Thanks to one of the best recruiting weekends in decades for the Irish, Brian Kelly is well on his way to a top-ten recruiting class. Grabbing four commitments in a matter of 48 hours, Kelly has more than made his mark so far during his short time on the recruiting trail representing the blue and gold.
The current class consists of 16 very solid verbals. From the get go, the desired number for this class was in the range of 18 to 21 players. With the news of Spencer Boyd’s transfer to South Florida and Chris Badger taking his two year Mormon mission, there might be some wiggle room for now. It appears as if Kelly will have room to take on three to five more commitments to add to this already solid class. From various quotes and reports, this class seems extremely well-bonded together, something that is vital in order to minimize the amount of late recommitments that can ruin a class altogether.
This is huge for the Irish, as the last stretch of the recruiting cycle has been their weak point, save a signing day commitment from all-world Hawaiian, Manti Te’o.
From here on out, expect Kelly and his staff to be extremely selective. Last time around, the Weis/Kelly recruiting year didn’t have such a luxury as they received their 16th verbal in December, only two months before signing day. With the selective approach will come a few more blue-chip players, and ideally, difference makers on both sides of the football.
RB - Justice Hayes (5'10" – 180)
TE - Ben Koyack (6'5" – 230)
OL - Matt Hegarty (6'5" – 265)
OL - Conor Hanratty (6'4" – 305)
OL - Jordan Prestwood (6'6" – 280)
DE - Aaron Lynch (6'6" – 266)
DE - Brad Carrico (6'6" - 270)
DE - Tony Springmann (6'6" – 257)
MLB - Jarrett Grace (6'4" – 240)
OLB - Anthony Rabasa (6'3" – 235)
OLB - Clay Burton (6'3" – 230)
OLB - Ben Councell (6'5" – 225)
DB- Jalen Brown (6'0" – 175)
DB - Mattias Farley (6'2" – 197)
DB- Eilar Hardy (6'0" – 170)
K - Kyle Brindza (6'2" – 195)
Whether it’s an elite running back or wide receiver, the Irish need to pickup at least one more difference maker for this offense. Justice Hayes was a fantastic start to the offensive side of this class, but what is lacking is a true playmaker that can help replace the likes of Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph when a team in the first round of the NFL draft comes calling.
Targets: RB Savon Huggins, WR Kasen Williams, WR Davaris Daniels, ATH George Atkinson, ATH Miles Shuler
Huggins is widely regarded as one of the best running back prospects in the nation. If the Irish were to add his playmaking skills to this class, he would see the field immediately from day one. Many are vowing for him to take the place of Golden Tate, as he can catch and run the ball equally well.
Williams recently cut his list down to five. With the Irish still in the mix, don’t be surprised if he spurns Washington for the Irish in the end, but the Huskies look to be the favourite here. Daniels is another interesting scenario as he isn’t academically qualified thus far for entrance into the University. If he gets the okay, many think he will end up at Notre Dame.
Adding either of these receivers would go a long way in helping ease the pain of Floyd’s absence in 2011.
Atkinson will take an official with his twin brother, Josh, sometime during the season. A true athlete, he offers the Irish versatility on both sides of the football. But in the end, many fans think elite speedster Miles Shuler is the best chance for that game-changer.
Shuler, a track and football star from New Jersey, offers speed that is extremely rare to find anywhere. Even if he doesn’t pan out as receiver, Shuler thinks that he can play defensive back at the next level as well. Many believe the Irish have as good of a chance as anyone to grab his signature.
The Irish have some flexibility here. In most years, recruiting in the trenches on the elite level seems to be lacking in South Bend. However, with six linemen already committed (3 on each side of the ball), the Irish can afford to be picky from here on out.
If the Irish get more than one defensive line commitment, expect either Brad Carrico or Tony Springmann to slide over to the offensive line. Versatility is a great thing, and it isn’t out of luck that Kelly recruited kids that fit that mold.
