Notre Dame Football Recruiting: Grading the Irish's 2011 Class

Dan Scofield@BleedingGoldAnalyst IFebruary 3, 2011

Notre Dame Football Recruiting: Grading The Irish 2011 Class

0 of 11

    The LOI's are in and the colors have been donned: National Signing Day 2011 is officially over.

    And with that, Notre Dame has added 23 players to it's roster. 23 very talented and solid players.

    Brian Kelly and his staff have officially signed one of the countries' best classes, scouring the country in search of not only the best talents, but the best kids as well. With this class, they have exceeded expectations and more in Kelly's first full-recruiting cycle.

    Headlined by multiple five-star talents, noise has been made. Notre Dame may not be back on the field just yet, but they are here to stay among the big boys on the recruiting trail.

    Many questioned just how well the new Irish coach would handle the national recruiting job. However, thanks in part to his ruthless staff, Kelly has proven any doubters wrong with 23 signatures this morning.

    Although it may not exactly be a top five class, there is no question that it belongs in the top ten. With that said, let's take a look at the ten most crucial gets in this class and just how great they make the group coming in.

1) Aaron Lynch

1 of 11

    Position: Defensive End

    Ht/Wt: 6'6", 245 lbs

    Where he fits in best: An end that excels not only with his elite speed coming off the edge but with strength as well, Lynch is arguably the best pass-rusher in the country. Not only does he possess the ability to get after the quarterback but he will be a big part in stopping the run. He should see no problem in seeing the field right away as an early enrollee.

    Does it fill a void: Yes. And that is an understatement. The Irish have not had a presence coming off the edge like Lynch's in decades.

    Grade: A+. This might have been the biggest get for a first-year coach ever at Notre Dame. Not only does he fill one of the most pressing needs on the roster, but Kelly beat out almost every other program in the country in order for Lynch's signature.


2) Ishaq Willams

2 of 11

    Position: Outside Linebacker

    Ht/Wt: 6'6", 230 lbs

    Where he fits in best: On the edge of a defense desperately in need for a player like Williams. Also an early enrollee, you can bet that Williams will be seeing the field plenty and often come this fall. With his strength, speed, and athleticism, this is an instant upgrade to an already above-average defense.

    Does it fill a void: Yes. Again, a major understatement. Kelly and his staff addressed the need to add length and speed to the edge of their defense, and with Willams (among others), they did just that. And then some.

    Grade: A. Another monstrous get for the Irish. Williams is not only a five-star player, but he is a five-star player that would usually not wind up in South Bend. With his commitment, many were then sold on Kelly's recruiting abilities, beating out Penn State and Syracuse at the final minute for his services.



3) Stephon Tuitt

3 of 11

    Position: Defensive End

    Ht/Wt: 6'5", 260 lbs

    Where he fits in best: A bull-rushing defensive end, Tuitt is a perfect fit in this 3-4 defense. With one of the biggest frames you will ever see for an 18-year old pass-rusher, Tuitt brings a college-ready body and run-stopping ability comparable to some pros. It may be hard to say with such talent in this class, but Tuitt may have the biggest ceiling of them all due to this physical attributes. With some coaching and time in the weight room, the sky is the limit.

    Does it fill a void: Yes. In many aspects, Tuitt was one of the surprises of this class. From day one, he will bring competition to a defensive line depth chart that is beginning to grow in talent and numbers by the second these days. However, unlike the others, Tuitt is a one-of-the-kind thanks to his freaking frame.

    Grade: A+. Notre Dame's weakness on the recruiting trail has been it's defensive line recruiting. Kelly and staff went into the backyard of the SEC (Georgia) in order to pull Tuitt and that is an accomplishment on it's own. 


4) Everett Golson

4 of 11

    Position: Quarterback

    Ht/Wt: 5'11", 170 lbs

    Where he fits in best: The quarterback depth chart is in no need of an instant-impact freshmen. However, what it is in need of is a spread-quarterback that brings something to the table that none of the other five scholarship quarterback's possess: a combination of a strong arm, legs, and athleticism.

    Does it fill a void: Absolutely. Golson, an early enrollee, will be under the careful watch of many fans as he is the perfect quarterback for Kelly's system. If he were in fact a few inches taller, there is no doubt in anyone's mind that he would be one of the most sought-after recruits in the entire nation. 

    Grade: B+. Without the pressing need for a Jimmy Clausen-type recruit, Kelly focused in on reeling in a spread quarterback. Golson fits the description perfectly, along with the fact that he is a great kid.


5) Ben Councell

5 of 11

    Position: Outside Linebacker

    Ht/Wt: 6'5", 225 lbs

    Where he fits in best: If you were to go to the lab in order to mold the perfect 3-4 outside linebacker, Councell would be the end result. Much like Williams, Councell brings everything and more to the table: speed, athleticism, and length. He will be another freshmen that makes some serious moves up the depth chart.

    Does it fill a void: Again, yes. Councell may have been the most underrated recruit in the country at any position. With his signature, the front seven is beginning to look like one that belongs to a USC or Alabama with five-star talent piling up.

    Grade: A. It wouldn't be fair on my part to give this get an A+, simply because many would call me crazy. However, it can't be stressed enough just how important this get was for Brian Kelly. Councell is a future leader and star player without a doubt.


