Recruiting: Potential For Converting Players To Cornerback

Brian Smith

During the history of Notre Dame football, numerous players changed from their high school position to being top-notch cornerbacks for the Irish. Could the Irish tap into that again in the 2021 class?

Before diving into the list of cornerbacks, a little history about Notre Dame defensive backs and the positions they played before donning the Blue & Gold. It may surprise you, but Notre Dame certainly found great cornerbacks by way of other positions.

Finding the next great Irish cornerback does not necessarily mean a prospect with 40 scholarship offers from the likes of Alabama, LSU and Texas either, although that would be great. Nor does it mean he even plays defense in high school, as many top athletes actually play quarterback like graduating Irish safety Jalen Elliott, a former quarterback for Chesterfield (Va.) L.C. Byrd.

Former Notre Dame cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght liked Elliott’s leadership and physical talent, and believed he could help Notre Dame at safety. He was correct. Even Lyght, during his playing days with Notre Dame (1987-1990), played wide receiver in high school for Flint (Mich.) Powers Catholic before moving to cornerback.

Here are a few more names to consider, none of which started their football careers pure cornerbacks.

Irish Football history displays several cases of elite players that started as a running back, wide receiver or even safety and then played cornerback for Notre Dame.

Remember Bobby Taylor? Came to Notre Dame in 1992 as one of the highest ranked players in the country, but he played free safety for Longview (Texas) High School. Taylor began his Irish career at free safety, but he transitioned to cornerback. Taylor went on to star in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles (1995-2003) and Seattle Seahawks (2004). His NFL position, cornerback. Quite impressive considering he was listed at 6-3, 185-pounds coming out of the famous East Texas area of high school football.

Taylor was such a talent it did not matter which position he played. Another Texas product that signed with Notre Dame in 2000, Vontez Duff from Copperas Cove (Texas) High School, came to the Irish as a running back. He ended up being a starting cornerback for the 2002 Notre Dame defense that ranked as one of the nation’s best.

During Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly’s time at Notre Dame, he moved several players from one position to cornerback. Here’s an overview of some of those players.

Bennett Jackson

Recruited to Notre Dame in 2010, Jackson started out at wide receiver for the Irish, but moved to cornerback in the spring of 2011. He started the final 26 games of his Irish career at cornerback. Jackson is still in the NFL after originally being drafted by the New York Giants in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Keivarae Russell

One of the quickest transitions in Irish history took place with Russell. Recruited to play running back, Russell switched to cornerback in the fall of his freshman season (2012) after cornerback Lo Wood was injured. Russell went from being a possible playmaker at running back and the slot to a three-year starter at cornerback. Notre Dame went 31-6 in games that Russell started during his career.

Julian Love

Finally, another former cornerback is from very recent Notre Dame history. Yes, Julian Love did play some cornerback in high school, but he also played wide receiver, running back and safety.

Love made the starting lineup as a freshman, and of course he became a star player for the Irish (2016-2018) before turning professional and being drafted in the fourth round by the New York Giants this past year.

So why bring up all of these players? It would not be surprising if Notre Dame signed two top-shelf 2021 cornerback recruits and the best cornerback from the same class comes to Notre Dame as a running back, wide receiver or safety. History proved this can be done. Just keep it in mind.

Here are four players that could end up playing cornerback in college, regardless of which school signs them. (Note: These are prospects that I believe could thrive at cornerback and in no way reflects how they are viewed by the Irish staff)

Players are listed alphabetically

Jaden Alexis, 6-1, 180, Coconut Creek (Fla.) Monarch

Film Analysis: Absolutely can play any of wide receiver, free safety or cornerback. Fantastic stop-and-start ability; consistently makes defenders miss within the screen game. Possesses the speed to run by defenders. Really good hands.

Where Things Stand: Alexis’ recruitment heated up with offers from Michigan and Penn State, both on Jan. 30. Other programs that offered would be Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida State among others. Alexis is the Junior Class President for Monarch, so academics are in order. He would be a great fit for Notre Dame.

Andrel Anthony, 6-2, 165, East Lansing (Mich.) High School

Film Analysis: Anthony already learned many of the nuances of running routes. He sets up his breaks and cuts well, and afterwards maximizes his yardage opportunities. Even for a long-legged prospect, Anthony changes direction better than many 5-9 players. He possesses the ability to at least play boundary cornerback.

Where Things Stand: Notre Dame would need to surpass in-state programs Michigan and Michigan State to land Anthony. He’s also earned offers from Penn State, Minnesota, Indiana, West Virginia and Maryland among others.

Carnell Davis, 6-0, 175, Richland (N.J.) St. Augustine Prep

Film Analysis: Explosive athlete that concentrates more towards wide receiver than safety or cornerback, but he’s played both of those positions as well. If nothing else, Davis provides soft hands and a very good change of direction. Both traits make him an ideal candidate to play college cornerback.

Where Things Stand: Notre Dame would be battling several top programs as Davis earned offers from Auburn, Penn State, Syracuse, Tennessee and Syracuse amongst a long list. Playing at a New Jersey private school should help the Irish if it does decide to go after Davis. 

Kobe Paysour, 6-2, 175, Kings Mountain (N.C.) High School

Film Analysis: One of the most physical wide receivers in the country, Paysour blocks as hard as he runs with the football. Perhaps his best wide receiver attribute would be making plays in the red zone, as Paysour consistently beat defenders for 50-50 balls. Possesses the ability to stop and start very well; also utilizes a spin move to create space between himself and defenders.

Where Things Stand: On Jan. 12, via his Twitter page, Paysour announced his final seven that includes Georgia, Notre Dame, Louisville, Tennessee, Duke, North Carolina, and West Virginia. Not much is known about which schools lead, but he did trek to Notre Dame for an unofficial visit last fall. Paysour would be a very good addition to the Irish wide receivers or cornerbacks.

Comments (9)

Great article Brian. @Bryan Driskell ,do you think Andrel Anthony would be a good fit at corner?

No. 1-3

Where does ND stand with Bobby Taylor's son at this time?


If Notre Dame recruited well enough at the CB position they wouldn’t have to convert guys from other positions to CB out of necessity. We’re already talking about guys like Watts, and Styles moving to CB when they are the type of difference makers we need at WR. Close on guys like Adebo, Graham, and Phillips and you don’t have to make these moves. We’ve moved Avery Davis, Houston Griffith, Cam Hart, Isaiah Robertson, and Joe Wilkins to CB and that’s just the guys currently on the roster. That doesn’t happen on other top tier programs.