Notre Dame Football: Position-by-Position Grades for 2015 Recruiting Class
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With the start of spring practice less than two weeks away, let’s take a final look at Notre Dame football’s recruiting class of 2015.
We’ll go position by position and grade Notre Dame’s haul, assessing the class and the players added for quality, quantity and need.
In total, the Irish inked 24 signees, a class that ranks 13th in the nation. Our analysis here will not include the addition of graduate transfer Avery Sebastian, which was made official Wednesday morning.
For months after class of 2015 signal-caller Blake Barnett decommitted from Notre Dame, it appeared the Irish wouldn’t land a quarterback in this recruiting cycle.
That all changed in October when Brandon Wimbush visited South Bend for the Stanford game and flipped from Penn State to Notre Dame four days later.
As Wimbush’s senior season rolled along, the New Jersey native did increasingly more to help Irish fans forget about the loss of Barnett, a 5-star prospect and the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the country.
“We were going to be okay if we didn't take a quarterback,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said on national signing day. “Until I saw Brandon on film in his first couple games, and that changed my mind. It just totally changed my mind after I watched him. He just did so many of the things that I think a complete quarterback needs to do. And as we went to work in the recruiting process, I just thought he was we had to take a quarterback.”
Wimbush is the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback and No. 45 recruit in his class.
Notre Dame’s running back recruitment went all the way until national signing day, when the Irish added Dexter Williams.
Since-departed running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Tony Alford had seemingly searched everywhere for a second back to pair with longtime pledge Josh Adams, the No. 304 prospect in his class.
Williams’ signing is a major boost for Notre Dame’s crop of commits, as the Florida native is the No. 11 back and No. 94 player in the nation. Notre Dame had previously been in the mix for class of 2015 running backs Soso Jamabo, Ronald Jones and Nick Brossette, among others.
The 4-star Williams is a strong signee and will have a chance to compete for early playing time in 2015.
“We were looking to get a second back in this class, and we felt like Dexter gave us that breakaway back that we wanted, and his second-level speed,” Kelly said.
Notre Dame made its mark with a terrific group of skill-position signees, especially at wide receiver, where the Irish landed four prospects.
Equanimeous St. Brown, a signing-day commit, headlines the group as the No. 160 player in the class. St. Brown is a 4-star recruit and checks in at 6’5”, 205 pounds.
“Another very rangy wide receiver who can run,” Kelly said. “He can get in and out of his break, another matchup guy that I think you're going to have problems with now.”
“You've got Miles Boykin and Equanimeous with great size, and then a very dynamic player in C.J. Sanders, and then Jalen Guyton, probably one of the most productive receivers at the highest level,” Kelly said. “So pretty talented wide receiving corps to add to what we already have as a pretty talented wide receiving corps, as well.”
While Notre Dame’s skill-position signees are strong across the board, the Irish really hit a home run at tight end with Aliz'e Jones, the top-ranked player at his position.
Notre Dame lured the Las Vegas product and longtime UCLA commit away from the West Coast, and Jones should be in a position to compete for immediate playing time in 2015.
“We think he's the finest tight end in the country, and we think that we've had some great tight ends here, and we think he's going to be another one of the great tight ends that have played here at Notre Dame,” Kelly said.
This one’s easy.
The recruiting along the offensive line started to look different as the process went along, especially with class of 2015 signee and early enrollee Jerry Tillery beginning his Notre Dame career on the defensive line, not the offensive line.
Tillery’s move leaves center Tristen Hoge and guard Trevor Ruhland as the only offensive line signees in the class. That’s not a problem for Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who have hit the offensive line hard in recruiting in recent years.
Hoge is slotted as the best center in the country, while Ruhland is a 3-star guard. It averages out to a solid haul for Notre Dame.
As was the case in 2014, Notre Dame checked off the quantity box along the defensive line in 2015.
While it’s certainly important to add bodies to the mix, especially as front-seven injuries have piled up in each of the past two seasons, the group leaves a bit to be desired, at least at this stage, in terms of high-end talent.
Notre Dame hasn’t really succeeded in drawing elite pass-rushers since the class of 2010, when Aaron Lynch, Ishaq Williams and Stephon Tuitt all hopped aboard.
Still, this group adds crucial depth.
It’s hard to find much at all to complain about with Notre Dame’s work at linebacker in the class of 2015.
The Indiana native Barajas is ranked the highest at No. 137 overall.
“We were looking for a guy that could potentially play on the outside and run and give us length and size, and Josh certainly can do that for us,” Kelly said.
The rangy Bilal, an Indianapolis product, is the No. 6 inside linebacker in the country, while Coney follows a few spots later at No. 11.
Asked on signing day about filling needs, Kelly quickly pointed to cornerback as one of Notre Dame’s best recruiting efforts.
“That gives us the flexibility in our subpackage, absolutely crucial,” Kelly said.
The 4-star Crawford is the No. 113 player in the nation, while Coleman (No. 678) and White (No. 590) are 3-star signees.
“They will all compete for that in-and-out corner position, which is very vital to us in situational defense and, in particular, our subpackages. We believe the three of those guys will compete for playing time early on.”
Coleman and White aren’t rated as highly as some Irish fans may hope, but Notre Dame filled needs and landed a high-end player in Crawford.
The only place Notre Dame fell short on signing day was safety.
Fertitta (No. 946 overall) and Williams (No. 464) are both 3-star prospects, and landing another safety such as Justin Reid, Arrington Farrar or Nathan Meadors would have helped the Irish in terms of quantity and quality.
With Kyle Brindza partaking in the NFL Scouting Combine, Notre Dame signed its starting kicker for 2015 in Justin Yoon.
The No. 2 kicker in the country, Yoon will be given the starting job right away.
“We think he's the best kicker in the country,” Kelly said. “We've got a chance to evaluate all the kickers that are out there. The thing that stood out was his strength and accuracy.”
Yoon drilled three field goals in the Under Armour All-American Game in January.
Notre Dame will expect more of that in 2015.
Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports composite rankings.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco on Twitter.