Well, folks, we’ve finally reached National Signing Day 2019, and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team has managed to sign another talented, impressive group of prospects who will begin their ND careers in 2020.
Of course, in many cases, these guys will redshirt. Brian Kelly, no matter what you want to say about him, has built up a depth situation at most positions that the Irish probably haven’t had since the Lou Holtz era. Positions like defensive and offensive line, tight end, linebacker, and to an extent, safety, have key, experienced guys returning as starters and oftentimes in reserve as well.
However, per usual, there are a few position groups that will suffer BIG losses to graduation/the NFL Draft, and so some true freshmen will be called upon to contribute right away — think Kyle Hamilton or Jay Bramblett or Jacob Lacey this year, or TaRiq Bracy, Jayson Ademilola, and Houston Griffith the year before.
So, in this 2020 class, who are the guys whose talent, physique, and position all coalesce to provide them an opportunity to see plenty of PT as rookies? Let’s take a look at some virtual certainties, as well as some guys who miiiiiight get time if all falls correctly.
Absolutely Will Play
Alex Peitsch, Long Snapper
This one should come as no surprise to any of us. Incumbent long snapper John Shannon — hot off his Patrick Mannelly Long Snapper Award as the first inaugural top FBS senior long snapper — is graduating after this 2019 season and has already made it clear he will not be using his 5th year of eligibility, as he will instead pursue a career in law enforcement.
The Patrick Mannelly Award would like to congratulate John Shannon of Notre Dame as the first winner of this prestigious award for top FBS Senior Long Snapper!#GoIrish pic.twitter.com/GrWLpvUq6R— The Patrick Mannelly Long Snapper Award (@MannellyAward) December 15, 2019
So, come fall 2020, it’s officially Alex Peitsch’s time to shine. Peitsch is considered the top long snapper in the 2020 class by both 247sports.com and Kohl’s Professional Camps, just as Shannon was rated in his class 4 years ago. Here’s what the Kohl’s site has under “Coach Observations” regarding Peitsch:
Peitsch is truly one of the most impressive snappers I have ever had the privilege to coach. Peitsch finished the Kohl’s National Scholarship Camp on a high note by earning a spot in the Under Armour All America Game. Peitsch has been nothing short of dominant at every Kohl’s event he has attended. He is someone who pushes himself to be the best he can be in every aspect of sports and in life. Peitsch is truly a generational talent and will be able to make an immediate impact for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Yeah, that sounds like a future Patrick Mannelly Award winner, folks. Get excited for that.
Almost Certainly Will See Plenty of Time
Chris Tyree, Running Back
No commitment was bigger for the Fighting Irish in this 2020 recruiting cycle than Chris Tyree, a 5-star all-purpose back from Chester, Virginia. The Irish have STRUGGLED to bring in elite running back prospects despite consistently having one of the best offensive lines in the country over the past 5+ years, and so the ability of new running backs coach Lance Taylor and the rest of the staff to reel in a true home run threat with elite speed and talent at running back was monstrous for an Irish offense that really lacked a big-play back following Dexter Williams’ graduation.
Tyree isn’t a big back (5’10”, 179 lbs), but his cutting ability and quickness allow him to slip through holes and break linebackers’ ankles, and then his second gear is something that, besides Braden Lenzy, you’d never expect to see in an ND uniform, but rather in a Clemson or Alabama or Ohio State uni.
Tyree likely won’t be an every-down, workhorse kind of back — at least not next year, considering Tony Jones. Jr. will likely be back as the starter. However, there’s simply no way the Irish staff will be able to justify keeping such a game-breaker off the field, especially considering the success they saw in 2019 when they finally started putting the ball in Lenzy’s hands.
Look for Tyree to get a handful of carries per game (maybe more, depending on how fantastic he is), perhaps become the third down back if he proves he can both pass block and reliably catch the ball out of the backfield, and to perhaps also help in the kickoff and punt return game, considering his speed and experience returning kicks in high school.
Jordan Johnson, Wide Receiver
Wide receiver is going to be a pretty wide open situation heading into 2020, considering the graduation of Chase Claypool and Chris Finke. We know Braden Lenzy has cemented himself as a heavy contributor/likely starter, and Lawrence Keys III showed flashes of reliably excellent hands throughout the year. Further, Kevin Austin will certainly be expected to compete for a starting role, assuming he’s out of the doghouse and ready to live up to his blue chip billing.
However, even with those guys a step ahead, Jordan Johnson enters his collegiate career as the highest-rated wide receiver the Irish have signed since Michael Floyd in 2008, and he’s tied with Duval Kamara as the second-highest rated wide receiver commit that Notre Dame has ever had (again, of course, second to Michael Floyd).
The 6’2”, 180-lb. 5-star from St. Louis held offers from just about everyone before he committed to the Irish in April, as programs like Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon, USC, and Penn State all extended offers to the elite Midwestern wideout.
