Recruiting: Ranking The Notre Dame 2020 Signees
The early National Signing Day was a success for Notre Dame. The Irish met the vast majority of their needs, and the staff landed a class that is low on numbers but high on talent and impact potential.
Notre Dame ranks in the Top 10 in average rating per player by 247Sports and Rivals.
It is a class that gives Notre Dame a boost in high-level offensive talent, a defensive line class that adds strength and size, and a secondary haul that carries some risk, but also possesses a great deal of length and upside.
Below is my ranking and analysis of the 2020 class. The final ranking comes from the combination of a prospect's current grade and upside grade, which is why the IB (Irish Breakdown) Grade rankings don't always fall in line with the ranking below. The IB Grade is where players are ranked based on their current skillset and production, while the Upside Grade refers to a player's ceiling.
1. MICHAEL MAYER, TIGHT END
6-5, 240 — Alexandria, Ky. / Covington Catholic
IB Grade: 4.5 (Top 50 nationally)
Analysis: Mayer was already one of the top players in the class - and in the country - before his senior season, but this fall the Covington Catholic star took his game to yet another level. In fact, I gave Mayer the highest grade for a Notre Dame tight end prospect since Kyle Rudolph back in the 2008 class.
Mayer is a dominant two-way player in high school, earning all-state honors as a tight end, defensive end and inside linebacker at different times in his career. He was brilliant as a tight end this fall, leading Covington Catholic to a perfect season and a state title while hauling in 44 passes for 845 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The 6-5, 240-pound tight end has top-level length, and his combination of size and athleticism is quite rare. Mayer can play all over the field, thriving as an attached tight end, in the slot and he’s a legitimate pass-catching weapon when lined up outside. Mayer shows a good feel for the game, but he needs to be sharper with routes like in cuts and speed outs. Right now he tends to round those routes off and drift out of his breaks, but he shows the foot quickness and athleticism to develop into a strong route runner.
Mayer shows a good start off the line and he has very good deep speed. He accelerates well out of vertical cuts and angled cuts, and he shows excellent body control and ball skills. His size and ability to track the ball like a receiver make him a matchup nightmare in the pass game.
He’ll need to improve his blocking to really take the final step and be an elite player, and it is that part of his game that keeps him from being a five-star on my board. Mayer has the tools to be a strong blocker, but he’ll need to work on driving his hips through contact and finishing better.
2. CHRIS TYREE, RUNNING BACK
5-10, 180 — Chester, Va. / Thomas Dale
IB Grade: 4.5 (Top 50 nationally)
Analysis: It has been decades since Notre Dame landed a running back with the explosiveness that Chris Tyree brings to the game. Tyree twice won the fastest man competition at the Nike Football The Opening Finals, and as a sophomore and junior he had the fastest 55-meter dash time in the country for his class.
Tyree is an explosive runner, and if he gets a step he is going to score. Tyree can hit home runs in a number of ways; he can quickly explode through inside run lanes on inside zone or power runs and he can outrun the defense to the perimeter. Where Tyree is most dangerous is on perimeter runs like outside zones and sweeps where the defense has to work laterally, and Tyree is able to explode vertically through open run lanes for big gains.
Tyree has quick feet and is elusive in space. His balance is top notch, and once his footwork improves from a technique standpoint you’ll see his suddenness and make-you-miss skills take off. Tyree shows good patience, vision and second-level anticipation skills, and he’s a decisive runner that is willing to put his shoulder down and ram the defense when the need is there.
Tyree is a weapon in the pass game as well, finishing his career with 49 receptions for 695 yards and three scores. He’s dynamic in the screen game, but he’s also shown the ability to line up in the slot and run routes effectively, he can catch the ball on the run and he’s even had to go outside and win one-on-ones on the perimeter. The Thomas Dale star rushed for 3,930 yards and 37 touchdowns in his career, and he returned four kickoffs and two interceptions for touchdowns in his career.
3. JORDAN JOHNSON, WIDE RECEIVER
6-2, 180 — St. Louis, Mo. / DeSmet Jesuit
IB Grade: 4.5 (Top 50 nationally)
Analysis: Johnson is an intriguing wide receiver target. He lacks any elite physical traits, but his all-around skillset makes him one of the top players in the country. He finished his prep career with 83 catches for 2,033 yards (24.5 YPC) and 27 touchdowns. Johnson had to play defense as a senior for a DeSmet squad that finished undefeated and won a state championship.
