With the busyness between basketball and signing day coverage this week, I wasn’t able to get a Monday Thoughts out this past week and I apologize. But I’m here to make it up to you with a special National Signing Day edition. Here I’ll break down my general thoughts on Notre Dame’s 2017 class.
All things considered...not bad
Despite going 4-8 and multiple coaching changes, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish brought in a pretty solid class. All 18 guys who were committed before today ended up signing with the Irish without any hiccups. They even added a 19th, 20th and 21st signee in Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, a three-star defensive end from Hawaii, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, a three star athlete from Virginia, and Kofi Wardlow, a three-star defensive end from Maryland.
So a class that was just 15 commits deep a few weeks ago has grown to 21 signees, an incredibly strong finish for Notre Dame. This class has been ranked anywhere from 11th (247sports) to 18th (Rivals).
Hats off to Brian Kelly and his staff. They had minimal time to get out there and recruit, but they were able to flip some guys and bring in a solid class. This was one of the rare situations where a program that has gone through some turmoil was able to keep the core of its class in tact.
Not Enough Defense
Out of the current 19 signees only eight of them are defensive players. We know that Notre Dame can recruit the cream of the crop offensive players, but if they want to take this program to the next level they need some studs on the defensive side. They missed out on some difference makers this recruiting cycle, including Robert Beal and Donovan Jeter.
This is an area of recruiting I’d expect to get better with the edition of new defensive coordinator Mike Elko. Elko is known for being a better recruiter than Brian VanGorder was. If the Irish can improve on the field this upcoming season, I’d expect the 2018 class to be a bit more kind to them.
Where are the Hoosiers?
For the second straight year the Irish have failed to bring in somebody from the top 20 in Indiana. I wrote about this in Notre Dame’s biggest misses, but the Irish need to own the state of Indiana when it comes to recruiting. Indiana is not the most fertile ground for football recruiting, but in the situations where there are top prospects Notre Dame needs to be all over them.
The Irish had a commitment from Hunter Johnson (Brownsburg, IN), the No.1 QB in the 2017 class, but he ultimately wound up with the Clemson Tigers.
No.14 MLB Pete Werner was signed, sealed and delivered for Notre Dame, but he backed out from his commitment in November. He ended up signing with Ohio State. Werner was from Indianapolis Cathedral High School, the top Catholic program in the state. Notre Dame can’t let guys like that get away from them.
Lastly, No.21 CB Russ Yeast and No.60 WR Mac Hippenhammer were the other two Hoosier state prospects the Irish missed out on. Yeast, a Greenwood, IN product, has signed with Louisville. Hipperhammer, a Fort Wayne native, signed with Penn State. Notre Dame came late to the party on these two. They need to be all over Indiana prospects, especially guys like Hippenhammer, who is just down the road from them.
For the 2018 class, Notre Dame already has a commitment from running back Markese Stepp. Stepp is the No.2 prospect in Indiana. He stars for Indianapolis Cathedral.
Now enough with the negative, let’s get to the positive.
Guys like TE Brock Wright and OL Robert Hainsey might be rated higher, but my biggest get of this class is DT Darnell Ewell. I pegged Ewell here mainly because defensive line was and still is a huge need for the Irish. The Irish are fairly thin on the d-line right now, only Daniel Cage and Jerry Tillery have seen real playing time. Ewell is a guy who definitely can come in and play right away. He already has the size (6’4”, 295 lbs.) and the quickness of a college d-lineman. He should be a difference maker up front. The Irish need more guys like Ewell.
The Irish stole him from programs such as the Alabama Crimson Tide, Michigan Wolverines, Clemson Tigers and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Those schools have a pretty good history of churning out defensive linemen, so if they wanted him that is a good sign for the Irish.
Don’t Be Sleeping On...
Michael Young. Young is only a three-star by most recruiting services, but that should be taken with a grain of salt. Remember, most experts had Will Fuller as three-star and he ended up being an NFL first-round pick.
What jumped out to me about Young was his speed. This guy has some breakaway speed. On top of that, even though he’s not all that big (5’10”, 170 lbs), he is not afraid to stick his nose out there in block. If you check out any of his highlight tape, you’ll notice Young’s willingness to get out there in the run game. Young might need a year or two of development, but this is definitely a kid to keep your eye on.
Best Position Group...
I’m kind of split on this decision, so I am going with two positions — tight ends and defensive line.
“We think there can't be a better tandem on signing day at the tight end position,” Kelly said during his press conference on Wednesday. I can’t say I disagree with him.
When you get the No.1 and No.2 tight ends in the country, how could this not be one of the top position groups? No.1 TE Brock Wright has already enrolled at Notre Dame and will participate in spring practice. Wright won’t need to worry much about putting on weight because he’s physically already there (6’5”, 240 lbs.) He has great hands and moves very well for his size. He’s also plays real well in the run game. When watching his tape he reminded me a little of Jake Butt of Michigan. If there is anyone in this class I have to peg as a future NFL player, I’m going with Wright.
Wright might be No.1, but No.2 TE Cole Kmet isn’t a player to scoff at. The Arlington Heights, IL native is a similar build as Wright. Kmet stands at 6’6”, 240 lbs. He also moves very well for his size. It’ll be interesting to see if Notre Dame decides to redshirt one of these guys considering how deep they are at tight end.
Let’s go to the d-line. This group doesn’t have the star power that the tight ends have, but I like the depth and the potential it has. Aside from Ewell, Tagovailoa-Amosa and Wardlow, the Irish brought in three-star DE Jonathan MacCollister and four-star DT Kurt Hinish.
MacCollister is a big body, more of bull rusher. I liked his quickness of the line. Once he gets in the weight room and grows into his body, the Irish could have something special here.
Because of the current depth and his physical features, Hinish will have a chance to play right away. He comes from a winning program in Central Catholic in Pittsburgh. He was high school teammates with LB David Adams, another Notre Dame signee.
So there ya have it, my thoughts on Notre Dame’s 2017 class. Can’t stress enough how tough and how good of a job Kelly and his staff did. It seemed like a few weeks ago that this class was falling a part, but the Irish had a nice recovery.
I’ll be back on next Monday for a regular edition of Monday thoughts. Happy National Signing Day everybody! Go Irish!