Midweek Musings: Elite Defensive Recruiting Finish Is In Sight

Notre Dame has an elite defensive class in its grasp, but a strong finish is a must
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Thoughts on Notre Dame football, Fighting Irish recruiting and college football


Notre Dame already has an outstanding group of defensive recruits in the 2022 class. Notre Dame has commitments from three defensive linemen, four linebackers and three secondary players.

Six of the 10 commits rank among the Top 250 recruits in the country on the 247Sports composite list. Five of the 10 rank as a Top 150 recruit by at least one recruiting service, and I would argue a couple of commits (Devin Moore, Jaden Mickey, Nolan Ziegler) are underrated players.

How the staff finishes this class off will determine if Notre Dame lands an outstanding defensive group or an elite defensive group. The good news for Notre Dame is that an elite finish in now in their sight. Here is what Notre Dame must do to turn this group into an elite haul.

Get Benjamin Morrison On Thursday - Arizona cornerback Benjamin Morrison is making his announcement tomorrow, and the talented cover man would become Notre Dame's top-ranked pure corner on the Irish Breakdown board. He's a consensus four-star recruit that would not only add another talented player to the class, landing him would give the Irish coaches the flexibility to move around other players from the 2021 and 2022 classes.

Xavier Nwankpa Is A Must - Notre Dame has yet to land a safety in the 2022 class, and the Irish staff is taking a bit of a risk by narrowing their focus at the position just to Nwankpa, but that's how bad the staff wants him in the class. Expect the Notre Dame coaches to point out the fact he'd e playing behind an elite group of front seven recruits in his class. Ohio State is the main competition, but this is a battle Notre Dame absolutely must win. Nwankpa is arguably the best safety in the country, at least that's how I rank him and how 247Sports ranks him. He's the kind of game-changing back end defender that Notre Dame has not signed since 2019 (Kyle Hamilton).

One More Defensive Lineman Is Needed, But Would Be Special - Losing Darren Agu puts Notre Dame in position where one more defensive lineman is needed, but getting two more would be truly special. Notre Dame has two elite prospects on the board and the staff must land one. 

Defensive end Anthony Lucas is the top player left on my board. In fact, should Notre Dame land Lucas he would be the No. 1 player in the Notre Dame class and he would be the highest graded defensive lineman to pick the Irish since Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch picked Notre Dame back in 2011. Lucas is a unique player that has the size and talent to thrive at defensive tackle but also possesses the athleticism, pass rush ability and talent to play on the edge as a big end. He's the perfect fit for Marcus Freeman's defense.

The loss of Agu opened up an extra spot, meaning Notre Dame not only had room for Lucas (or possibly Cyrus Moss), but it opened up a spot for the Irish staff to push for Hero Kanu. A native of Germany, Kanu is a Top 100 recruit at defensive tackle. By offering him the Irish now have a chance to land one of the nation's top defensive tackles. It also means Notre Dame can really push for Lucas to be an edge player, which is what he wants.

Notre Dame is also recruiting Las Vegas edge defender Cyrus Moss, but right now I'd put him third on the defensive line list in regards to likely options. Moss is also a unique talent with five-star potential, but right now he doesn't seem as high on the Irish as Lucas or Kanu.

END GAME - Notre Dame needs to land Morrison, Nwankpa and one of the defensive linemen to have a truly elite class. If Notre Dame lands Morrison, Nwankpa and both Lucas and Kanu it would give the Irish arguably the best defensive haul in the entire country and would be quite the splash for Freeman in his first season in charge of the defense.


Notre Dame's defensive class already has a chance to be one of the best defensive hauls of the Brian Kelly era. It's not there yet, but the kind of finish I mentioned above would put the class into that category. Here are the top defensive classes of the BK era thus far. (Rankings are the 247Sports composite ranks)

2011 - Notre Dame's 2011 defensive haul was special. It landed two five-star defensive ends in Aaron Lynch (No. 9) and Ishaq Williams (No. 26) and another high ranked end in Stephon Tuitt (No. 31). That class also brought in four-stars in safety Eilar Hardy (No. 195), rangy linebacker Ben Councell (No. 203) and talented Mike linebacker Jarrett Grace (No. 285). Safety Matthias Farley, an eventual starter in the NFL, was also part of that class.

2012 - This unit was small but talented. The Irish landed Top 100 safety Elijah Shumate (No. 87), a defensive tackle in Sheldon Day (No. 115) that was a five-star recruit according to Scout.com, Top 150 defenders in cornerback KeiVarae Russell (No. 140) and defensive tackle Jarron Jones (No. 150), defensive end Romeo Okwara and safety CJ Prosise. Notre Dame also landed a Top 100 cornerback in Tee Shepard (No. 51), although his stint in South Bend was incredibly short-lived.

2013 - Notre Dame turned its 12-1 record in 2012 into an outstanding defensive class. The crown jewel was five-star linebacker and future All-American Jaylon Smith (No. 2). Notre Dame signed another five-star defender in safety Max Redfield (No. 29). The class also contained Top 150 end Isaac Rochell (No. 111), Top 200 cornerback Cole Luke (No. 154) and four-star linebackers Doug Randolph (No. 242) and James Onwualu (No. 307) as well as four-star cornerback Devin Butler (No. 318). Notre Dame also landed five-star defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes (No. 7), but he eventually opted out of his NFL.