Considering the receiver position is in flux, do not at all be surprised to see Johnson’s pure talent and athleticism earn him a spot in the two-deep during summer camp, and considering how injuries go and how good Johnson appears to be, it’d be pretty shocking if he didn’t end up earning some PT on Saturdays in 2020 — potentially even in big spots where the Irish need a playmaker in the passing game.
If Johnson is as good as expected, Irish fans should start to get pretty excited about a receiver group that includes him, Lenzy, Austin, and Keys — that crew, along with Tyree and Cole Kmet, if he returns, will be an absolutely absurd collection of raw skill position talent for Ian Book (or Phil Jurkovec, if Book for some reason does not return for his 5th year) to work with.
Decent Chance of Seeing Some Time
Rylie Mills/Jordan Botelho, Defensive Ends
This won’t be a certainty, as a player really needs to be a physical freak to see PT as a true freshman defensive end — but Rylie Mills and Jordan Botelho are both very talented, aggressive ends who could maybe work into the pass rush rotation in 2020, depending on how the depth chart shakes out and how the injury bug hits the team next year. Both will enroll early, so they will be in a college weight room and learning the ropes of the defensive scheme starting in January.
LB Jordan Botelho @Jordanbotelho_ is graduating early and leaving soon for @NDFootball after signing his letter of intent. @HawaiiPrepWorld @StLouisHawaii pic.twitter.com/ZnPgpHrSo8— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) December 18, 2019
Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem and Jamir Jones will all be gone next year, so three of the five key defensive ends from 2019 will need to have their roles filled. Of course, Jones only ended up playing due to Daelin Hayes’ injury — but still, we’re looking at three key guys leaving a big hole of open minutes at defensive end.
With that exodus of veteran talent, 5th-year seniors Hayes and Adetokunbo Ogundeji will be the near-certain locks to start, and sophomores like Justin Ademilola, Nana Osafo-Mensah, and Isaiah Foskey will be expected to fill in the two-deep behind them. However, that trio of depth is almost completely unproven, and so there could be some situational playing time to be earned by a nasty, athletic, heat-seeking missile at defensive end — Botelho especially would seem to fit that mold.
If some of the depth guys don’t perform, or if injuries decimate some of that two-deep, expect to see guys like Botelho and Mills stepping in and getting some reps.
Caleb Offord/Clarence Lewis/Landen Bartleson, Cornerbacks
One position that the Notre Dame coaching staff has NOT recruited well is cornerback. Some of that has to do with guys like talented guys like Houston Griffith ending up at safety instead of corner, but even more so that lack of corner depth stems from completely whiffing on top targets and having to settle for either 3-star projects at the position, or sometimes just no one else at all.
Even assuming Shaun Crawford is awarded the 6th year he deserves more than just about anyone in the history of college football, he and TaRiq Bracy will be the likely starters at cornerback, with literally NO experienced backups to rotate in and help out. KJ Wallace and Isaiah Rutherford were both 4-stars in the 2019 class, so the staff is certainly hoping they are ready to contribute after sitting out their freshman seasons. However, there hasn’t exactly been a ton of buzz from practice that they are the real deal, and Cam Hart is a converted wide receiver who likely isn’t ready to play significant time.
So, if injuries happen (STAY AWAY FROM SHAUN, INJURIES, OR SO HELP ME GOD...) or if Wallace/Rutherford don’t pan out in 2020, one of the three likely corners in this 2020 class could be called into action. None of the three guys are considered blue-chippers or guys who should compete for a starting spot as freshmen, but sometimes a 3-star true cover corner can come in and contribute right away in a situation like this that lacks a ton of depth — think Julian Love in 2016, as he was a 3-star, unheralded guy who just knew how to cover and played a ton as a frosh before becoming an All-American as a sophomore and junior.
The same kind of situation — but hopefully with a much better team record — could definitely be in the cards for at least one of this trio. Offord may be the guy, considering he is the only early enrollee of the three.
Not Super Likely, But I Could See It
Michael Mayer, Tight End
This is admittedly a long shot, especially if Kmet indeed returns for 2020. But all the reports on Mayer — the #48 player and #2 TE in the class according to 247sports.com — are that he’s a Cole Kmet-esque talent, if not better. In most programs, that would likely mean Mayer would be an instant starter, but unfortunately for him, the Irish would theoretically have Kmet, Tommy Tremble, Brock Wright, and George Takacs all sitting ahead of him when he arrives in South Bend.
However, Takacs is still fairly unproven, Wright has shown to be an excellent blocker but not so much of a passing threat, and Tremble is definitely more of a split-out tight end than an in-line guy. If Mayer can show strong proficiency in both his blocking and in his pass-catching, he may have an opportunity to hop a couple guys and see some playing time in an offense that definitely utilizes 2-3, and sometimes 3-4, tight ends throughout the season.