The Notre Dame Fighting Irish had a strong close to their National Signing Day, picking up three out of four student-athletes who announced their decisions today. The 11th hour addition of defensive ends Kofi Wardlow and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa gave new defensive line coach Mike Elston plenty of clay to mold.
While Elston probably got the best group of incoming freshman, Todd Lyght has to be shaking his head at the multiple missed opportunities to land a cornerback...any cornerback.
Below, we’ll look at each position group and tell you where the Irish are strongest (or deepest) and where they’ll need to make bigger strides in 2018.
Commit: Avery Davis
Depth analysis: The Irish have taken at least one quarterback every year during Brian Kelly’s tenure. Recruiters jumped in early on five-star in-state talent Hunter Johnson, only to see him choose the Tennessee Volunteers instead. Their attention quickly turned to Davis, who struggles with consistency but has great feet. I assume rising junior Brandon Wimbush will be the Irish’s starter for the next two years, giving Davis plenty of time to find himself within Chip Long’s offensive scheme. He won’t be able to dawdle, though. Four-star Phil Jurkovec plans to join the squad next year. If Wimbush is injured, the Irish will likely look to rising sophomore Ian Book - who didn’t take a single game snap last year.
Commits: C.J. Holmes
Depth analysis: The position took a bit of hit in terms of bodies when Tarean Folston opted for the NFL instead of a fifth year and Justin Brent announced plans to transfer. Next season’s workload will be split between rising juniors Josh Adams and Dexter Williams, with possible low-leverage appearances by redshirt freshmen Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh. Holmes is an early enrollee and several of his predecessors have logged snaps as true freshmen. I could definitely see him playing in 2017.
Commits: Jafar Armstrong, Michael Young Jr.
Depth analysis: Much like the running back position, the wide receiver depth chart lost some experience with the departures of captain Torii Hunter Jr. (to pursue baseball) and Corey Holmes (transfer). Having said that, Irish fans have got to be excited by what they saw from rising sophomore Kevin Stepherson and rising juniors C.J. Sanders and Equanimeous St. Brown. Sanders battled a hip injury and Brown had shoulder surgery before last season, and neither looked impacted by that one bit. My colleague Pat Rick says there may be an opening for these newcomers at slot behind Sanders and rising junior Chris Finke.
Commits: Cole Kmet, Brock Wright
Depth analysis: Guess who’s back? Alize’
Mack Jones. Irish fans got a taste of Jones’ skill during his freshman season, only to see him sidelined last year due to low grades. Jones is probably the most athletic of the position group, but both of these freshmen come in with excellent reputations for making plays. Wright is an early enrollee, so he gets the jump on Kmet. If Brian Kelly is serious about playing an offense built around two tight ends, then there will be ample opportunity for one of these freshman. It’ll be a certainty if Durham Smythe opts not to use his final year of eligibility in South Bend.
Commits: Aaron Banks, Dillan Gibbons, Robert Hainsey, Josh Lugg
Depth analysis: There are a few constants in this world. Death. Taxes. Harry Hiestand doesn’t use freshmen on his offensive line. Lugg and Banks will start their collegiate careers on the outside, while Gibbons and Hainsey will start from the inside (guard) and work their way out (tackle). The line will be anchored this year by fifth-year senior Mike McGlinchey (left tackle) and senior Quenton Nelson (left guard). Liam Eichenberg and Tommy Kraemer are both freshmen who redshirted last year. One has a good chance of starting at right tackle this year. Could the Irish move rising senior Alex Bars from right tackle to right guard? Or is experience on the edge too important? Spring camp will answer these questions and more.
Commits: Darnell Ewell, Kurt Hinish, Jonathon MacCollister, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Kofi Wardlow
Depth analysis: There’s no doubt that losing Robert Beal and Donovan Jeter hurt the Irish’s chances to be more disruptive in the backfield in the next four years. But these four guys are a solid Plan B. The line needs to replace two solid contributors in Issac Rochell and Jarron Jones, and Ewell may be talented enough to start right away. Having said that, there are a few rising sophomores who had a taste of playing time last year who will be eager to expand their roles. Those include the highly-rated Khalid Kareem and Daelin Hayes. Junior Jerry Tillery, who has shown both good and bad, will be expected to anchor the line in 2017.
Commits: David Adams, Drew White
Depth analysis: The conversation begins with captain Nyles Morgan, who has willingly accepted his leadership role and is determined not to repeat the disappointment of last season. The corps lost James Onwualu, who took the most snaps among their group - but rising senior Greer Martini and rising junior Te’von Coney will return and contribute more. In front of Adams and White are a slew of players who haven’t proven themselves, such as Asmar Bilal and Josh Barajas. And of course, these freshmen will be keeping up with the Joneses: Jamir and Jonathan.
Commits: Isaiah Robertson, Jordan Genmark Heath, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Depth analysis: Drue Tranquill was a staple at strong safety last year, but is expected to be a rover (a safety/linebacker hybrid role) in the new Mike Elko defense. That opens up a spot for rising sophomore Jalen Elliott, whose largest role last year was during the Syracuse game (36 of a possible 79 snaps). Devin Studstill, Elliott’s classmate, figures to be the start at free safety, with Nicco Fertitta providing backup. D.J. Morgan and Spencer Perry both redshirted, so they’re basically these three guys listed above but with an additional year with their noses in the playbook. Robertson has the early advantage among the trio, as he is an early enrollee.
Depth analysis: The Irish extended 30 offers, sustained two decommits (Paulson Adebo & Elijah Hicks) and ultimately came away empty handed on Signing Day. Four-star in-state talent Russ Yeast was the Irish’s Hail Mary offer, but he stuck to his Louisville commitment.
Another big signing in the fold with the addition of Russ Yeast; Indiana Gatorade Player of the Year #ULNSD17 pic.twitter.com/QObgEzgqNs— LouisvilleFootball (@UofLFootball) February 1, 2017
The Irish started three true freshmen at corner last year, so there’s a lot of game experience returning. Rising junior Shaun Crawford and rising senior Nick Watkins should be healed from injuries that caused them to miss most or all of 2016 and will face stiff competition from Julian Love, Troy Pride Jr. and Donte Vaughn. I expect Love and Watkins to be the frontrunners for the boundary/field cornerback positions going into spring camp.
The Irish have already made cornerback a high priority among 2018 student-athletes, extending more offers (13) to that position than any other so far.
Commits: Jonathan Doerer (2 stars, 17th ranked kicker according to 247 Sports composite)
Depth analysis: Barring injury, the Irish are set at the kicker position for the next two years. There are questions about rising junior Justin Yoon’s health going into spring camp, but his knee injury isn’t something that’s expected to keep him from playing in the fall. Then again, Doerer was the Irish’s only offer to a kicker - and it just came Jan. 27. Regardless of Yoon’s status, the Irish still have punter Tyler Newsome for two more years if necessary. And long-snapper John Shannon is a redshirt sophomore with four years of eligibility left.