Targets: OL Antonio Richardson, OL Jay Whitmire, DL Stephon Tuitt, DL Ray Drew, DL Troy Niklas, DL Ishaq Williams
If Richardson offers his services to Kelly, he will take it in a heartbeat. After a recent visit to campus, Richardson is very much in the picture. Gaining a commitment from a true right tackle would be huge for this class and the program as tackles have been hard to come by as of late. He cites education and the business major as playing a major factor in his decision. If this holds true, the Irish have the definite edge as they have the No. 1 business school in the country. In the end, my guess is Richardson ends up in the Blue and Gold.
Whitmire would be the viable backup option here. Having a player of his calibre as a backup speaks loudly as to how well Kelly and his staff have done this year among the nation’s linemen.
Tuitt and Drew are not only both elite defensive linemen, but they are good friends and will visit campus together on an official sometime during the season. They are looking at either the Michigan or Stanford week last time I spoke with them. Don’t be surprised if this duo decides to take their game to the same school. If so, it would be hard to pass up on that opportunity if they decide they want Notre Dame to be there home. They are talents that the Irish have lacked greatly in recent years, and could be a key ingredient to getting back on the elite level. Miami and Auburn look to be the biggest competitors with these two studs.
At 6’’7, 240, Niklas offers extreme versatility to the table. As a tight end in high school, he proved to be worthy of high praise from many of the nation’s top programs. However, the Irish are looking at him most likely as a defensive end. Many think he will end up at Notre Dame, but there is also a good chance he doesn’t.
Another elite linemen that Kelly is after is Williams. The defensive end out of Brooklyn is looking at many schools, but hasn’t cut the Irish out of contention just yet. If Kelly can work his magic on the New Yorker, he might just haul in this top-50 caliber blue-chipper. He will make his way to South Bend on August 5th to check out the Irish for the first time.
In what may be the biggest need in this class, Kelly has secured commitments from three solid defensive backs thus far in Farley, Brown, and Hardy. The two former will play on the corners at the next level while Hardy projects as a very solid safety prospect.
Although this makes up a solid haul already, at least one more back is needed for this year to be deemed successful after the departures of Badger and Boyd. Luckily for the Irish, they are still in on some top-notch talent.
Targets: ATH George Atkinson, DB Josh Atkinson, S Wayne Lyons, S Quincy Aldridge
Both of the Atkinson’s still have the Irish in the running for their services. Either, or even both, of these guys would be an elite get for Kelly. If both offer their verbal, George would be moved to the offensive side of the ball, while Josh would be groomed as a defensive back. But realistically speaking, getting either of these guys is going to take a lot of work from the staff. George is more sold than his brother at this time, but many think Oregon leads the rest of the pack for the twins. If they are able to visit campus, expect the Irish to have a good chance in the end.
I had the opportunity to spend some time with Lyons last week at the Top Gun camp in Virginia. While shutting down defenders on all three days, he told me that the Irish had made his top 14. Although he informed me of this, I would be very, very surprised if he ended up Irish. He is one of the most sought out recruits in the county, as he has over 50 offers to date, and definitely likes Miami and Florida. In the end, Irish fans will be disappointed when he decides to stay home.
In many eyes, Aldridge is the most likely to end up in South Bend. He only has one offer to date, and that comes from the Irish. Even though he hasn’t been offered by many schools, he is getting tons of interest from all over. If the first offers stands, especially if it is the only one on the table, expect Aldridge to end up Irish. However, if his dream school (Miami) jumps in the picture, he is a lost cause.
If the Irish strike out with these four, they will need to find someone to take the spot. If they don't bring in a quality four defensive backs in this class, trouble will be looming in 2011 due to the lack of depth.
In the end, expect Kelly to haul in at least three more players in this class. If a few more blue-chip recruits want in on the program, he won't say no. This may come at the expense of a few fifth-year players, but saying no to elite linemen would send the Irish fan base to Kelly's office in a heartbeat.
When talent is at your doorstep, you cannot refuse it. If (a likely if) Floyd and Rudolph do in fact bolt for the draft, a few more spots will have opened up.
Who will get these lucky spots?
S Quincy Aldridge
OL Antonio Richardson
DE Troy Niklas
ATH Miles Shuler
WR Davaris Daniels