Listed at 6-2 and just 180 pounds, Johnson is a strong athlete that has impressive length, which allows him to play bigger than he is. He shows a good burst off the line, gets to full speed in a hurry and quickly eats up the cushion of defensive backs. Johnson has impressive foot quickness and loose hips, traits that give him the potential to develop into an elite route runner in college. His suddenness and burst allows Johnson to explode out of breaks and get separation.
Johnson has long arms and strong hands, which gives him an impressive catch radius. His ability to out-play defenders for the football is as good as you’ll find in the country. Johnson’s body control, length and ability to track the ball makes him a big-time weapon on the outside as a downfield weapon and back-shoulder pass catcher. He can catch the ball in traffic and do damage after the catch. At times he’ll lose focus and drop a pass or two, but his pass catching skills are otherwise elite.
Johnson’s ball skills and athleticism fit perfectly into Notre Dame’s boundary receiver position, but his route running and athletic traits also project well to the field positions, and that versatility only adds to his value as a prospect.
4. TOSH BAKER, OFFENSIVE TACKLE
6-8, 275 — Phoenix, Ariz. / Pinnacle
IB Grade: 4.5 (Top 50 nationally)
Analysis: Baker is without question one of the best offensive tackle prospects in the entire country, but the thing is he isn’t anywhere close to his full potential. Right now Baker dominates at the prep level thanks to his natural God-given ability. If he can turn his potential into production, Baker is the kind of talent that could one day develop into an All-American and a high NFL Draft pick.
At 6-8 and 275 pounds, Baker has elite size and length. If he maxes out his frame with good weight I expect Baker to get into the 315-pound range. He’s a starting center for the Pinnacle basketball team, and playing hoops keeps his weight down. I expect him to quickly add weight and strength when he gets in college and stops playing basketball.
Baker is an impressive athlete for his size, possessing nimble feet and top-level lateral quickness. His change of direction is excellent, at least when his technique is correct and he keeps his base. At times Baker will get too tall and narrow his base, which slows down his change of direction, but when he keeps his feet wider and bends his knees he moves side to side with ease. These traits are why Baker is an elite pass blocker at the prep level and why he projects as an elite pass blocker in a Notre Dame uniform.
Even when Baker gets beat off the line, his elite length, quickness and punch allow him to recover and make the block. After a year in the weight room his ability to anchor against power rushes will take a much-needed leap forward. It should also improve his run blocking, which is an area where his grade is lower. Baker flashes the ability to be an impact run blocker, but he doesn’t explode off the ball as frequently as he needs to, and he’s not the finisher he needs to be at this point. If his technique catches up to his potential the run game will also be a strength of his game.
5. XAVIER WATTS, WIDE RECEIVER
6-1, 190 — Omaha, Neb. / Burke
IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 100 nationally)
Analysis: In my view, Watts is one of the most underrated wide receivers in the country, if not the most. ESPN and 247Sports came around enough to make him a four-star recruit, but Rivals ranks him as a third-star and the No. 89 wide receiver in the country. If there are 88 wide receivers better than Watts then this is the greatest wide receiver class in the history of high school football.
Watts was a dominant prep player on both sides of the ball. The Burke star finished his career with 163 catches, 2,978 receiving yards and 36 touchdowns. He has been at his best in big moments, with Watts hauling in 47 passes for 796 yards and nine touchdowns in nine playoff games. Watts also registered 126 tackles, eight interceptions and 13 pass break ups the last two seasons as a safety.
At this point Watts dominates with natural ability. He’s quite raw as a route runner, needing a lot of work with his release against press coverage and his downfield route running. Where Watts thrives from a skillset standpoint is as a pass catcher. Watts had tremendous ball skills thanks to a combination of strong hands, top-level body control, elite concentration when the ball is in the air and excellent timing. Watts has the vision, suddenness and acceleration to be an impact player with the ball in his hands, which is something Notre Dame wants and needs more of in its offense.
Being an early enrollee will help him get a jump on developing the nuances of the position and will help him continue to reshape his body. Being a two-way player as well as a basketball player at Burke has kept his speed and wide receiver skills from reaching their full potential. He’s just scratching the surface of what he could be.
