Re-Evaluating Notre Dame's 2012 Recruiting Class

Keith Arnold@@KeithArnoldNotre Dame Lead WriterJune 16, 2014

Re-Evaluating Notre Dame's 2012 Recruiting Class

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Notre Dame's 2012 recruiting class is as star-crossed as the season that it followed. Like the infamous 8-5 season that saw the Irish lose in dramatic (and painful) ways to USF, Michigan, USC and Florida State, the Irish's recruiting efforts also went wayward, both down the stretch to signing day and in the years that followed. 

    A look back at the 2012 class tells two very different stories. First, the ones who didn't pan out. Headliners Gunner Kiel, Davonte Neal and Tee Shepard, all essentially contributed nothing to the program. A transfer from wide receiver Justin Ferguson gutted the skill players. (The recent arrest and indefinite suspension of Will Mahone adds another potential washout.) 

    But to paint the class as a failure would be too simple. Despite the disappointments, Brian Kelly and his staff also found plenty of talent. KeiVarae Russell has started at cornerback from the moment he stepped on campus. Sheldon Day has the chance to be a standout along the defensive line.

    Jarron Jones will start next to Day at defensive tackle. Romeo Okwara will line up next to them as a starter at defensive end. Ronnie Stanley will likely be a four-year starter at tackle for the Irish. There is plenty expected from Chris Brown and converted safety C.J. Prosise. 

    Let's walk through Brian Kelly's 2012 recruiting class and take a look at how things have shaken out. 

     

    *All recruiting rankings are based on 247Sports.com's Composite rankings. 

     

Gunner Kiel

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    Joe Raymond/Associated Press

    Gunner Kiel
    5-Star QB
    No. 1 QB, No. 27 Overall

     

    The Overview 

    The headliner of Notre Dame's recruiting efforts supplied his biggest boost to Irish fans when he showed up on campus the night before the spring semester began, making an 11th-hour decision to head to Notre Dame instead of LSU, where he had committed. 

    It was just another twist in a tumultuous recruitment that had Kiel linked to Indiana, the Irish, LSU and finally back to Notre Dame again. But in the end, the 5-star recruit never saw the field for the Irish. 

    Kiel spent his freshman season redshirting as planned, watching Everett Golson lead the Irish to the BCS title game. But instead of competing with a crowded position group that spring, Kiel decided to transfer to Cincinnati, where the depth chart looked more favorable.

    Of course, Golson was suspended before the semester ended, and Irish fans wonder how the Irish offense would've looked with Kiel under center in 2013, not Tommy Rees. 

     

    Where Is He Now?

    Kiel was last spotted throwing for 300 yards in the Bearcats spring game. He'll enter fall camp as the starter, though injured quarterback Munchie Legaux has been granted a sixth year of eligibility. 

Davonte Neal

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Davonte Neal
    4-Star Athete
    No. 2 ATH, No. 54 Overall

     

    The Overview 

    Neal was another top recruit who managed to supply most of his excitement on Signing Day, when he no-showed at his own press conference to announce his college decision. A rumored family dispute ended with Neal eventually signing with Notre Dame over home-state favorite Arizona. 

    Neal saw the field immediately for the Irish, catching one pass and serving as Notre Dame's primary punt returner in 2012. But the following April he announced that he was transferring home to play at Arizona, to be closer to his new daughter

     

    Where Is He Now?

    Somehow, the NCAA didn't grant Neal immediate eligibility to play. So he sat out the 2013 season and played on the Wildcats' scout team. He'll compete for a starting job at wide receiver this fall. 

Tee Shepard

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    247Sports.com

    Tee Shepard
    4-Star Cornerback
    No. 3 CB, No. 51 Overall

     

    Overview

    Shepard chose Notre Dame over a handful of other top programs, sticking with his commitment to Notre Dame while his cousin Deontay Greenberry shocked the college football world with a signing day switch to Houston. 

    Shepard enrolled early from Fresno, taking classes and practicing with the Irish in the spring. But he never saw the field, with academic issues keeping him off the field. While the talented cornerback has been linked to multiple top programs since leaving South Bend, he's only played at the junior college level. 

     

    Where Is He Now?

    Shepard has left Holmes Community College and officially signed with Ole Miss, where he'll have two years of eligibility. 

Elijah Shumate

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Elijah Shumate
    4-Star Safety
    No. 4 S, No. 87 Overall

     

    The Overview

    Committing to the Irish at the U.S. Army All-American Game, Shumate gave the Irish one of the most physical prospects in the country. Coming from Don Bosco Prep, Shumate also reopened the pipeline to one of the East Coast's top football programs. 

    Shumate arrived on campus and immediately contributed, working as a slot cornerback for the 2012 Irish. Shifting back to full-time safety in 2013, Shumate had an underwhelming sophomore season, missing time due to injuries and struggling to adjust to playing solely safety. 

     

    Where Is He Now? 

    Shumate will likely challenge Austin Collinsworth for time as the Irish's second safety. At 6'0", 213 pounds, he's one of the more physically impressive players in the Irish secondary. Now he needs to get caught up in Brian VanGorder's system.  

