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Ranking The Notre Dame 2022 Signees - Defense Edition

Breaking down and providing final grades and analysis for the Notre Dame 2022 defensive class

The final signing day is complete and we now know what the Notre Dame 2022 class will look like, and what the classes look like for the rest of college football. I've been able to dive into even more film since the December signing period and it's time to offer final grades and rankings for the signees.

Below are my rankings for the defensive class. The rankings are based on my grading system for each player's current evaluation. In the final rankings I'll include my upside grade as part of the final grade, and the pure upside rankings will be provided at the bottom of the article.

Notre Dame's defensive class was special, with five players from the unit grading out as Top 100 recruits.

Note: Player comps are geared towards finding former college players with comparable body types and similar style of play. It is not meant to be a direct ceiling or upside ranking.

1. JAYLEN SNEED, LINEBACKER

Hometown/High School: Hilton Head (S.C.) High School
Measurables: 6-2, 210
IB Grade: 4.5 (Top 50 caliber prospect)
Upside Grade: 5.0

Player Comp: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame

The gap between the top three players in this class was extremely close, and the grades for Sneed and Burnham were almost identical. Sneed is an exceptional athlete that possesses elite playing speed, short-area quickness, change of direction and flexibility. He's played all over the defense during his career, and he could play multiple spots in the Irish defense. Sneed explodes towards the football and arrives with force despite a lack of ideal size. His coverage game has grown and he can get after the quarterback, which means he can do everything a Notre Dame linebacker needs to do, and he does it at an elite level. Sneed could play the Rover or Will linebacker in the Irish defense.

2. JOSH BURNHAM, LINEBACKER

Hometown/High School: Traverse City (Mich.) Central
Measurables: 6-4, 215
IB Grade: 4.5 (Top 50 caliber prospect)
Upside Grade: 5.0

Player Comp: Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State

What's scary about Sneed and Burnham is that neither are close to their full potential, and that's especially true for Burnham. The Michigan native had a monster senior reason, rushing for 1,516 yards and 29 touchdowns on offense while racking up 102 tackles and 12 tackles for loss on defense. His combination of length and speed is special, and his short-area quickness and power are exactly what you want and need in a modern linebacker. Burnham's length will be a great asset for him in coverage and with block destruction once he learns how to play with better technique, which will come when he gets to focus on just playing defense. I could see him be a dominant Will, Mike and he has a lot of pass rushing potential.

3. TYSON FORD, DEFENSIVE END

Hometown/High School: St. Louis (Mo.) John Burroughs
Measurables: 6-5, 260
IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 100 caliber prospect)
Upside Grade: 5.0

Player Comp: Zach Allen, Boston College

Ford is the perfect big end in the Marcus Freeman defense, at least what we saw before he was promoted to head coach. Ford has the power to be a dominant edge player at the big end position, the size to play inside in certain looks as a three-technique and the quickness off the ball and closing speed to develop into an impact pass rusher inside and outside. When he kept his pads low at the prep level he was legitimately unblockable, which you saw during his senior season (19 tackles for loss, 11 sacks). Ford is still raw from a technique standpoint, which is why he was leaped by Sneed and Burnham, but his ceiling is higher than anyone else in the class. This young man has truly elite potential, but he needs work.

4. BENJAMIN MORRISON, CORNERBACK

Hometown/High School: Phoenix (Ariz.) Brophy Prep
Measurables: 6-1, 175
IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 100 caliber prospect)
Upside Grade: 5.0

Player Comp: Marlon Humphrey, Alabama

His length is the first thing you'll notice about Morrison, and from a pure body and toughness standpoint he fits in quite well into the boundary position. His size is certainly an asset, but it's his speed, athleticism and intangibles that make him one of the highest graded Notre Dame cornerback signees in the last decade on my board. Morrison is a smooth and fluid athlete that changes direction with ease. His agility allows for clean and explosive downhill skills, which aides him when driving on routes in zone and off man situations, and when closing on the football. Morrison needs some technique work but he projects to be an elite cover player at either corner spot. I don't see how he's not a Top 100 recruit, this kid can flat out play.

5. AIDEN GOBAIRA, DEFENSIVE END

Hometown/High School: Chantilly (Va.) High School
Measurables: 6-6, 225
IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 100 caliber prospect)
Upside Grade: 5.0

Player Comp: Montez Sweat, Mississippi State

The fact that Gobaira is fifth on this list speaks volumes about how special this defensive class is for Notre Dame. Gobaira has exceptional length and he's just beginning to fill out his frame. He has room to add a lot of good weight and I expect him to easily carry 250+ pounds, and he'll get there quickly. The Chantilly standout is a force on the edge against the run thanks to his powerful hands and motor, and as he fills out this part of his game will get even better. His potential as a pass rusher is what gives him 5.0-star upside. Gobaira has a freaky first step, especially for someone that is 6-6. His length makes him hard to block and his closing speed sets him apart from most edge players. If that's not enough, he plays with great effort and energy.

