One of the most critical position groups in the 2021 cycle for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is at running back. Yes, the Irish knocked it out of the park last year with the commitment of elite speedster Chris Tyree — but they still are in need of more offensive firepower from the position.
It’s no great secret that former running backs coach Autry Denson struggled mightily when it came to recruiting. It wasn’t just the elite players that Denson failed to woo to South Bend. The highest rated running back to commit on his watch was the #367th player in the country, Kyren Williams in the 2019 class.
Denson’s exit gave way to Lance Taylor, and suddenly Notre Dame is in the mix for all sorts of 4-Star running backs. The Irish, mostly because of a numbers crunch, actually turned away probable commitments from a handful of those backs and went all in on Chris Tyree.
Once Tyree steps on campus this summer, he will officially be in the mix with guys like Jafar Armstrong, C’Bo Flemister, and Jahmir Smith. How all of that goes in 2020 is obviously still up for debate — but there are a lot of people that believe Tyree will end up playing a fairly significant role this fall.
So what about next year? What about the 2021 cycle? Well... the Irish are hoping for more of the same. That means they are targeting one big-time playmaker far more than any other running back. This year, that target is 5-Star Will Shipley.
247 SCOUTING REPORT
Owns a sturdy, filled out frame. Could add some more weight within his upper body at the next level, but likely isn’t too far from his ideal size. Tests as a top athlete at running back, consistently running sub 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash in addition to strong track times. One of the most productive running backs in the 2021 cycle, leading his team to an undefeated season and state title as a junior. Breaks off long runs at a high rate, using his speed to get to the edge and pull away from defenses. Has good vision and effectively reads his blocks and finds daylight. Runs with physicality and shows the ability to break arm tackles at the second level. Embraces all aspects of the position and is a complete back. One of the more skilled pass catchers among backs in the 2021 cycle and is a threat as a receiver out of the backfield. Can continue to improve his body lean, lateral agility and wiggle as a runner. Projects as a multi-year starter at the Power Five level with the upside of developing into an early round NFL Draft pick.
Currently the 247 Crystal Ball has Notre Dame in the lead for Shipley, but Steve Wiltfong just dropped in a Clemson prediction the other day. Perhaps some of the confidence for Clemson stems from the fact that Shipley just visited the Tigers. He was scheduled to officially visit Notre Dame next weekend with a long list of top Irish targets and commits (which included one of Shipley’s biggest recruiters in Tyler Buchner).
The coronavirus pandemic has changed everyone’s plans and, of course, that visit is off of the books. With rumors that Shipley wanted to make a commitment sooner rather than later, fans started to get a little nervous about Notre Dame’s chances without an official visit.
Those fears should have subsided on Friday after Tom Loy reported that Shipley still wants to make an official visit to Notre Dame before he makes a decision.
It's never easy landing a 5-star recruit, but the good news for #NotreDame is that elite RB Will Shipley plans on visiting again before making a commitment.— Tom Loy (@TomLoy247) March 13, 2020
...And when he does, he's hoping to be surrounded by the Irish commits.
Story: https://t.co/dMgsszjL3F (VIP)@247Sports pic.twitter.com/FCwsiEYfox
It’s important to remember that it’s battles like this one that has made the hiring of Lance Taylor so incredibly crucial to Notre Dame’s future success. Autry Denson, for as good as an actual position coach that he was at Notre Dame, is not built for this type of battle — Taylor is and demonstrated that last year (along with Chip Long) in fighting off the Oklahoma Sooners for Chris Tyree.
But what if Shipley is eventually swayed by Dabo and Newspring Church? What other options do the Irish have at running back this cycle? Currently, there are only six other scholarship offers out there for the 2021 cycle:
Any of those six players would have been welcomed with hella fist pumps in the previous cycles before Taylor. The longer the recruitment of Will Shipley carries on, however, makes things tougher with the other six.
It’s hard knowing what’s going to happen in the next couple of months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but until even more drastic steps are took across the country — let’s just assume things will get back to normal in a month or two.
At any rate, despite the massive win with Tyree in 2020, there are a lot of fans that are extremely invested in running back recruiting this cycle. While the names and stars certainly stick out, getting Notre Dame back to a place where commitments from some of the nation’s top backs every year — like in the past — is very important.