Notre Dame 2022 Commits Big Board: Defense

Breaking down and ranking the Notre Dame commits on defense in the 2022 class
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Notre Dame has been solid the last two seasons when it comes to defensive recruiting, which means the 2022 needs to be a step up year for the Irish coaches. Notre Dame needs to land impact prospects on all three levels of the defense.

Below is the Irish Breakdown analysis, grades and rankings for all of the Notre Dame commits on defense. As more prospects join the class they will be added to this board. 

NOTRE DAME COMMITS - DEFENSE

1) Tyson Ford, DE, 6-5, 260, St. Louis (Mo.) Burroughs
2A) Josh Burnham, LB, 6-4, 215, Traverse City (Mich.) Central
2B) Aiden Gobaira, DE, 6-6, 230, Chantilly (Va.) High School 
4) Niuafe Tuihalamaka, LB, 6-2, 230, Mission Hills (Calif.) Bishop Alemany
5) Jaden Mickey, CB, 5-11, 175, Corona (Calif.) Centennial
6) Nolan Ziegler, LB, 6-4, 205, Grand Rapids (Mich.) Catholic Central
7) Darren Agu, DE, 6-6, 230, Rabun Gap (Ga.) Nacoochee
8) Donovan Hinish, DT, 6-2, 270, Pittsburgh (Pa.) Central Catholic

Analysis of each 2022 defensive commit:

1) TYSON FORD, DEFENSIVE END

Height: 6-5
Weight: 260

IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 100 caliber player)
Upside Grade: 5.0

Rivals: 4-star - No. 70 overall - No. 6 strongside end
ESPN: 4-star - No. 153 overall - No. 16 defensive end
247Sports: 4-star - No. 191 overall - No. defensive lineman
Composite: 4-star - No. 123 overall - No. 18 defensive lineman

Junior Highlights
Tyson Ford Film Breakdown

Ford has all the tools you want in a strongside end, and I believe he is a pure power end. He has tremendous size, impressive natural power and he has the combination of tools to eventually be a dominant run defender and pass rusher. Getting a player with the tools to do both is rare, and an absolute must for an elite defensive lineman.

Ford already has good size at 6-5 and 250 pounds, and his length is impressive. He has plenty of room to reshape his body, and he should take off in the Matt Balis strength program. His frame is such that he could easily get to 265-270 pounds and get even more explosive. He is an aggressive player that shows an edge at times that I like, and that you need to be a dominant run defender.

The Burroughs standout shows an impressive burst off the line, especially for a player that weighs 250 pounds. At times he comes off the line too high, but it is correctable and he does show the ability to bend when he keeps his pads low. His block destruction technique needs work, which isn't a surprise for such a young player, but he has fast and powerful hands, and he's hard to block at the prep level. When he does use his hands correctly he destroys high school linemen.

He's an agile athlete that displays the occasional impressive spin move to get off blocks. As his technique improves you'll see his ability to get after the quarterback take off. He is able to disrupt the passer now based mostly on raw talent, but as a junior his repertoire started to enhanced, and his game improved tremendously. With even more work he projects to be an impact power rusher.

2A) JOSH BURNHAM, LINEBACKER

Height: 6-4
Weight: 215

IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 100 caliber player)
Upside Grade: 5.0

247Sports: 4-star - No. 85 overall - No. 8 linebacker
Rivals: 4-star - No. 141 overall - No. 5 inside linebacker
ESPN: 4-star - No. 167 overall - No. 20 outside linebacker
Composite: 4-star - No. 114 overall - No. 8 outside linebacker

Junior Highlights

Film Analysis: The first thing that jumps out about Burnham is his frame and length. Listed between 6-3 and 6-4, and 215 pounds, Burnham possesses an excellent frame that will allow him to fill out quite a bit. Right now I project Burnham as an inside linebacker, and while I don't see it happening, it wouldn't shock me if he outgrew linebacker and ended up coming off the edge.

Beyond a great frame, Burnham possesses elite length, which is evident on the football field and the basketball court. Burnham is an impressive athlete, showing off impressive foot quickness, easy change of direction skills and top-notch burst. Not only does Burnham have very good long speed, his short-area burst and closing speed is outstanding.

Right now he doesn't know how to use that length as a weapon, and that is the one thing that drags down his grade a bit, at least his current grade. Burnham is still a bit of a raw prospect from a technical standpoint. He must improve his footwork at linebacker and also enhance his block destruction inside. At this point he's just getting by on tools and God-given ability, and his technical game is hindered by the fact he plays so many different positions (he plays quarterback, running back and even some wide receiver).

