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What's Next At Cornerback For Notre Dame

A look at the present and future at cornerback after the commitment of Philip Riley from Notre Dame

Notre Dame had a secondary haul that SI All-American ranked as the third best in the country, but the group took a hit when Valrico (Fla.) Bloomingdale cornerback Philip Riley decommitted. It leaves the Fighting Irish in a tough spot, but there are reasons for optimism about Notre Dame’s present and future at cornerback.


Losing Riley certainly stings, as the four-star cornerback was ranked as the best secondary player in the 2021 class by SI All-American, Rivals, 247Sports and ESPN. My grade for Riley was on par with the other services, but where I differ is with 2021 commit Ryan Barnes, who I have ranked slightly ahead of Riley.

My high view of Barnes, however, does not lessen the sting of losing Riley. Having the combination of Barnes, Chance Tucker and Riley is certainly better than just having Barnes and Tucker. The duo of Barnes and Tucker is still a quality group, and both current commits have the traits to make an impact early in their careers should the need arise.

This decision by Riley did not come out of nowhere, and the Irish staff has been preparing for it for some time, and it was a factor in Notre Dame offering Indianapolis (Ind.) North Central athlete Theran Johnson.

Johnson, a Northwestern commit, received an offer from Notre Dame on September 15. His senior season has been incredibly impressive, and his combination of size and speed certainly stands out. Johnson also brings a different skillset to the cornerback position, so he would be an ideal complement to Barnes and Tucker.

Although he remains adamant that he is still solid with the Wildcats, the reality is he is taking calls from Notre Dame coaches, and I would not be surprised if the staff continues to develop a stronger and stronger bond with the talented in-state corner.

Notre Dame does not need another cornerback based on current roster numbers, but the cornerback position could still be needed to address the recent recruiting issues at safety. Should either Barnes or Riley, or one of the current freshmen need to move then there would be a greater need at the position.

Johnson is also a versatile athlete that could play cornerback or offense. Barnes and Tucker also have skills that could allow them to move to - and thrive at - safety if the need arose. At the end of the day, however, Johnson’s on-field speed is such that you just don’t pass on a player like him.


The reason why I say Notre Dame doesn’t have a “need” for another cornerback is the combination of Barnes and Tucker with the talent currently on the roster. Notre Dame signed a three-man cornerback class in 2020, although freshman Caleb Offord is a player that could be even better suited for safety down the road.

Freshman Clarence Lewis got his first career start in the win over South Florida, and he performed quite well. Classmate Ramon Henderson is raw but possesses elite speed for the position. The roster also has redshirt freshman Cam Hart, who is already in the mix at cornerback and is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential after moving over from wide receiver.

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The NCAA decision to grant an additional season of eligibility for every student-athlete in 2020 only enhances the depth chart. Lewis can claim a redshirt season even though he will be playing this season, and raw players like Henderson and Offord can also take an additional redshirt season while still having a redshirt remaining, which slows down their development clocks.

The 2020 class, the 2021 commits and the move of Hart to cornerback has helped solidify a position group that has just one cornerback on the roster (TaRiq Bracy) from the 2017 and 2018 classes.

Should Notre Dame keep Barnes and Tucker in the class, and add Johnson, it would give the Irish a very deep, athletic and diverse group of players at the position, and they’d all have a lot of eligibility remaining.


Having Riley, Barnes and Tucker in the class already allowed the Irish staff to get a very early start on 2022 cornerback recruiting. With Riley gone the staff will spend time focusing on Johnson, but they won’t have to slow down 2022 recruiting at all.

It is still very early with that class, and there really isn’t a player I can point to and say, “Yeah, they are definitely going to get that guy.” But position coach Mike Mickens has made a strong splash on the recruiting trail and he’s already hitting the 2022 class hard. He and the defensive staff will have to close, but the early board is outstanding.

Losing Barnes won’t slow down their charge on that charge one bit.


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