Notre Dame Football Recruiting: Power Ranking the Last 5 Recruiting Seasons

James ToljCorrespondent IIMarch 27, 2012

Notre Dame Football Recruiting: Power Ranking the Last 5 Recruiting Seasons

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    What have the last five Notre Dame football recruiting cycles looked like (2007-2011)? And how do they hold up when being judged against one another?

    While getting a plethora of 5-star prospects out of high school doesn't hurt, it won't guarantee success at the college level either (just ask Charlie Weis).

    A strong recruiting class is an essential piece of the BCS puzzle, but coaching and player development is just as vital.

    After stripping away the star ratings, and with the benefit of hindsight, I will declare which recent Fighting Irish recruiting classes have been the most beneficial to the team.

    Of course, there is a larger sample size of the earlier classes when it comes to production, so potential needed to be factored in.

No. 5: 2009

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    It may seem crazy to hear that a class that pulled in one of the most coveted defensive recruits in Notre Dame history, Manti Te'o, ranks last among the five recruiting classes listed, but the biggest flaw of the 2009 recruiting class was a serious lack of depth.

    It wasn't all bad for Charlie Weis though. Beside Te'o, the 2009 class had a decent number of stars. Tyler Eifer, Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood and Zack Martin all signed on that year.

    Also among those who inked in 2009 were Chris Watt, Dan Fox, Zeke Motta, Robby Toma and Carlo Calabrese.

    However, of the 18 players who committed in 2009, only 15 are still on the team.

    Offensive lineman Alex Bullard, wide receiver Shaquelle Evans and defensive back E.J. Banks all left the program.

    Making the depth from 2009 look even worse, three of the 15 guys on the roster from the 2009 class only play on special teams (punter Ben Turk, kicker Nick Tausch and long snapper Jordan Cowart).

    Rounding out the 15 are players who haven't seen much action during their time in South Bend, Jake Golic and Tyler Stockton (although Stockton could very well contribute this year, but Golic appears to be at the end of a long line of tight ends).

No. 4: 2007

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    Charlie Weis' 2007 recruiting class had some serious potential, and a number of those players had extremely productive careers for the Fighting Irish.

    In fact, of the 18 players committed in 2007,  four players are in the NFL (Jimmy Clausen, Armando Allen, Golden Tate and Ian Williams), three players were cut from an NFL team going into the 2011 season (Brian Smith, Robert Hughes and Kerry Neal), and three more have a chance to be drafted (Harrison Smith is a sure early draft pick. Taylor Dever and Gary Gray could get their names called on draft day).

    The 2007 Notre Dame recruiting class had its fair share of disappointments as well.

    Clausen and Tate left before their senior seasons.

    Duval Kamara started off his career with a bang when he scored four touchdowns and caught 32 passes, but he never lived up to the promise he showed as a freshman.

    Coaches couldn't really find a place for Steve Paskorz, as he moved from linebacker to fullback before getting injured his senior year then transferring to West Virginia.

    Tight end Aaron Nagel left the team as well in 2008 for Northwestern.

    After playing sparingly, offensive lineman Adam Romine didn't return to Notre Dame for a fifth-year instead attending Tulsa.

    Same goes for Mike Ragone. His injury-plagued career has allowed him a sixth-year of eligibility, and he will reunite with Charlie Weis and Dayne Crist at Kansas in 2012.

    Others from the class include defensive linemen Emeka Nwankwo and Andrew Nuss who both served as career backups.

    And kicker Brandon Walker, who played well on occasion, mostly struggled when kicking for the Irish.

    With just slightly more depth, the 2007 classes just edges out the 2009 class, but this one was close.

No. 3: 2010

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    Brian Kelly did everything possible to hold together his first recruiting class after the announcement that he would replace Charlie Weis, and Coach Kelly did surprisingly well in doing so.

    Three players are no longer with team from the 2010 class (Matt James after an untimely death, cornerback Spencer Boyd and quarterback Derek Roback), but Kelly managed to bring in 23 players total.

    A number of the now 20 players haven't seen the field, and while most of them are on the cusp of contributing, others have jumped right into the rotation.

    Chris Badger just returned from his Mormon mission, and he should play on special teams in his first full year with the team.