Sheldon Day

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Sheldon Day
    4-Star Defensive Tackle
    No. 11 DT, No. 111 Overall

     

    The Overview

    Signed out of Indianapolis' Warren Central, Day enrolled early at Notre Dame and immediately impressed as a defensive end in Bob Diaco's 3-4 system. At 6'2", Day was shorter than optimal, but he earned playing time from the start, seeing action in all 13 games as a freshman while making 23 tackles and two sacks. 

    Day's sophomore season was ruined by a high-ankle injury suffered early in the season. He started just eight games for the Irish last year, making 33 tackles and just a 1/2 sack. 

    The shift to Brian VanGorder's new defensive scheme should mean big things for Day. The Irish's best defensive lineman, Day's move to tackle could give Notre Dame a disruptive presence on the interior of the line of scrimmage, allowing Day to get up field as opposed to setting the edge of the defense. 

     

    Where Is He Now?

    Starting at defensive tackle for the Irish and poised for a breakout season

Ronnie Stanley

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Ronnie Stanley
    4-Star Offensive Tackle
    No. 13 OT, No. 128 Overall

     

    Overview

    Notre Dame landed Stanley from Bishop Gorman, the premiere football program in Las Vegas and a pipeline school to the Pac-12. Forced into action as a true freshman, Stanley played against Navy and Michigan until an elbow injury ended his season, giving him a medical redshirt.

    As a sophomore, Stanley made the move into the starting lineup, kicking Christian Lombard inside to right guard while Stanley manned the right tackle position. He started all 13 games for the Irish, part of an offensive line that allowed just eight sacks on the season, the second fewest in the FBS.

    With Zack Martin gone after starring at left tackle position for four consecutive seasons, Stanley kicked over to the left side during spring, settling in nicely on Everett Golson's blindside.

     

    Where Is He Now?

    Starting at left tackle for the Irish, not to mention poised to be a four-year starter for Notre Dame.  

KeiVarae Russell

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    KeiVarae Russell
    4-Star All-Purpose Back
    No. 6 APB, No. 146 Overall

     

    The Overview

    Many thought KeiVarae Russell would arrive on campus and become the next Theo Riddick. Few expected him to turn into a lock-down cornerback. But Notre Dame's lack of depth at the position, along with the departure of Tee Shepard before he played his first game, forced a position switch for Russell to the defensive side of the ball. After not playing defense at all as an All-State running back, Russell has thrived as a cornerback for the Irish. 

    Russell has started every game in his two seasons in South Bend, manning the field side opposite Bennett Jackson for the Irish. A Freshman All-American by the FWAA, Russell's sophomore campaign started with a rough game against Michigan's Jeremy Gallon, but it ended on a high note with an interception and three pass break-ups against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. 

     

    Where Is He Now?

    Expected to be an elite defender for Brian VanGorder's defense, Russell should be a watch list cornerback with NFL potential. We'll see how strong his cover skills are in VanGorder's man-coverage heavy scheme. 

     

Jarron Jones

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Jarron Jones
    4-Star Offensive Tackle*
    No. 15 OT, No. 149 Overall

     

    The Overview

    While some recruiting services saw Jones as an offensive tackle, he was recruited to play defensive end for the Irish out of Rochester, New York. That took some time, as Jones sat out his freshman season and appeared to be buried on the depth chart entering his sophomore season. 

    But injuries piled up on the defensive line and Jones was forced into duty—as a nose tackle. And without Louis Nix or Kona Schwenke, Jones did more than hold his own against BYU, Stanford and Rutgers, finding his calling on the interior of the defensive line. 

     

    Where Is He Now?

    Jones will open the season starting at defensive tackle next to classmate Sheldon Day. 

     

    *Notre Dame recruited Jones as a defensive end. Rivals viewed him as the No. 14 DE and the No. 149 overall prospect as a defender. 

Will Mahone

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    247Sports.com

    Mahone's standing with Notre Dame is in question after a weekend arrest in his hometown. According to the Mahoning County Sheriff's public records, Mahone was arrested on multiple charges, stemming from a Saturday night fight.

    On the field, Mahone has yet to break through Notre Dame's depth chart. Buried as deep as sixth at running back last year, Mahone shifted out to slot receiver in preseason camp. But a high-ankle sprain short-circuited his season.

    Mahone spent the spring practicing at receiver, though he broke his foot during spring drills. Notre Dame indefinitely suspended Mahone from all football-related activities. 

     

    Where Is He Now?

    At best, buried on the depth chart. But with the recent report in the South Bend Tribune, Mahone's future with the Irish is murky.  

Justin Ferguson

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    247Sports.com

    Justin Ferguson
    4-Star Wide Receiver
    No. 45 WR, No. 344 Overall

     

    Overview:

    Signed out of South Florida, Irish fans hoped that Ferguson would become the next big-bodied receiver to kickstart the Irish offense. With offers from Alabama, Florida State, Florida and other top powers, it looked like the Irish had a potential playmaker in Ferguson. 

    Ferguson made one catch as a true freshman, playing against Navy. But he decided to transfer out of Notre Dame before spring practice, joining Davonte Neal as two wide receivers who washed out of the recruiting class. 