6. RYLIE MILLS, DEFENSIVE LINE
6-5, 270 — Lake Forest, Ill. / Lake Forest
IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 150 nationally)
Analysis: Notre Dame made Mills a top priority back when he was a sophomore, and line coach Mike Elston had to beat out Ohio Stat and Wisconsin to land him. Mills is a versatile defender that could play inside or outside in the Irish defense, and the diversity only adds to his value as a prospect. Mills brings a size/power/athleticism combination that Notre Dame wants more of in its defense.
Mills has a thick, athletic frame that should allow him to easily get to at least 290 pounds, if not more. Just as important, Mills has long arms and a powerful lower body, a combination that allows him to lock out blockers and get a push into the backfield. He does a great job keeping his pads low and shooting his hands into blockers, and when he does that he gets tremendous movement. Elston has done well developing players with long arms like Mills, so I expect this to become a tremendous asset for the talented big man.
What makes Mills such a top prospect is the athletic traits he combines with his size and power. Mills shows an excellent burst at the snap, showing the ability to consistently beat offensive linemen off the ball. His athletic skills are even better when working in shorter areas, which is why he projects so well to defensive tackle.
Mills has the power and mass to anchor against the run and the quickness to penetrate and disrupt the backfield. Those traits fit well at both defensive end and defensive tackle in the run game. As a pass rusher, however, Mills’ skills are at their best when he’s inside. His power moves up the middle are already top-notch, and if he learns to better use his hands to shoot gaps and get off blocks Mills has the same pass rush potential that former All-American Jerry Tillery brought to the defense.
7. JORDAN BOTELHO, DEFENSIVE END
6-3, 230 — Honolulu, Hawai’i / St. Louis
IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 150 nationally)
Analysis: Botelho is a unique prospect that has the traits to play on the edge or to line up inside at linebacker. That versatility only adds to his value as a prospect, and it helps ease the decision to not take a linebacker in this class. Should Notre Dame have a need at linebacker down the road, Botelho could easily make the transition.
But Notre Dame recruited Botelho to play on the edge as a drop end, and he fits that position extremely well. He is already a dominant pass rusher as the prep level, and the traits that make him such project well to the drop position at Notre Dame. Botelho has a special motor, and he plays with an edge and intensity that reminds me of another Hawai’i native, Manti Te’o.
Botelho uses his speed and power to dominate with speed rushes, and he has a strong rip move and a quick double move inside. He will need to enhance his repertoire at the next level, but all the tools are there; speed, agility, balance, power, length. As his bag of tricks expands, Botelho’s ability to rush the passer will become even more effective.
Botelho projects to have plenty of strength and size to be effective as a run defender, and his ability to get low and explode into blockers is highly effective when setting the edge. His speed and agility allow him to cover a lot of ground, which aids his ability in coverage as much as it does his ability to rush the passer. Notre Dame has talent already on the roster at the position, but that won’t keep Botelho from making it very hard to keep him off the field next season.
8. AIDAN KEANAAINA, DEFENSIVE TACKLE
6-3, 305 — Denver, Colo. / Mullen
IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 300 nationally)
Analysis: Notre Dame has done quite well in recent seasons by adding athletic, penetrating interior defensive linemen. But the Irish have an undersized group of defensive tackles, so there was a need for a big, wide, physical run stopper that it can plug into the middle of the defense. That is exactly what Keanaaina is, and beating out Ohio State and Alabama for his services was huge for the Irish.
Keanaaina is a power player that does his best work against the run. He has a thick, squatty build and powerful legs. When he stays low and comes off the line well he dominates as a space eater, showing the ability to anchor against double teams and to drive blockers into the backfield in one-on-one situations. Keanaaina has powerful hands and he knows how to use them effectively.
The 6-3, 305-pound nose tackle shows good foot quickness and vertical speed. His lateral speed isn’t as good, but when playing on the inside that isn’t overly detrimental to his ability to make plays. I like how quickly he closes on the football for such a big player, which is why he made so many plays at the prep level, and why he projects to eventually be more than just a plugger in the Irish defense.
