Most of the recent news about the Notre Dame 2021 recruiting class has been negative. Since safety Justin Walters committed back on February 2nd, the Irish have not added another player to the class and have lost two four-star commits.
The Irish certainly have lost much of the momentum they had when the vaunted 2021 class was ranked No. 1 in the nation. Notre Dame is still ranked No. 5 according to Rivals and No. 9 on the 247Sports team rankings, so the Top 5 class head coach Brian Kelly said he wanted is still a possibility.
For that to happen the Irish must get back on track. Not being able to host visitors for the foreseeable future could slow down the additions to the class, but Notre Dame is in position to get rolling once the dead period comes to a close.
After talking to various sources there are five players that I believe the Irish have the best chance to land, although there is a lot of work to be done in order to get these five in the class.
(Players listed alphabetically)
DE David Abiara, 6-4, 240, Mansfield (Texas) Legacy
Abiara almost committed to Notre Dame when he visited back in February, but he wisely decided to hold off. The talented Texan wanted to make sure he was certain of his decision and wanted to take more visits. Abiara is a “only going to commit once” type of player. His visit plans, and the visit plans of every other prospect, has been blown up due to world events over the last two weeks.
Defensive line coach Mike Elston has made Abiara a major priority, and he’s going toe to toe with college football heavyweights in an attempt to land the talented edge player. Abiara said in February that he is down to Notre Dame, Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Baylor and Oklahoma State.
Texas hasn’t exactly been a state where Notre Dame has had much success over the last decade, but it is somewhere Elston is starting to have more success. He landed NaNa Osafo-Mensah and Hunter Spears in the 2019 class, and now he has the Irish in great shape with Abiara.
ESPN ranks Abiara as a four-star recruit and the No. 293 player in the country.
DE Jason Onye, 6-5, 245, Warwick (R.I.) Bishop Hendricken
Irish Breakdown recruiting analyst Jack Sullivan wrote about Onye yesterday, and it was obvious during their discussion that Notre Dame has put itself in tremendous position with the talented edge player. You can read that HERE.
Don’t get caught up in Onye’s consensus three-star ranking. There is a reason Notre Dame, Penn State, Michigan and Tennessee are making such a hard push for the talented big man. Onye is raw, but his tools are outstanding, which is why he grades out as a four-star player on my board.
The issue for Notre Dame at this time is Onye has yet to visit campus. He was expected to be on campus the weekend of March 22nd, and I fully expected him to either commit during that trip or soon after. When the current crisis is averted I expect Onye to finally get to campus, and when that happens the Irish could very well add a long, athletic and talented edge player to their 2021 recruiting class.
Onye has also received offers from Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Duke, Kentucky, Arizona, Syracuse and Vanderbilt.
RB Will Shipley, 5-11, 200, Matthews (N.C.) Weddington
There might not be a more important remaining 2021 uncommitted recruit for the Notre Dame offense than Shipley, who is one of the nation’s premier running backs. Notre Dame struggled to recruit running backs in the 2016-19 classes, but running backs coach Lance Taylor struck gold in his first season, landing arguably the most explosive back in the 2020 class, Chris Tyree.
Notre Dame must continue stocking up at the position, and adding Shipley and Tyree in back-to-back classes would give the Irish the kind of backfield it would need to compete with the nation’s best programs. Tyree and Shipley have skillsets that fit extremely well together, which means the duo can play in a rotation together, but they can also line up on the field at the same time.
The Irish were considered Shipley’s leader for some time, but Clemson has made a very, very strong push in recent months. At best it is now a 50/50 battle between the Irish and Tigers, but Clemson the team with the momentum in this recruitment.
If I had to make a prediction today I would still go with Notre Dame for Shipley. His relationship with Taylor is important, as is his bond with quarterback commit Tyler Buchner and offensive line commit Blake Fisher. If Notre Dame is going to land a Top 10 class, much less Kelly’s Top 5 class, it must land Shipley.
OL Rocco Spindler, 6-5, 290, Clarkston (Mich.) High School
Notre Dame’s dream of landing an elite offensive line haul requires at least two more top-level blockers to join the class with Fisher. Line coach Jeff Quinn has a lot of work to do to get that second (or third, if you count Fisher) top level blocker, but he has done a tremendous job getting the Irish in strong position with Spindler.
Spindler is a talented blocker that has the combination of size, power and athleticism that Notre Dame wants in an offensive lineman. He could play guard or tackle for Notre Dame, although guard is likely his best position. Adding to his value as a recruit is the fact Spindler could also play defensive tackle in college, and Rivals initially listed as a defensive player.
Adding Spindler to the class with Fisher would give Notre Dame an outstanding one-two punch to build the line class around. Fisher is ranked as the nation’s No. 20 overall player according to Rivals and Spindler is the No. 49 overall player on the 247Sports composite rankings. He’s a consensus Top 100 player, and he was also ranked as Top 100 player by Rivals when he was listed as a defensive player.
Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State are all making a hard charge for Spindler, who is being pursued by most of the nation’s top programs. The majority of recruiting analysts are predicting Michigan, but my money is on Notre Dame adding Spindler to the class as long as Quinn can continue building the bond with the talented blocker that he’s done thus far.
WR Dont’e Thornton, 6-4, Baltimore (Md.) Mount St. Joseph
The player I’m least confident in at this point is Thornton, mainly because Thornton plans on committing publicly at the Polynesian Bowl, which takes place in January. But we’ve seen in the past players move their decision dates, or at least make silent commitments before going public at the all-star games.
Thornton was an important recruit before Deion Colzie decommitted, but with Colzie out the need to land the talented Maryland wide receiver is enormous. Landing him will require a lot of work from wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, who must beat out programs like Oregon, Penn State and Tennessee to land the consensus Top 100 recruit.
If Notre Dame does during the season what I think it will, or at least should, from a throwing game standpoint the offense could become even more attractive to a player like Thornton, who has visited Notre Dame in the past.