    Austin Collinsworth has showed tenacity on the special teams coverage unit as well as returning, and while he will resume his role on special teams, he likely will be one of the first players of the bench backing up the strong safety spot as well.

    Justin Utupo has mainly played on special teams, but he will compete with another 2010 recruit, Kendall Moore, for a backup to the inside linebacker positions this season.

    It should be a foregone conclusion that Louis Nix III will lock down the starting nose tackle spot again in 2012. His massive frame 336-pound frame is ideal from plugging up the middle (and that is after slimming down).

    The wide receiver turned cornerback (also special teams speedster), Bennett Jackson, may surprise fans with how well he adjusts to the position (and he is also likely going to start for the Irish in 2012). And 2010 commit Lo Wood could take the other cornerback spot alongside Jackson.

    Prince Shembo is fighting to reclaim his starting outside linebacker spot from fellow 2010 prospect, Danny Spond (although Spond may be looking at Shembo's old dog spot while Shembo fights the departed Darius Fleming's cat role).

    Wide receiver T.J. Jones started as a freshman and hasn't looked back. He has struggled at times, but Coach Kelly expects him to have a breakout year. Daniel Smith and quarterback converted to wideout, Luke Massa, have a solid chance of seeing the field in a large wide receiver rotation this season too.

    Offensive linemen Tate Nicholas (offensive tackle) and Christian Lombard (offensive guard) are out in front for the right tackle and right guard position battles, and Bruce Heggie will once again be a solid backup along the offensive line

    The tight end spot is loaded with talent now that Troy Niklas moved there from outside linebacker, but 2010 commit Alex Welch will fight for time at the position.

    Running back Cameron Roberson is coming off a knee injury, but he could see the field in a backup capacity.

    2010 commit Tommy Rees has started the majority of games the last two season at quarterback, and to cap the class off, Andrew Hendrix is considered the front-runner by many for the starting quarterback job in 2012.

    The 2010 class still has a way to go, but every player could end up being a valuable contributor to the team in the near future which is why it takes the middle spot on this list. There have been no superstars in the class, but the recruits have developed nicely and added a ton of depth to the Fighting Irish roster.

No. 2: 2008

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    The 2008 recruiting class just missed the top spot, but with 23 commitments and only one player who left (tight end Joseph Fauria), 2008 was a great recruiting year for the Fighting Irish.

    At defensive back, Robert Blanton played in numerous games for Notre Dame at cornerback early in his career and started every game in 2011. Now, he is an NFL prospect heading into the draft.

    The versatile Jamoris Slaughter has been fantastic during his tenure and returns for a fifth year to hold down one of the safety spots, and Dan McCarthy returns for year five as well as a solid backup at safety.

    Defensive ends Kapron Lewis-Moore (who returns for a fifth-year) and Ethan Johnson were the consummate professional as starters, and while Lewis-Moore will add to the experience on the defensive line in 2012 (but potentially not start over Stephon Tuitt), Johnson has a good chance of ending up in the NFL.

    Of linebackers Steven Filer, Darius Fleming, Anthony McDonald and David Posluszny, only Fleming really made a serious impact. Fleming will get to try his chance in the NFL as a late-round draft pick.

    Sean Cwynar was used for depth at defensive tackle, but 2008 recruits Hafis Williams and Brandon Newman never made much noise along the defensive line (Williams played some, but Newman barely saw the field at all).

    The 2008 recruiting class had three wide receivers on board, Deion Walker, Michael Floyd and John Goodman.

    Wide receiver Deion Walker was supposed to be a big time player, but he never could break into the starting rotation. Floyd had unbelievable production, and is a sure first-rounder in the upcoming draft. Goodman hasn't done a lot so far, but he is coming back for a fifth year in 2012 to change that perception.

    Kyle Rudolph was a star at tight end during his three years at Notre Dame and now plays for the Minnesota Vikings (who just acquired another Fighting Irish tight end in John Carlson).

    Along the offensive line, Braxton Cave, who is returning  for a fifth year in 2012 to start at center, will be joined by Mike Golic, Jr., who is also returning for a fifth year after starting a number of games at center after Cave's injury.

    Trevor Robinson became the full-time starter at right guard during his sophomore season (and started three games as a freshman), and Lane Clelland, who played along the defensive line for a short stint, was used as a backup before missing his senior season with a torn ACL.

