmet will arrive at Notre Dame this summer as a 4-star Army All-American from Illinois who’s the 3rd-best tight end in the 2017 class, according to the 247 composite rankings.
He’s a fantastic blocker and has very soft hands, and at 6’5” and 230 pounds is an excellent mix of big-enough-to-be-a-huge-target and svelte-enough-to-beat-linebackers-in-coverage, making him a great target for future ND QBs.
4. Joshua Lugg
Josh Lugg is yet another Pennsylvania product, and the Irish got a good one in the mammoth 6’7”, 293-pound Army All-American tackle.
Lugg has future starting right tackle written all over him, and his offer list shows it, including opportunities to play at schools such as Alabama, Michigan State, Penn State, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, UCLA, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. Scouts have raved about him in camps and at the Army All-American Game, and Avery Davis has gotta be smiling imagining this guy solidifying the outside of his future offensive line.
3. Darnell Ewell
I ranked Darnell Ewell 3rd in this class for one very important reason - Notre Dame needs a standout defensive lineman very badly. With the losses of Sheldon Day, Romeo Okwara, Isaac Rochell, and Jarron Jones in the past two years, the Irish are left with a lot of unproven-to-decent bodies along the defensive line but no one to set the tone in the middle.
That’s where Ewell comes in. At 6’4” and 295 pounds, he’s a monster defensive tackle from Virginia who held offers from Alabama, Clemson, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Stanford. Any of those schools have any sort of reputation as teams with strong defenses full of big-time defensive linemen?
Ewell should be able to come in and contribute right away to the Irish front seven, and considering his strength and size, at the very least he will help clog holes and hold the point of attack up front. He might be the 3rd-best signee, but he also might just be the most important signee in the class due to the Irish’s need along the defensive line.
2. Robert Hainsey
Hainsey is the highest-rated offensive lineman in the 2017 Notre Dame class, and that’s nothing to sneeze at considering Lugg, Banks, and Dillan Gibbons also belong in that group. An early enrollee from IMG Academy in Florida, Hainsey looks like a future All-American offensive guard, but does have the versatility to be able to play tackle at the next level if needed.
He plays with a nasty streak and with excellent technique, and proved his mettle during Under Armour All-American game practices. The 6’5”, 276-pounder certainly wasn’t as big as some of the other All-American linemen, but he was easily one of the most impressive with how he handled the talented defensive linemen coming at him in drills, more often than not completely stonewalling whatever moves they threw at him.
1. Brock Wright
Without question, Brock Wright has been the crown jewel of this class, in terms of overall talent, ever since he committed to ND back in June of 2015. He’s rated as the #2 TE in the class of 2017 according to 247 composite rankings (1st is Stanford signee Colby Parkinson), but other recruiting services have him ranked as the top TE in the class.
Either way, Wright is everything coaches want in a tight end. At 6’5” and 243 pounds, Wright is a big, but light-on-his-feet target with fantastic hands and very strong blocking ability. He enrolled early, allowing him to begin learning the playbook and getting into ND’s strength and conditioning program under new coach Matt Balis, and has a very good chance of seeing the field next season considering the other tight ends ND has aren’t exactly sure things:
- Alizé Jones is coming back from a year off of football
- Durham Smythe has not been very impressive and likely won’t improve much for his 5th year from the 9 catches, 112 yards, and 4 TD he accumulated last season as a senior
- Nic Weishar has played just sparingly and has not stood out as a credible threat
- Cole Kmet will likely be behind Wright in terms of development since he didn’t enroll early
Clearly, Wright is set up to earn some playing time, assuming he’s as impressive as the scouts have said he is.
Either way, the future is bright for the Irish at tight end, and everyone should be drooling about the prospect of Kmet and Wright lining up in a two-tight end set and either mauling people alongside Hainsey, Lugg, Banks, etc., or being unleashed into the opponent’s secondary as huge, mobile targets ready to completely annihilate all challengers on the way to the end zone.
So, that sums up the best players in the Notre Dame NSD class of 2017. Lots of talent, some guys that could play early, and a solid, stereotypical-of-ND helping of offensive linemen and tight ends.
The future may not be bright at all positions, but these signees will certainly raise the bar at their respective positions over the next 3-4 years.