Like all young players he’ll need to be more consistent from snap-to-snap, but Keanaaina has all the traits you want in an impact big man: size, a strong lower body, powerful hands, quick feet and the ability to play with leverage. Once he gets into a college weight room you’ll see Keanaaina’s game really take off as he reshapes his body. That will also make him an even more disruptive player.
9. DREW PYNE, QUARTERBACK
6-1, 190 — New Canaan, Conn. / New Canaan
IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 200 nationally)
Analysis: Pyne was a four-year starter for New Canaan, and the talented signal caller ended his career with 9,411 passing yards, 105 passing touchdowns, 1,182 rushing yards, 20 rushing touchdowns and he completed 63.1-percent of his 1,111 career passes.
Pyne lacks the physical intangibles of other top quarterbacks. He’s on the small side and he doesn’t have the canon arm we see is other top players at his position. But Pyne brings the more important traits that make a top quarterback prospect. Pyne is smart, reads defenses well, shows excellent anticipation ability for his age, he is accurate and he’s both mentally and physically tough. His feel for the position is as good as any quarterback in the country.
Pyne has a lightning quick release that is easily repeatable, and when his footwork is right he’s highly accurate. His quick release and ability to anticipate allows him to get the ball out on time, and helps ease his lack of elite arm talent. While he doesn’t have a canon, Pyne’s arm is strong enough to push the ball downfield. I’ve seen him hit receivers in stride on post routes over 40 yards down the field., and that’s before he gets in a college weight room. He also gets very good zip on throws of less than 15 yards and he quickly gets the ball out with good zip on out cuts and comeback throws.
New Canaan didn’t provide Pyne with much protection as a senior, which limited his production, but it also showed Pyne’s pocket mobility, toughness, and top-level pocket presence and pocket mobility. The one critique I have of him in this regard is when Pyne is running around he lets the ball get a bit too far away from his body. Pyne does throw quite well on the run by keeping his eyes downfield, he attacks downhill and he snaps the ball off with good accuracy and velocity.
At times Pyne will rush his throws, especially in the quick game/RPO, but overall his mechanics are top notch. He keeps a good base in the pocket, he uses his core to throw and his follow through is impressive.
10. MICHAEL CARMODY, OFFENSIVE TACKLE/GUARD
6-5, 285 — Mars, Pa. / Mars Area
IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 200 nationally)
Analysis: A critique I had of Carmody as a junior was that he seemed to struggle handling the big weight jump he had from his sophomore season as he transitioned into more of a football player. Carmody is a standout on the Mars Area basketball team and he’s the younger brother of Notre Dame hoops player Robby Carmody. As a senior, however, Carmody was far more comfortable with the jump in size, and the result was a huge jump in play.
Carmody has taken well to the physical part of the game of football. He’s a physical blocker that plays with an edge, showing the kind of nastiness you’d expect from a Western Pennsylvania lineman. Carmody comes off the line with aggression, driving his feet through contact and is an excellent finisher. He has a powerful punch, but right now he doesn’t use his hands as well as he should. Carmody also has a tendency to bend at the waste. If his hand play, bend and overall technique improve he projects to be an outstanding run blocker in college.
Carmody improved as a pass blocker in his final season, using his length and foot quickness to thrive on the edge. Those traits help him overcome his lack of ideal footwork and technique. Carmody doesn’t have a lot of experience in pass protection, so that part of his game will need a lot of work at the next level.
The Mars Area standout is a versatile prospect that could play either tackle or guard at the next level. He has the length and athleticism to eventually develop into a standout tackle, but he’ll need a lot of work from a technique standpoint. Carmody is an aggressive player with a nasty disposition, traits that project incredibly well to guard.
11. KEVIN BAUMAN, TIGHT END
6-5, 235 — Red Bank, N.J. / Red Bank Catholic
IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 200 nationally)
Analysis: There just isn’t a lot of film accessible on Bauman, which makes giving him a strong evaluation more difficult. He’s one of just three players in the class who I do not have senior game film on, so keep that in mind when reading this evaluation. Most of my analysis of him is coming off highlights, one junior game film and camp workouts. Sources that I trust have Bauman graded higher than I do, but they have seen a lot more film.
