Based on Notre Dame's history over the last decade you can expect at least one of 2021 signees in the secondary to earn a lot of playing time this season, and I would not be surprised if cornerback Ryan Barnes is one of those players.
In fact, Barnes is my pick for a freshman surprise in 2021.
Beginning with cornerback KeiVarae Russell in 2012, Notre Dame has had 10 freshman defensive backs earn at least one start during their first season on campus. That number likely would have grown by one had Shaun Crawford not been injured in fall camp during his freshman season (2015).
Notre Dame's 2021 six-man secondary class is only rivaled by the 2016 haul that included Julian Love, Troy Pride, Donte Vaughn, Devin Studstill and Jalen Elliott. Like that class, don't be surprised if more than one of the incoming freshman defensive backs gets action this season, with Barnes being among those first-years to get action.
Barnes was a consensus three-star recruit, ranking as the nation's No. 561 overall player in the country according to the 247Sports composite list, he ranked as the No. 44 safety and the No. 18 player in the state of Maryland.
While lacking an impressive recruiting rankings profile, but Barnes earned offers from Notre Dame, Clemson, LSU, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, Oregon, Penn State, Michigan and USC among many, many others. There is a very, very wide gap between his offer list and his recruiting rankings from the national services.
Barnes also had incredibly impressive junior film. He showed elite length, smooth athletic skills and the kind of top-level instincts needed to make an immediate impact. Those skills are why Barnes graded out as a four-star recruit and the third-best defensive signee in the class on the Irish Breakdown Big Board.
In 2020, then freshman Clarence Lewis earned an immediate spot in the two-deep and eventually took over the field corner spot, earning six starts on the season. Lewis was a quality player coming out of high school, and the Notre Dame coaches were also a lot higher on him than the recruiting services. Like Barnes, Lewis was a consensus three-star recruit.
Barnes, however, has even better size, athleticism and overall talent than Lewis possessed and he had even more impressive film. At 6-2, Barnes also possesses the length that cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens has thrived with in the past.
Mickens coached Nick Johnson at Bowling Green in 2014, and the 6-2 true freshman earned second-team All-MAC honors that season. In 2019, under Mickens' tutelage, freshman cornerback Ahmad Gardner - who was also 6-2 - earned first-team All-AAC honors and freshman All-American honors.
Barnes is an early enrollee, and with question marks at the boundary position heading into spring practice, and no experienced players battling for that starting job, Barnes should get every opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation, and possibly even a starting role.
I would not be at all surprised if by the end of the 2021 season Barnes is in the conversation as the best cornerback on the roster.
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