      

    Where Is He Now?

    After sitting out the 2013 season, Ferguson is switching to the defensive side of the football, playing safety in 2014 for the Broncos. 

C.J. Prosise

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    USA TODAY Sports

    C.J. Prosise
    3-Star Safety
    No. 23 S, No. 364 Overall

     

    The Overview

    Prosise was a little-known quantity out of Woodberry Forest, signed as an athletic safety with speed. But after a redshirt season, Prosise shifted to the offense side of the ball, giving the 220-pounder an opportunity to utilize his sprinter speed. 

    After impressing last spring, Prosise didn't make a difference in the Irish offense. But he'll pair with Amir Carlisle to give the Irish a thunder-and-lightning pairing in the slot.

     

    Where Is He Now?

    After scoring an impressive touchdown in the Blue-Gold game, Prosise will be a key reserve at inside receiver. 

Chris Brown

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Chris Brown
    3-Star Wide Receiver
    No. 33 WR, No. 434 Overall

     

    Overview

    Brown also flew under the recruiting radar, with an injury during his senior season in high school limiting his action. But as a world-class triple jumper with sprinter speed, the Irish identified Brown early and beat out Steve Spurrier and South Carolina for the in-state receiver. 

    Brown caught only two balls his freshman year, but one was a 50-yard bomb against Oklahoma. And after a slow start to his sophomore season, Brown had five catches against Rutgers. He led the Irish receiving corps this spring with veteran DaVaris Daniels suspended from the university. 

     

    Where Is He Now?

    Brown is a contender to be one of the three starters at receiver for the Irish. While his physical tools have been more impressive than his numbers, he's a prime candidate to breakout as he enters his junior season

Romeo Okwara

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Romeo Okwara
    3-Star Defensive End
    No. 30 WDE, No. 462 Overall

     

    Overview

    One of the youngest recruits in the country, Okwara was the type of lanky edge player that Bob Diaco coveted at outside linebacker. While depth issues didn't let Okwara redshirt as a freshman, he spent the past two seasons serving as a reserve outside linebacker, playing mostly on special teams. 

    Athletically, Okwara is capable to play in space and rush the passer, as he is a 258-pound man who at times played the drop outside linebacker position. But in Brian VanGorder's system, Okwara will be a pass-rushing defensive end, with the hopes that his athleticism and speed translate to getting after the quarterback. 

     

    Where Is He Now?

    Starting at defensive end for the Irish. 

Mark Harrell

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    247Sports.com

    Mark Harrell
    3-Star Offensive Tackle
    No. 51 OT, No. 484 Overall

     

    Overview

    One of the earliest commitments to the Irish recruiting class, Harrell may have been classified as an offensive tackle, but the Irish coaching staff always saw him as an interior player. 

    Harrell has yet to see the field in either of his first two seasons, though he served as a reserve center during the Blue-Gold game this spring. 

     

    Where Is He Now?

    Harrell needs to work his way through a crowded depth chart on the interior of the offensive line. Making it harder is that he's been passed by a few players who are younger than him. 

Nicky Baratti

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Nicky Baratti
    3-Star Athlete
    No. 37 ATH, No. 517 Overall

     

    Overview

    Baratti was the ultimate "skill" recruit, projecting as a safety but playing multiple positions as a high schooler. One of the lower-ranked prospects on the roster (at least coming out of high school), Baratti found his way onto the field quickly, making a key interception against Michigan as a true freshman. 

    Poised to move into the starting lineup as a sophomore, Baratti's shoulder gave out, forcing him to miss the entire 2013 campaign. Another shoulder injury—on the other side of his body—ended his Blue-Gold game early, though it didn't require surgery. 

     

    Where Is He Now?

    With Matthias Farley shifted to cornerback, Brian Kelly and Brian VanGorder must have faith in both Baratti and Elijah Shumate as reserve safeties. We'll see if injuries continue to keep Baratti off the field. 

John Turner

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    John Turner
    3-Star Safety
    No. 40 S, No. 663 Overall

     

    Overview

    Earning his scholarship after impressing the staff at their summer camp, Turner was buried on the depth chart for his first two seasons until Brian VanGorder came to town. 

    Turner quickly became a hybrid safety-linebacker in the new system, moving to the top of the outside linebacker depth chart after ending the 2013 season miles away from the field in the secondary. 

    We'll see if Turner's "starting" role is more a situational package, but a big spring has put Turner back on the map. 

     

    Where Is He Now?

    Turner should be a key cover linebacker for the Irish, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the transition from Bob Diaco to Brian VanGorder. 

Scott Daly

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    Peter Morrison/Associated Press

    Scott Daly
    2-Star Long Snapper
    No. 1 LS, N/A Overall

     

    Overview

    With Jordan Cowart on his way out of South Bend, Notre Dame identified Daly early as its long snapper, and he became one of the team's first commitments. 

    After redshirting as a freshman, Daly started all 13 games as the team's primary field goal and punt snapper. 

     

    Where Is He Now?

    Daly will start his second-straight season at long snapper for the Irish.