6. NOLAN ZIEGLER, LINEBACKER

Hometown/High School: Grand Rapids (Mich.)
Measurables: 6-3, 205
IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 150 caliber prospect)
Upside Grade: 4.5

Player Comp: Pete Werner, Ohio State

Ziegler has a monster senior season and saw his grade continue to rise. He is one of the best athletes in the class, which you saw this season when he dominated as a wide receiver (67 catches, 1,343 yards, 25 touchdowns). Ziegler is an explosive downhill athlete and he shows outstanding range, which makes him ideally suited for the run and perimeter pass game aspects of the rover position. What really stands out about Ziegler, especially during his senior season, was how good he is in coverage. His range is a part of that, but Ziegler also shows quick feet and easy change of direction ability. A 6-3, 205-pound player (he'll end up 220+) that can run, cover and hit like this is rare.

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7. JADEN MICKEY, CORNERBACK

Hometown/High School: Corona (Calif.) Centennial
Measurables: 5-11, 180
IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 150 caliber prospect)
Upside Grade: 4.5

Player Comp: Julian Love, Notre Dame

Mickey is one of my favorite players in this class. This is a young man who loves to compete and he plays the game with a ton of swagger and confidence. He's more than just a try-hard player, Mickey is also skilled. He's not an overly long cornerback, but he has enough length to thrive in the Notre Dame defense. Mickey has quick feet, explosive downhill speed and he's improved his long speed as well. His instincts are exceptional and he shows a great feel for reading routes when working vertically. Mickey makes a lot of plays on the football and he is physical when he arrives at the football. Mickey fits quite well at the field position and he's a great fit for the nickel.

8. NIUAFE TUIHALAMAKA, LINEBACKER

Hometown/High School: Mission Hills (Calif.) Bishop Alemany
Measurables: 6-2, 230
IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 150 caliber prospect)
Upside Grade: 4.5

Player Comp: Manti Te'o, Notre Dame

In most years Tuihalamaka is a top 3-4 player in a defensive class, but that shows just how loaded this class is, and I could say that about every player after Tyson Ford. While the other linebackers in this class grade high because of their range, Tuihalamaka brings a different skillset. He's a pure Mike linebacker that plays a physical, impactful downhill game. Tuihalamaka is a powerful defender that explodes through contact. His short-area quickness is impressive and he arrives at the ball with force. His instincts are top-notch and allow him to make up for the fact he doesn't have elite speed. Tuihalamaka shows a knack for getting through holes to the football.

9. JAYDEN BELLAMY, SAFETY/CORNERBACK

Hometown/High School: Oradell (N.J.) Bergen Catholic
Measurables: 5-11, 175
IB Grade: 3.5 (Top 400 caliber prospect)
Upside Grade: 4.0

Player Comp: Nick Coleman, Notre Dame

There are two things that I like about Bellamy immediately. One is he has pretty good speed, especially downhill. Two he is a very smart, instinctive, high football IQ football player. Those traits allow Bellamy to make a lot of plays in the pass game. Bellamy isn't the biggest player but he is physical and more than willing to hit. He was recruited initially as a cornerback, but Bellamy's game - and the class need - is more as a safety. Bellamy projects much better in coverage as a safety than he does as a cornerback. The fact he could play outside, nickel and safety only adds to his value as a prospect.

10. DONOVAN HINISH, DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Hometown/High School: Pittsburgh (Pa.) Central Catholic
Measurables: 6-2, 270
IB Grade: 3.0 (Top 500 caliber prospect)
Upside Grade: 3.5

Player Comp: Kurt Hinish, Notre Dame

Hinish is the lowest graded recruit in the class, and if you look at his on paper resume (height, weight, production, rankings) this is a bit of a head scratching pickup for Notre Dame. But if you feel that way I'd encourage you to pop on 2021 Notre Dame film and watch #41 on the defensive line. The younger Hinish isn't quite as big as his brother but he's a better athlete. Hinish is quick off the ball and plays with naturally good leverage. As he gets stronger he'll make even more plays and be able to hold up better at the point of attack. He'll never be a volume producer, but like his brother his motor, quickness and toughness will be a valuable addition to the position group.

UPSIDE GRADE

1. Tyson Ford, DE - 5.0
2. Josh Burnham, LB - 5.0
3. Aiden Gobaira, LB - 5.0
4. Jaylen Sneed, LB - 5.0
5. Benjamin Morrison, CB - 5.0
6. Nolan Ziegler, LB - 4.5
7. Jaden Mickey, CB - 4.5
8. Niuafe Tuihalamaka, LB - 4.5
9. Jayden Bellamy, CB/S - 4.0
10. Donovan Hinish, DT - 3.5

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