    The last two from this recruiting class are quarterback Dayne Crist and running back Jonas Gray.

    Crist's story is well-known by Fighting Irish fans. After suffering a major knee injury, Crist fought to gain the starting job in 2010 before another knee injury sidelined him for the rest of the 2010 season. Once again, he won the job in 2011 but was benched for Tommy Rees after just one half of play. Crist is now at Kansas with Charlie Weis, and he is expected to start (he is currently atop the spring depth chart).

    Gray faced adversity after his notorious fumble in the opening game in 2011, but he rose to the occasion and became a fan favorite in his last season with the team (after not doing much in his first three seasons). He is recovering from an ACL tear suffered late in the season, but his NFL draft stock rose considerably before the injury because of his inspired performances throughout the year. He will either be a late-round pick or end up as an undrafted free agent in a NFL camp.

    Like most recruiting classes, 2008 had a few disappointments, but those disappointments were outweighed by many of the recruit's stellar production.

No. 1: 2011

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    The top recruiting class on this list comes from Brian Kelly's first year with total control (Charlie Weis and his staff recruited most of the 2010 players).

    The 2011 recruiting cycle brought about an epic change in philosophy from bringing in the best skill players under Weis' watch to building the defense under Kelly. And building the defense is just what this class did.

    Seven commits were listed as defensive ends by in 2011. However, only three of those seven ended up along the defensive line. Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt (Tuitt played defensive tackle and end in 2011, who both have helped turn the defensive line into a highly respected and feared unit, are going to cause havoc in 2012. And Tony Springmann is expected to get a ton of minutes backing up Louis Nix III at nose tackle.

    Chase Hounshell, who was listed as an offensive lineman by Rivals, played as a backup on the defensive line and will continue to do so in 2012.

    The other four players listed as defensive ends are all now playing linebacker expect Brad Carrico, who is on the offensive line. Five-star recruit Ishaq Williams and Ben Councell will be battling it out for a outside linebacker spot, and Anthony Rabasa is going to provide depth at inside linebacker.

    The only player listed as a linebacker by Rivals was Jarrett Grace, who will provide depth at inside linebacker like Carrico and Rabasa.

    Three defensive backs committed in 2011 as well.

    Eilar Hardy, who suffered a knee injury last season, will provide depth at safety (although his versatility would allow him to play cornerback).

    2011 recruits Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown will battle for starting cornerback spots in 2012.

    Other than Hounshell, four offensive linemen inked in 2011.

    Matt Hegary and Conor Hanratty will fight for a starting spot on the right side of the line, but they are likely to remain as valuable backups in 2012. '

    Nick Martin has shown some of the same talent his brother has exhibited, and while he might stay as a backup in 2012, he will be starting soon enough for the Irish.

    Troy Niklas never was pegged as an offensive lineman though. He played at linebacker last season (and a few snaps on the defensive line), but he now is going to use his 6'7", 252-pound frame as a weapon at tight end.

    2011 commit Ben Koyack was a highly-recruited tight end and has stayed there. after playing some in 2011, he will share time with Niklas behind Tyler Eifert in 2012.

    Matthias Farley and George Atkinson III were recruited as athletes but have taken different routes once entering Notre Dame. 

    Farley started out as a wideout but was moved to safety in the start spring practice in 2012.

    Atkinson is beloved for the boost he gave to the return game last season, and he will be back returning kickoffs in 2012. Atkinson III also will get some repetitions at running back considering how explosive he has looked this spring, and he will probably play some slot receiver with the crossover that is now expected at the running back at slot receiver roles.

    DaVaris Daniels was the only wide receiver to sign with Notre Dame in 2011, and by all accounts, he has NFL-type talent. He will challenge the more experienced receivers for a starting role this season.

    Cam McDaniel, the only running back commit from 2011, is now playing cornerback to provide depth and has adjusted to his new role well. 

    The talented 2-star kicker Kyle Brinza signed in 2011, too.

    And Everett Golson, the quarterback who many Irish fans are rooting for, has the chance to seize the starting job in 2012. While he has some stiff competition, expect Golson to get on the field in some capacity this season.

    With its overwhelming defensive presence, potential and depth, the 2011 class may be the one known for getting Notre Dame over the BCS hump, which is why it tops the power rankings of Notre Dame recruiting classes from 2007-2011 .