2014 - The 2014 haul was underrated, adding Top 100 linebacker Nyles Morgan as well as Top 300 recruits in Andrew Trumbetti (No. 147), Nick Watkins (No. 182), Jay Hayes (No. 245), Grant Blankenship (No. 281) and Drue Tranquill (No. 289). The Irish also added four-star defensive tackle Daniel Cage and underrated linebacker Greer Martini.

2015 - Notre Dame's stretch of strong defensive recruiting continued in 2015, when the Irish landed Top 250 recruits in Shaun Crawford (No. 112), Josh Barajas (No. 138), Jerry Tillery (No. 156), Asmar Bilal (No. 194), Te'von Coney (No. 288) and Elijah Taylor (No. 318). That class also included safety Mykelti Williams, who ranked as the No. 237 player in the country according to Rivals. 

2016 - The Irish defense added a talented group of defensive ends and cornerbacks. The Irish landed Daelin Hayes (No. 133), Khalid Kareem (No. 196) and Julian Okwara (No. 301) on the edge. It landed Troy Pride Jr. (No. 249) and Donte Vaughn (No. 300) at cornerback. The class also included underrated cornerback Julian Love and safety Jalen Elliott. The Irish struck at out defensive tackle and the linebacker class was shaky, which is why this group would rank at the bottom of this list.

2018 - In 2018 the Irish landed three Top 100 defenders in safety Houston Griffith (No. 70) and linebackers Shayne Simon (No. 90) and Jack Lamb (No. 99). Notre Dame also landed Top 150 defenders in Derrik Allen (No. 106) and Jayson Ademilola (No. 128). That's five Top 150 defensive recruits, and the class also included four-stars Bo Bauer (No. 293) and Noah Boykin (No. 366).

2019 - This was the last of Notre Dame's strong stretch of defensive classes. In 2019 the Irish landed five-star safety Kyle Hamilton (No. 60) and Top 250 defenders Jacob Lacey (No. 172), Isaiah Rutherford (No. 208), Isaiah Foskey (No. 211), Osita Ekwonu (No. 212) and Litchfield Ajavon. The class also included four-stars KJ Wallace (No. 295), NaNa Osafo-Mensah (No. 298), Hunter Spears (No. 328), Howard Cross (No. 337) and JD Bertrand (No. 366).


Notre Dame played ACC football in 2020, which meant the Irish players were eligible for the All-ACC Academic Honor Roll honors. Sixty-seven football players earned such honors.

Here's the list:

Leo Albano, RB, Junior
Mick Assaf, RB, Senior
Tosh Baker, OL, Freshman
Bo Bauer, LB, Junior
JD Bertrand, LB, Sophomore
Jay Bramblett, P, Sophomore
Tyler Buchner, QB, Freshman (Early enrollee)
Cole Capen, QB, Junior
JD Carney, K, Senior
Jack Coan, QB, Senior
Henry Cook, WR, Freshman
Howard Cross III, DT, Sophomore
Avery Davis, WR, Senior
John Dirksen, OL, Junior
Jonathan Doerer, K, Senior
Alexander Ehrensberger, DE, Freshman
Griffin Eifert, WR, Freshman
Cameron Ekanayake, RB, Senior
Mitchell Evans, TE, Freshman (Early enrollee)
Giovanni Ghilotti, LB, Freshman
Dawson Goepferich, K, Senior
Reed Gregory, LB, Senior
Houston Griffith, S, Junior
Robert Hainsey, OL, Senior
Daelin Hayes, DE, Senior
Zane Heemsoth, DE, Sophomore
Jack Henige, TE, Senior
Aidan Keanaaina, DT, Freshman
Chase Ketterer, RB, Freshman
Jack Kiser, LB, Sophomore
Tommy Kraemer, OL, Senior
Jacob Lacey, DT, Sophomore
Jack Lamb, LB, Junior
Xavier Lezynski, TE, Senior
Chase Love, S, Junior
Joshua Lugg, OL, Senior
John Mahoney, S, Senior
Greg Mailey, WR, Junior
Michael Mayer, TE, Freshman
Javon McKinley, WR, Senior
Paul Moala, LB, Junior
NaNa Osafo-Mensah, DE, Sophomore
Jarrett Patterson, OL, Junior
Alex Peitsch, LS, Freshman
Isaiah Pryor, LB, Senior
Axel Raarup, LS, Junior
Conor Ratigan, WR, Sophomore
Jake Rittman, P, Junior
Eddie Scheidler, S, Sophomore
Will Schweitzer, DE, Freshman (Early enrollee)
Charlie Selna, TE, Freshman
Max Siegel, OL, Junior
Shayne Simon, LB, Junior
Ben Skowronek, WR, Senior
Hunter Spears, OL, Sophomore
Trevor Speights, RB, Senior
Lorenzo Styles Jr., WR, Freshman (Early enrollee)
Marcus Thorne, CB, Junior
Chris Velotta, S, Sophomore
Michael Vinson, LS, Junior
KJ Wallace, S, Sophomore
Justin Walters, S, Freshman (Early enrollee)
Drew White, LB, Senior
Brennan Wicks, OL, Freshman
Kyren Williams, RB, Sophomore
Brock Wright, TE, Senior

Bold = 2020 starter


If you did not catch the story on what former Notre Dame offensive lineman Dillan Gibbons did to use NIL to help out a fan you have got to read this story.


On Monday we broke down the de-commitment of defensive end Darren Agu, what's next for defensive line recruiting in 2022 and we also spent a lot of time talking about the recent comments made by Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman.

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