The early Signing Day has come and passed and I have thoughts. So here is a list of superlatives for Marcus Freeman’s first full recruiting class as Notre Dame’s head coach.
Best (and Most Needed) Haul: Wide Receivers
Ink was spilled over the state of Notre Dame’s wide receiver room heading into the 2022 season. Avery Davis was lost before the season, no transfers were brought in and no receivers remained at that position from either the 2019 or 2020 recruiting classes (except for Xavier Watts’ brief fling as a two-way player in fall camp). But as it played out this season it felt like the Irish quarterbacks were holding back the receivers more than vice versa.
Regardless, the Irish had to fully rework a dysfunctional approach to recruiting wideouts to enhance the talent in the room ASAP. Position coach Chansi Stuckey appears to have done the job by bringing in three receivers from the state of Texas (Braylon James, Jaden Greathouse, and Kaleb Smith) as well as Rico Flores from California and Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kaleb Smith (a different one).
Assuming nothing changes and Braden Lenzy departs as expected, this group gets the total number of scholarship receivers to nine for the 2023 season. Throw in Matt Salerno as the tenth and Notre Dame’s receiver room can now be called “healthy,” which is a vast improvement over the state it was in when Stuckey inherited it.
Most Underwhelming Haul: Defensive Line
This would be safety but things are still… interesting with that recruitment (more on that later). So I’ll go with defensive line where losing five-star edge rusher Keon Keeley, arguably the No. 1 overall player in the entire 2023 recruiting rankings, was a gut punch for a Notre Dame team that needs immediate answers in the pass rush.
To be sure, the Irish brought in a solid group with former five-star Brenan Vernon, four-star prospects Boubacar Traore and Devan Houstan and three-star Stanford flip Armel Mukam. But it’s unlikely that any of those guys cracks the two-deep as a true freshman barring injuries. It’s probably going to take a minute for Notre Dame’s defensive line to get back to the level of productivity it had when the Irish made two College Football Playoffs in a three-year span.
Class Captain: Drayk Bowen
Very straightforward on this one. The one-time five-star and high school Butkus Award winner committed to the in-state Irish in November 2021 and has been the vocal leader ever since. Predicting team captains at Notre Dame can always be scattershot but it feels as safe as it possibly could to expect Bowen will one day hold the title for the Irish.
Best of a Bad Situation: Quarterback
This is no shade to Kenny Minchey, but knowing that five-star quarterback Dante Moore was silently committed to the Irish is just a tough pill to swallow. (Even so, losing Moore may have actually spared Marcus Freeman and co. a few headaches in the long run considering that Moore flipped from Oregon to UCLA after he flipped from Notre Dame to Oregon).
Minchey is unlikely to make an on-field impact in 2023, but the top-200 player who flipped from Pitt is by no means a bad consolation prize for the Irish. Minchey will have a leg up on the playbook by the time 2024 five-star quarterback C.J. Carr rolls in and he’ll provides some much-needed competition in a still hilariously unproven Irish quarterback room next season.
Boom or Bust: Brandyn Hillman
Hillman is a four-star athlete whose recruitment suddenly took a turn for the Irish late in the cucle. There’s a lot to work with for the 6-foot-1 Portsmouth, Va. native. However, athletes are always tricky to develop, especially the longer it takes to find their main position. So long as Hillman finds a niche at one of safety, wide receiver and running back, he could be dynamic; it’s just a matter of pinning him down and getting to work.
WTF Is Going On?
Peyton Bowen wins this award because seriously, WTF is going on? Many saw the five-star safety make his ‘official’ decision on National Signing Day by picking up a Notre Dame baseball cap before setting it down and choosing Oregon’s instead.
Peyton Bowen chooses Oregon.— Shawn McFarland (@McFarland_Shawn) December 21, 2022
The five-star Denton Guyer safety flips from Notre Dame to the Ducks. pic.twitter.com/597uOxGqFn
However, that evening it was reported that Bowen had not yet delivered his letter of intent to Oregon. What’s more, conversations were apparently still taking place behind the scenes between Bowen and his multiple suitors. He re-flipped to Oklahoma the following day.
Best of luck to the kid in his future endeavors. There’s really nothing left to say about him.