6) George Atkinson

6 of 11

    Position: WR, Athlete

    Ht/Wt: 6'2", 194 lbs

    Where he fits in best: It's really hard to categorize Atkinson in just one position as he is a pure athlete. He has the speed and quickness to play receiver, the vision to play running back, or even the football IQ to play in the defensive backfield. For now, it looks like he will end up being a play-maker on the offensive side of the football.

    Does it fill a void: You can never have enough top-notch athletes on your roster. Atkinson will fill a hole no matter where he ends up, you can count on that. He may have not gotten the credit he deserved by the recruiting rankings towards the end stretch, but Atkinson is the perfect addition to an offense in need of more Golden Tate and Theo Riddick's.

    Grade: B+. Without Atkinson, this class would definetly be missing some play-making ability. In Kelly's spread offense, this type of player is a necessity, not a luxury. 

7) Matt Hegarty

7 of 11

    Position: Offensive Tackle/Guard

    Ht/Wt: 6'5", 265 lbs

    Where he fits in best: It will be interesting to see where exactly Hegarty ends up on the line. However, it never hurts to add an offensive linemen with such talent and versatility as this one. One of the biggest names in the nation, Hegarty has been very impressive in All-Star games and will be a very welcome addition to a unit in need of numbers.

    Does it fill a void: Yes. After all, offensive linemen need to be brought in consistently in order to keep the depth chart flowing. With some coaching, Hegarty may end up being one of the best offensive linemen to come through South Bend in a very long time.

    Grade: A. If Hegarty ends up being a left tackle, this signing will look even better. No matter where he ends up, however, Kelly gets an A for bringing in the Player of the Year in New Mexico and an All-American along the offensive line--something some head coaches' struggle to do even in year five. 

8) Davaris Daniels

8 of 11

    Position: Receiver

    Ht/Wt: 6'3", 190 lbs

    Where he fits in best: On the edge of the offense as a go-to receiver. Daniels is a freakish athlete with great hands and some speed. After a year or two in the program, watch out. Daniels is going to become one of the better receivers to wear the Blue and Gold, which is a pretty big guarantee.

    Does it fill a void: With Michael Floyd coming back, not so much. However, that decision is only going to benefit Daniels. Learning under Floyd, one of the best receivers in the game, and with another year in order to prepare for his time, Daniels won't be rushed into immediate playing time.

    Grade: B+. Were there bigger names on Notre Dame's radar? Absolutely. However, Daniels was one of the top targets offered and fits perfectly into this system. Not to mention, his father has an NFL pedigree of 15 (and running) years. 

9) Eilar Hardy

9 of 11

    Position: Defensive Back

    Ht/Wt: 6'1", 175 lbs

    Where he fits in best: Kelly said in his signing day presser that Hardy will get his first look at cornerback. However, many seem to think that he will end up as a safety in the future. No matter where he eventually is placed, Hardy is going to make an impact and maybe as early as this coming fall. He has a very polished game with great instincts and athleticism.

    Does it fill a void: Anything in the defensive backfield fills a void in this class. Hardy, the highest-ranked defensive backfield recruit of the five, will most likely get a decent shot at seeing the field in 2011.

    Grade: B+. Again, defensive backs were one of the more pressing needs in this class. Although Kelly struck out with other big names, he was able to snag Hardy before others got to him. A big get not only for the staff, but for the depth chart as well.

10) Troy Niklas

10 of 11

    Position: Athlete

    Ht/Wt: 6'7", 243 lbs

    Where he fits in best: That's a question that is still waiting to be answered. Will he end up on the defensive or offensive front seven? What about tight end? These are all things that will be sorted out in the near future, but Niklas is a rare talent due to his frame and athleticism. He could end up a power pas-rusher, an athletic offensive linemen, or even at tight end along with classmate Ben Koyack.

    Does it fill a void: Definitely. Whenever a four-star talent is out there, especially standing at 6"7, he needs to be picked up. Kelly knows how to position his players for success, and wherever he thinks Niklas will excel he will chart him there. A future void has been filled with Niklas' commitment.

    Grade: A. A victory over USC and a top talent all in one? Irish fans were pleased to hear Niklas call Notre Dame's name this morning after a long and drawn-out recruitment. No matter where he ends up on the depth chart, Niklas is going to be a name to watch for in years to come.



11 of 11

    With a final class of 23, Notre Dame hauled in one of the best classes in the country.

    Not only did Brian Kelly and his staff bring in top-notch talent that will only add to the future success of the program, but major holes and gaps were filled thanks to this class. Specifically on the defensive side of the ball.

    In what was the most pressing need by far, Kelly signed the best defensive-line haul in decades at South Bend. Headlined by five-stars and under-the-radar recruits, the future of the Irish front seven looks as promising as ever.

    Also a thin area on the depth chart, defensive backs were brought in to provide depth. Bringing in some fairly big names from all around the country, in addition to stuffing the defensive back depth chart, the staff was able to put a check next to yet another question mark. Another successful haul for Kelly and his staff.

    Although this class will exceed expectations of many, Kelly missed out on one area: an elite running back. Though Cam McDaniel is going to be a very good player at Notre Dame, he isn't the "stud" get that this class needed with the number of backs on the roster dwindling thanks to graduation. However, this isn't a killer loss for the program, as freshman Cam Roberson, a four-star talent in 2010, was red-shirted and will count towards this class.