Notre Dame Recruiting: Which Irish Players Would Start in the SEC?
Year after year, Notre Dame consistently brings in Top 25 classes. Even despite the miserable past three seasons in South Bend, recruits are still flocking to the Irish in times of desperation.
Brian Kelly signed a 24-man recruiting class on Feb. 3, ranked 14th in the nation by Rivals.com. Even though Kelly inked a solid class in a transitional period, critics were still out to knock down his efforts.
"Notre Dame can haul in all the four and-five star recruits they want, but few, if any, would start on a powerhouse team in the SEC."
This was the constant criticism heard by Charlie Weis, and now, will be passed on to Kelly during his time at his new home.
Outsiders stereotype the Notre Dame players as slower and less athletic than some of the nation's elite. Instead, they label Irish players with smart football skills and high IQ's.
The above may be true. It is, however, unfair to say that some of the nation's best talent doesn't call Notre Dame it's home.
Whether in the SEC or in South Bend, here are eight Irish players that break that Irish stereotype.
WR- Michael Floyd
If it weren't for injuries during the past two seasons, Floyd might be known as the best receiver in college football.
With Golden Tate graduating, Floyd will be guaranteed to be the leading Irish receiver, and quite possibly, the leading receiver in the nation. If he stays healthy, many expect him to leave a year early in order to be a consensus first-round pick in the 2011 draft.
The 27th ranked prospect in the '08 class, Floyd has offers from almost every powerhouse program in the nation. With offers from Florida, USC, and Miami, one could tell that he was going to be special.
If if weren't for his reserved No. 1 spot in South Bend, Floyd would be wreaking havoc on defensive backfields at any program in the nation.
Offers: Florida, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State
LB - Manti Te'o
Last year, Te'o was one of, if not the, hottest names on the recruiting trail.
Down to USC, UCLA, and Notre Dame, he picked the Irish on National Signing Day, proving that elite talent still wants to reside in South Bend. The Hawaiian native is the best sophomore linebacker in college football.
In fact, I will go as far as saying that before Te'o leaves Notre Dame, he will have made his mark on the program record books and will be a first-round pick. The combination of his maturity, athleticism, brute strength, and football IQ make him a very rare football specimen.
Te'o was promised early playing time at USC during his recruitment. There isn't much of an argument on whether he would see the field or not at any school.
Offers: Cal, Oregon, Tennessee, UCLA, USC
TE - Kyle Rudolph
Hands down, Rudolph is the most talented tight end in the country.
The scary thing is, the former five-star recruit still has two more years left to show just that.
In addition to being the top ranked-tight end in his class, he was also the nation's 20th-best overall prospect coming out of Elder High School (OH). Standing at 6'6", while running a 4.6 40, Rudolph has a skill set better equipped for a wideout.
Not only did he show that he is the nation's best receiving threat from the line, but he showed major improvement in his blocking game. In a few years, Rudolph's name will be the first called off the board, following in the footsteps of recent Irish tight ends Anthony Fasano and John Carlson.
Any (and I mean any) program in the nation would go to great lengths to have this talented option for their quarterback.
Offers: Miami, Michigan, Ohio State, Tennessee
NT - Ian Williams
Although his national ranking didn't speak for his elite offer list (including Florida and Alabama), Williams has been a diamond in the rough for the Irish since '07.
Starting from day one as a young and undeveloped freshman, he was asked to anchor the middle of the 3-4 deployed defense in the miserable 3-9 year. However, that didn't stop him from earning Freshman All-American honors.
Williams, a senior, will be one of the most experienced nose tackles in the game. He might not have the hype of some other big talents around the nation, but there is no reason he shouldn't be among the best in his final season.
Now mature and filled-out, expect a fantastic ending to a long, and painful, career for Williams. Irish opponents will be wishing they had this big boy as their defensive line focal piece.
Offers: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, South Carolina
OG - Trevor Robinson
It's a rare sight to see a freshman offensive linemen come into a program and play often, if at all.
However, Robinson came into South Bend as the top-ranked guard in the nation, as well as the 37th overall prospect. With high expectations on his shoulders, he did nothing to disappoint Irish fans last year.
With a full offseason in a college weight room (especially under new "Drill Sargeant Lango), it's time he will start making a name for himself. With a guaranteed starting spot on the table for Robinson this year, there is no reason for him not to take advantage of the excess amount of playing time.
Robinson is another underclassmen that many have high expectations for. Contrary to the career of former five-star Sam Young, Irish fans know how big of a get he was last year.
Whether it's Alabama, Florida, or Miami, Robinson would be starting along any SEC line.
Offers: Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska
CB - Darrin Walls
Walls' career has been one crazy roller-coaster ride.
Coming out of high school, he was ranked the 51st overall prospect in the nation, in addition to being the third-best cornerback. With big-time offers from the likes of Penn State, Florida, and Michigan, Walls chose a different route than his teammates and wound up at Notre Dame.
After taking a year off from football and school in '08, Walls returned to a crowded Irish secondary this past year. Unluckily for him, he had some catching up to do as Corwin Brown had taken over responsibilities of the defensive backs.
Walls was hands down the best cornerback on the roster in '07. Now that he is back on track and in football shape, expect him to revert back to his underclassmen form-and then some.
By the end of the year, Walls may be sneaking up Mel Kiper's Big Board. If he can get back to where he once was, there is no reason why Walls would not see the field at any school in the country.
Offers: Florida, Michigan, Penn State
DL - Ethan Johnson
Johnson was one of the biggest recruits hauled in during the Weis-era. As the top prospect in Oregon and the 32nd-ranked recruit in the nation, Johnson labeled as Pete Carroll's number one target for the defensive line in '08.
However, Johnson saw an opportunity in South Bend to play early and often and took it. Now a junior, he is expected to have a breakout year after Kelly's switch to a 3-4 defense.
Stuck in the inside for the past year, Johnson was unable to display his true talent in pass rushing. This year, however, expect him to show exactly why he would be a welcome starter among any defensive line in college football.
Offers: Michigan, Oregon, USC
OG - Chris Stewart
Stewart and Robinson will make up one of the best offensive guard lineups in college football next year.
A fifth-year senior, Stewart has come along way since arriving at Notre Dame. Coming into school as a freshman, he was ranked as the 150th prospect in the nation. However, that ranking came along with an excess amount of baby fat.
Getting his weight under control, and at the same time, adding muscle mass to his enormous frame (evidenced by the picture), Stewart now is in his third year starting on the Irish offensive line.
With that experience under his belt, combined with the fierceness and fire in his game, you wouldn't see Stewart on any benches around the nation.
Offers: Mississipi, Nebraska, Oklahoma State