Notre Dame: Top 5 Linebacker Recruits Of The Last Decade
Linebacker recruiting at Notre Dame over the last decade has been, well, strange. That is about the only way you can explain how things have gone.
Notre Dame has signed some outstanding linebackers in the last decade, including one player that was one of the nation’s best linebackers over the last decade. The Irish have also had disappointing classes from both a numbers and talent standpoint. There are linebacker classes in the Brian Kelly era that were special, and classes that wouldn’t be good enough for a middle of the road Power 5 program.
Let’s take a look at the five best linebacker recruits to sign with Notre Dame over the last decade, with the emphasis being on a combination of rankings from the national services and my own grade for each player.
1. JAYLON SMITH, 2013
Recruited by: Mike Elston
Rivals: #3 nationally
ESPN: #7 nationally
Scout: #3 nationally
247: #5 nationally
This is a huge no-brainer. Smith was the best signee of the Kelly era regardless of position. Smith was a special player, winning the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker as both a prep player and college player. He was a consensus Top 10 recruit and a consensus five-star, the only consensus five-star of Kelly’s tenure.
Despite being an Indiana native it was not a foregone conclusion that Smith would choose Notre Dame, but the staff got it done and added him to the 2013 class. Smith was an elite athlete that dominated on both sides of the ball. He was a standout linebacker, of course, but he was also a 1,000-yard rusher at running back.
Smith was an Army All-American.
2. NYLES MORGAN, 2014
Recruited by: Chuck Martin
Morgan was a big-time pickup in his own right, and he was one of the few consensus Top 100 recruits to sign with Notre Dame over the last decade. Morgan was an Army All-American and ranked as high as #34 (Scout) and was ranked as the #72 player in the country by both Rivals and ESPN.
Notre Dame had to battle to get Morgan as well, but they landed his commitment at the Army All-American Game. Morgan was a thumper at middle linebacker, dominating between the tackles for Crete (Ill.) Crete-Monee. Morgan had SEC schools coming for him, but Notre Dame won his commitment at the end.
Morgan and offensive lineman Quenton Nelson were the top two recruits of the 2014 class.
3. JOSH BARAJAS, 2015
Recruited by: Mike Elston
ESPN: Unranked (4-star)
Landing Barajas was huge for Notre Dame, and he was the key part of what was arguably the best linebacker class of the Kelly era, at least based on high school rankings. Barajas, Asmar. Bilal and Te’von Coney were the linebackers in 2015, and Barajas was the best of the group. Scout ranked him #51, 247Sports had him just outside the Top 100 and I had him as one of the three best players in that class.
Barajas was an instinctive and fluid athlete in high school, making plays at inside linebacker just as effectively as he could line up on the edge. He was a sideline-to-sideline player for Merrillville (Ind.) Andrean, and flipping him from Penn State was huge for Notre Dame. He was an Army All-American and I truly thought he would be the next great Fighting Irish linebacker.
I’ll never forget watching him in fall camp his first year and marveling at how much his body had changed since his senior year in high school, and not in a good way.
4. SHAYNE SIMON, 2018
Recruited by: Clark Lea
Simon was a do-it-all player for Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter’s Prep. He was a dominant outside linebacker and was also the top receiver for the Marauders. Along with current Notre Dame teammates Jayson Ademilola and Justin Ademilola, Simon helped St. Peter’s Prep field one of the better defenses in the nation.
Simon was a long and rangy defender that 247Sports ranked as one of the 50 best players in the entire country. ESPN (#133) and Rivals (#168) weren’t quite as high on Simon, but both still had him as a Top 200 recruit, and I had him as the third-best player in the talented 2018 class.
Simon was an Army All-American following his prep career.
5. JACK LAMB, 2018
Recruited by: Clark Lea
Lamb ranked just behind Simon on my 2018 class rankings, and he ranked ahead of Simon according to Rivals, who ranked the California native as the nation’s #77 overall player. The only thing that kept Lamb ranked behind Simon on my board was the knee injury that cost him most of his senior season. Take that part of the grade out and Lamb would have ranked even higher than Simon.
Simon ranks ahead of Lamb because the national services had Simon ranked just ahead. Lamb was an incredibly long and rangy player for Temecula (Calif.) Great Oak. He was on the skinny side, but his athleticism was outstanding, his instincts were top notch and he covered so much ground. Lamb had a strong all-around game, showing the ability to play the run, rush the passer and effectively drop back into coverage.
Lamb was an Under Armour All-American.
*** The 2015 class had two more linebackers in consideration to be on this list. Asmar Bilal was ranked #87 nationally by Scout, #187 by 247Sports and #246 by Rivals, but he was unranked by ESPN and he wasn't as high on my board as other linebackers. Te'von Coney was ranked #118 by Rivals, #288 by 247Sports and #295 by ESPN, but Scout had him as a three-star.
*** 2011 signee Ben Councell ranked #91 nationally by Rivals and #97 by 247Sports, which made him a player to be considered for this list. He didn't make it because he was ranked as a three-star by Scout and an unranked four-star by ESPN. 2014 signee Doug Randolph is another player that had some high rankings, but he was also a three-star by Scout.
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