What I have seen from Bauman I like, and he has a lot of room for continued development. He’s got good size and his game combines the “old school” feel at the position with the ability to play the modern game. Bauman works the middle of the field effectively, showing a good feel for working open and the strength to get separation against more athletic players. He’s not a top-level athlete, but Bauman shows enough foot quickness and flexibility to get into and out of breaks quickly, and he’s a more advanced route runner right now than Mayer.
Bauman has strong hands, literally. He also has fast hands and good timing, which combines with even better arm length to give him a wide catch radius. His willingness to attack the football and absorb contact will endear him to the Notre Dame quarterbacks and allows him to project as a top third-down and red zone weapon at the next level.
Bauman shows good strength for his age, especially in the upper body. He has plenty of room to fill out his frame and like all players his age must continue getting stronger, especially his lower body. Bauman has top-level potential as a blocker, but he must finish better and be more consistent with his effort.
12. JAY BRUNELLE, WIDE RECEIVER
6-2, 200 — Shrewsbury, Mass. / Saint John’s
IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 300 nationally)
Analysis: No player saw a bigger jump up my board as a senior than did Brunelle. He exploded onto the scene during the summer, earning an offer from Notre Dame after a dominant summer camp experience. His junior film wasn’t as good as his non-padded camp performance, which is why I kept his grade down when he committed. After breaking down his senior film it was obvious the jump in athleticism we saw this summer translated onto the field.
Brunelle always had good long speed, but his burst off the line improved as a senior, which made his vertical game more impactful. Brunelle gets on the cushion of defenders in a hurry, and he showed impressive acceleration coming out of the top ends of his routes. Brunelle is a strong player and has a good frame, and as he fills it out his ability to work the middle of the field will become a top asset.
Brunelle shows a good feel for working himself open on all three levels. He has good length and strong hands, and he’s a physical player in the pass game and as a blocker. Each of those traits make him effective in traffic and allow him to win one-on-one battles on the outside. Brunelle shows good focus in traffic and tracks the deep ball well, showing the ability to adjust his speed and body positioning to shield the ball from the defender.
The Saint John’s standout isn’t as elusive or fluid as the other receiver commits, and although he does damage after the catch in high school, it doesn’t translate as well to the next level. In college, I project Brunelle to do most of his damage before and up to the point fo the catch. That makes Brunelle a perfect complement to Watts and Johnson, adding value to the quality of this receiver class.
13. CLARENCE LEWIS, CORNERBACK
6-0, 180 — Middletown, N.J. / Mater Dei
IB Grade: 3.5 (Top 400 nationally)
Analysis: Like Kevin Bauman on offense, there just isn’t a lot of film available on Lewis. I have yet to see a full game of him as a senior, and the lack of game film will drop his grade a bit more than usual. But what I do see on the junior game film and from his highlight clips is a player with the tools that Notre Dame covets in a cornerback.
Lewis has length, quickness, loose hips and he’s physical. Notre Dame also puts a premium on two-way players, and Lewis was an all-state wide receiver for Mater Dei. The ball skills and length that make him a standout high school wide receiver project incredibly well at cornerback. Listed around 6-0, Lewis has better length than your typical 6-0 defender. That length makes him a much harder target to throw around, and it gives him the ability to recover a bit easier than a shorter defender.
Once Lewis starts focusing just on defense his technique will make much-needed improvements. One that happens his game should take off, and Lewis should start to tap into his upside rather quickly. He’s a savvy football player that has a knack for making plays on both sides of the ball. A lot of the things he does well on defense he does on just natural ability and instincts, so as the technical part of his game improves you’ll see him make even more plays.
Lewis must fill out his frame and get stronger, but he’s a willing tackler and he’s physical with the ball in his hands on offense. He high points the ball effectively as a wide receiver and he gets off the ground quickly, which should combine with his length to make him a good downfield ball defender at the next level.
14. RAMON HENDERSON, CB
6-2, 185 — Bakersfield, Calif. / Liberty
IB Grade: 3.5 (Top 400 nationally)
Analysis: When Notre Dame first offered and made a push for Ramon Henderson I was opposed to it. Opposed might be too kind of a word, I was adamant the staff was making a mistake passing on other players for Henderson. After breaking down senior film of Henderson it’s easy to see why the staff felt the opposite of how I did.
