Notre Dame has had a rough go of it on the recruiting trail recently. From missing out on running back Will Shipley to the possibility of defensive end David Abiara decommitting.
While the 2021 class still has a long way to go, it isn't all terrible. Notre Dame may not be landing some big-name recruits, but Brian Kelly and his staff are finding other ways to fill the roster.
Building Through Transfers
Typically Notre Dame is making news for losing players to the transfer portal or grad transfers. The 2020 class is a bit different, with three transfer players coming in and looking to take on at least a rotational role for the Fighting Irish.
Cornerback Nick McCloud (NC State), wide receiver Ben Skowrenek (Northwestern), and safety Isaiah Prior (Ohio State) all join Notre Dame in 2020. All three should see playing time, with McCloud the most likely to seize a starting role.
Ten years ago it would have been strange for a team to build through transfer portal or grad transfer players, but it is the new normal in college football.
Everyone knows about Justin Fields, Baker Mayfield, Joe Burrow, Russell Wilson or Jalen Hurts, but players like Shane Buechele, K.J. Osborn, James Gilbert and George Campbell all had a strong impact on their team in 2019 after transferring.
More specific to Notre Dame is Alohi Gilman. The transfer safety from Navy played a vital role in the Notre Dame defense for two seasons. Coming out of high school, Gilman didn't have an impressive offer list, or even that much interest from FBS programs. By the time his career at Notre Dame was over he was a NFL Draft pick of the Los Angeles Chargers.
Cornerback Cody Riggs was also an impactful player for the Irish in 2014.
2020 Transfer Impact
Pryor was a top 10 safety out of high school and top 100 overall player in his class. The former Buckeye looks to make a day one impact and could be a starter this season. At the least, Pryor should be in a three-man rotation with Hamilton and Griffith. This transfer solidifies the Safety group and gives them three capable starters in 2020. His big frame and ability to play the run could make him similar to Alohi Gilman. Landing another NFL caliber safety with two years of eligibility makes the safety room strong once again through 2020.
McCloud transferred in from NC State and had plenty of schools calling for his services. Notre Dame, Ohio State and South Carolina were all trying to recruit McCloud the second time around. He fills an immediate need after Notre Dame lost Julian Love and Troy Pride Jr. over the last two seasons. He may not be quite on the talent level of Love, however, he has the big-game experience and some considered him one of the best transfer portal guys in 2020.
Skowronek isn't going to blow people away or put together a Braden Lenzy highlight tape. However, Skowronek is a sturdy, big-bodied guy that can generate first downs and is a much needed larger receiver. The Notre Dame receiving core is loaded with playmakers but they are also young. With Chase Claypool off to the NFL, Skowronek could fill that role. He doesn't have the same talent, but the former Northwestern captain has a proven ability to make plays and the experience lacking from the rest of the receivers.
Do Stars Matter
I won't pretend that Notre Dame missing on these five-star players doesn't matter. It has been a setback and what has been a difference between them and Clemson.
But Notre Dame hasn’t hit at a high rate with the five-stars it has landed in the last decade. This is from Irish Breakdown publisher Bryan Driskell’s analysis of five-stars to the draft success of all college programs from the 2011 to 2016 recruiting classes:
"Notre Dame had just two of its five five-stars get selected. Linebacker Jaylon Smith went in the second round and defensive end Aaron Lynch - who ultimately transferred to South Florida - was picked in the fourth round. Notre Dame's other three five-stars (QB Gunner Kiel, DE Ishaq Williams, S Max Redfield) all went undrafted.
The lack of five-star players and the further lack of either developing them or getting them to stay is a problem. Furthermore, Notre Dame has averaged five players getting drafted every year for the last five years. Smith was the only five-star that finished his career at Notre Dame and got drafted in that window.
Landing these five stars isn't a lock that they become a generational talent. In Driskell's article, he looks at the top 15 schools at landing five stars and how many get drafted in rounds one through four. Of the 15 schools, only nine have more than half their five stars get drafted in the first four rounds. Even more surprising is only three schools were over 60% getting drafted in the same range.
While you want these elite recruits, Clemson is proof that you don't need them at the high volume that Ohio State, Alabama and Georgia get them.
Notre Dame and Clemson were incredibly similar on a recruiting front over the last five years. It wasn't until the last class that Clemson pulled ahead.
It also shows how much of an impact a transfer can have.
A high school recruit will get rated across multiple services and it always raises questions. What is the talent level across from him, is he done growing, does his game transition to the college game and so on. While questions remain with transfers, they have been in a college program playing other college athletes. There is more development and understanding among these players going into a season.
All of this doesn't mean Notre Dame should start hitting the transfer portal more and ease up on recruiting. But it does show a team can fill a hole by looking for a player on the move, and it's a great way to supplement recruiting high school players. That is a situation Notre Dame is in for 2020, and the staff did well to add quality players, experience and leadership to the roster.
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