In college football, recruiting never ends. With the 2014 class now signed, sealed and delivered, the focus can now turn to the 2015 classes. Fortunately for Notre Dame fans, Brian Kelly and his staff have already been busy in that department.
The Irish already have three commitments in the 2015 class and hope for that number to increase after next month’s junior day to kick off spring practice. The total size of the class probably won’t match the 23 that Notre Dame signed earlier this month; 18-19 is a reasonable projection at this early stage in the process.
How will those scholarships be allocated by the time that national signing day 2015 rolls around? Let’s look at where things stand in Notre Dame’s 2015 class for each position group, from least important to most important.
7. Offensive Line
No team in the county has recruited the offensive line position better than Notre Dame over the past two seasons. The Fighting Irish have signed nine offensive linemen since 2013, all of whom were rated as at least 4-star prospects. While this will continue to be the foundation of Kelly’s teams, 2015 is a year where available scholarships can be used elsewhere.
To add icing on the cake, the Irish already have two 4-star offensive line commits in the 2015 class. Jerry Tillery (Shreveport, La.) committed to Notre Dame in June, while Tristen Hoge (Pocatello, Idaho) followed suit in December. The Irish will look to add a third member to the fold during the summer, with any further additions being “must-take” recruits only.
6. Defensive Line
The 2013 defensive line class went to pieces when Eddie Vanderdoes failed to enroll last summer after signing in February. While the 2014 class doesn’t include a Vanderdoes-type athlete, there are six new bodies for defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. Two of those signees, Pete Mokwuah and Daniel Cage, were not on the program’s radar prior to VanGorder’s arrival.
Justin Utupo will leave after the 2014 season, and the possibility of junior Sheldon Day leaving early has to at least be considered. Tony Springmann is a potential fifth-year candidate, depending on the development of the young nose guards.
Like the offensive line, the Irish should be searching for three defensive linemen in this class, with a fourth spot held open for an elite prospect. Can the Irish land Jashon Cornell, a 5-star defensive end who attends Michael Floyd and James Onwualu’s high school of Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Minn.?
After signing five linebackers in 2014, led by Top 100 prospect Nyles Morgan, the Irish filled a major need in this class. Only Ishaq Williams and Kendall Moore are entering their final years of eligibility, so Notre Dame won’t need immediate impact players in next year’s class like it did in the 2014 class.
Like Cretin-Derham, one of Notre Dame’s major pipeline high schools is St. Xavier in Cincinnati, Ohio. Inside linebacker Justin Hilliard, a consensus Top 50 recruit, is an inside linebacker for St. Xavier. He has the Irish among his preliminary top 15 schools, and the Irish will make a strong push for his services. Depending on VanGorder’s system, expect either two or three linebackers in the class.
The most important position on the field falls right in the middle. That’s because the Irish need one and only one quarterback in this class. Of course, barring a flip from Corona, Calif., 4-star prospect Blake Barnett, the Irish already have their quarterback.
Notre Dame hasn’t signed a West Coast quarterback since Dayne Crist in 2008, but Barnett was identified early as the best fit for Kelly’s system. He’s 6’4”, 200 pounds and moves well. Everett Golson is eligible for a fifth season in 2015, so the Irish could again have four scholarship quarterbacks on the roster a year from now.
3. Running Back
The spin on not signing a running back in the 2014 class is that Greg Bryant basically serves as a new recruit after the 2013 signee redshirted last season. That’s somewhat true, but the NFL clock for Bryant wasn’t paused. He’s still eligible to leave after the 2015 season. If he makes use of his fifth year, that means he likely failed to live up to the hype with which he arrived out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Ideally, the Irish land a pair of running backs in the class, as they did in 2013 with Bryant and Tarean Folston. Cam McDaniel is entering his final season, and Amir Carlisle is a question mark to come back for a fifth year in 2015.
It’s a loaded year for running backs in Texas and Florida (isn’t it always?), so expect respective area recruiters Kerry Cooks and Tony Alford to place a heavy emphasis on backfield targets.
2. Wide Receiver/Tight End
Notre Dame would have liked to have added a third wide receiver in the 2014 class to join Corey Holmes and Justin Brent, but it wasn’t meant to be. A small wide receiver class was expected after signing four in 2013, but 2015 now becomes another important year for wide receiver recruiting.
DaVaris Daniels may forgo a fifth season and enter the NFL draft after the season, and Chris Brown is entering his junior season. Notre Dame will need to add three receivers in this class. With four tight ends with four years of eligibility remaining (both Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe redshirted in 2013), the Irish may choose to pass on a tight end in this class.
1. Defensive Back
After missing out on JuJu Smith on national signing day, Notre Dame only landed two defensive backs in the 2014 class. Nick Watkins was a great get at cornerback, but the athleticism of the secondary must continue to improve. The 2013 class was solid, and the 2015 haul needs to match that.
Austin Collinsworth, Matthias Farley (fifth-year option) and Eilar Hardy (fifth-year option) are seniors, and KeiVarae Russell and Elijah Shumate are juniors. Sophomore Max Redfield needs to take a step forward this fall, but overall the safety group is still lagging behind other positions in terms of raw talent. The Irish will be looking for four defensive backs in this class, with at least two being safeties.
Note: All star ratings were taken from 247Sports’ Composite ratings.