Henderson has always been a top-flight track athlete, with a personal best of 10.59 in the 100-meter dash and 21.67 in the 200-meter dash. Consider that Notre Dame sophomore speedster Braden Lenzy had a personal best of 10.82 in the 100-meters in high school. Henderson’s junior film did not show that kind of speed, and Henderson often looked out of place in pads, especially on defense. His senior film showed a completely different player, with Henderson looking far more comfortable as a football player on both sides of the ball.
As his technique improved you could see Henderson open and run with ease, and that kind of clean transition ability is not something you often see in such a long athlete. Combine that with high-end speed and elite length and Henderson has the tools to develop into a top cover player down the road.
There is work to be done from a technical standpoint, and that is what drags his grade down right now. I don’t see the consistent ball skills of a more experienced player, and Henderson will need to get a lot stronger and improve his tackling quite a bit. But when you have a player that runs like this, moves like this and has the kind of length Henderson is bringing to the table you take him without hesitation.
15. ALEXANDER EHRENSBERGER, DEFENSIVE END
6-7, 240 — Dusseldorf, Germany
IB Grade: 3.5 (Top 500 nationally)
Analysis: If you know defensive line coach Mike Elston at all you completely understand why Notre Dame took a flier on a German prospect that is about as raw and unknown of a prospect as you will ever see the Irish land. Elston loves tools, he loves upside, and I truly believe he feels he can take tools and upside and mold it into an impact player. After watching his lines the last three seasons, can you blame him?
Ehrensberger will have a lot to learn, but this young man has tools that defensive line coaches drool over, and from all accounts he has a tremendous work ethic. At 6-7 with long arms he has exceptional length, but he has a natural ability to bend and stay low. He is listed at 240 pounds, but he has a frame that should allow him to add at least 25-30 pounds while gaining strength and explosiveness. He has a similar physical upside to current Irish end Ade Ogundeji, but Ehrensberger is even bigger than Ogundeji as a prep player.
Athletically, Ehrensberger shows the kind of first step you want in an impact playmaker. He explodes off the ball and has the speed to get around the edge and the quickness to shoot gaps and get immediate penetration. He’ll need to get a lot stronger and learn to use his hands much better, but if he can gain the necessary strength and weight he has the makings of a playmaker at the strong side end position.
Ehrensberger has a natural feel for the game, and once his technique catches up to his raw tools he could be a difference maker, but he will likely need time to get to that level.
16. CALEB OFFORD, DEFENSIVE BACK
6-1, 175 — Southaven, Miss. / Southaven
IB Grade: 3.0
Analysis: I get why Notre Dame took a chance on Offord, and I get why the staff was willing to look past the holes in his game. Offord is your prototypical low-floor/high-ceiling defensive back target. My concern, and why he ranks so low on my board, is there is a long gap between where he is now and where he needs to be to contribute at Notre Dame.
But the reasons why the staff took him are obvious, and the first is Offord has truly elite length. The reports I’ve received are Offord checked in with 34-inch arms, which is rare for a defensive back. That’s length you expect from a lineman, not a 6-1, 175-pound corner. For context purposes, Vanderbilt cornerback Joejuan Williams - who is 6-4 and was a 2nd round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft - measured in at the Scouting Combine with 32½-inch arms.
Offord has a strong, athletic body, and the hope for Notre Dame is that he’ll add more strength and size to that long frame. He uses his length effectively when playing man coverage, and when the rest of his press technique improves he should be able to use that length to overcome areas where he isn't as strong.
Right now Offord is all about projection as both a corner and safety prospect. His technique leaves a lot to be desired, and it often gets him in trouble by creating slow transitions and by putting him out of place when he needs to plant and drive. That lack of efficiency from a footwork standpoint makes him look slow. On the snaps where he keeps a good base and shows clean technique you see a player with good speed and change of direction skills.
NR. ALEX PEITSCH, SNAPPER
6-2, 220 — Washington, D.C. / St. John's College
Peitsch is an athletic snapper with a good frame. His short snaps are accurate, his long snaps travel a straight line with a lot of zip, and he has the athleticism and size to develop into a quality tackler on punts. He is ranked by Kohl's kicking as the No. 1 snapper in the entire country. Landing Peitsch was huge for Notre Dame.
OVERALL GRADE RANK