Burnham is already a highly productive two-way player in high school, but he's far from being a technician as a player. Once his technical game catches up to his physical tools the Traverse City Central athlete will become a truly dominant defensive player. He's just scratching the surface of what he can become, and if your focus is on his upside (and it should be) there aren't many better linebackers in the country.

2B) AIDEN GOBAIRA, DEFENSIVE END

Height: 6-6
Weight: 230

IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 100 caliber player)
Upside Grade: 5.0

247Sports: 4-star - No. 148 overall - No. 22 defensive lineman
Rivals: 3-star - No. 28 weakside end
ESPN: 3-star - No. 36 defensive end
Composite: 4-star - No. 292 overall - No. 39 defensive lineman

Junior Highlights

Gobaira has a tremendous frame, checking in at 6-6 and 230 pounds. He was thin as a sophomore, but he started growing into his impressive film as a junior. Gobaira filled out his upper body and his lower body was stronger and filled out more.

The best part is that even though Gobaira is now every bit of 230 pounds, he still has plenty of room to keep growing and filling out while also adding explosiveness. Gobaira has the kind of frame to get to at least 250 pounds. As a junior the Chantilly end showed a big jump in power, both with his lower body explosiveness and his punch.

Gobaira shows an advanced feel for using his top-notch length to keep blockers off his body, and that also took a huge jump as a junior. His ability to lock defenders out is already excellent, and as he adds more weight room strength and size to his frame those tools should allow him to develop into an elite run defender.

Gobaira has an excellent burst off the line for such a long athlete. He explodes off the line and eats up offensive tackles, but his ability to quickly change direction gave him an expanded pass rush repertoire this spring, and made Gobaira all but unblockable as a junior, especially in the pass game. According to 247Sports he finished with 63 tackles, 26 tackles for loss and 15 sacks as a junior. 

4) NIUAFE TUIHALAMAKA, LINEBACKER

Height: 6-2
Weight: 230

IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 100 caliber player)
Upside Grade: 4.5

ESPN: 4-star - No. 95 overall - No. 1 ILB
247Sports: 4-star - No. 120 overall - No. 13 linebacker
Rivals: 4-star - No. 144 overall - No. 5 ILB
Composite: 4-star - No. 108 overall - No. 11 linebacker

Sophomore Highlights

Tuihalamaka is a physically advanced player that checked in at 6-2 and over 230 pounds as a sophomore. He has no need to add weight, and moving forward it will just be about reshaping his body, adding more weight room strength and adding explosiveness.

As expected, Tuihalamaka is a powerful young defender with a thick, strong lower half, which allows him to arrive at the football with force. His length and natural punch allows him to dismiss blockers with ease and makes him a strong tackler. As his block destruction technique continues to improve his ability to dominate the run game should become elite.

What wasn't expected, however, was how nimble Tuihalamaka is, and how effectively he's able to fit his big body through thin run lanes. He's not a fast athlete from a pure speed standpoint, but he's agile, far more fluid than I expected and he has impressive short-area quickness and explosiveness. When you combine that with his high-level instincts, Tuihalamaka is able to cover a lot of ground and get to the football in a hurry. It's impressive how effectively he times up blitzes and run stunts, and his decision making and instincts against the run are special. In that regards he reminds me a great deal of former Irish star Manti Te'o.

The other surprising part of his game was how effectively he gets depth in coverage, and how well he reads routes and makes plays on the ball when playing zone. Tuihalamaka is a strong blitzer inside, and he has traits that should allow him to be an effective edge rusher, which adds versatility to his game.

5) JADEN MICKEY, CORNERBACK

Height: 5-11
Weight: 175

IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 150 caliber prospect)
Upside Grade: 4.5

247Sports: 4-star - No. 184 overall - No. 23 cornerback
ESPN: 4-star - No. 264 overall - No. 26 cornerback
Rivals: 4-star - No. 35 cornerback
Composite: 4-star - No. 227 overall - No. 26 cornerback

Junior Highlights

Film Analysis: Mickey had an outstanding junior season, and the result was a jump in grade and ranking on my board. The Centennial standout is a quick-footed and fluid athlete, but as a junior he filled out his frame and showed more speed, which made him an even more impactful player.

Mickey is a smart football player with excellent instincts, something he showed as a sophomore and junior. He thrived in zone coverage as a sophomore due to his intelligence and quickness, but as a junior he was even better in man coverage. That jump was a due to continued maturity from a technique standpoint, but Mickey was stronger, longer and he showed a jump in speed.

The 5-11 cornerback has always been a tough player that was willing to mix it up, but as a junior the aforementioned improved strength made him far more effective in press coverage, and he was also able to re-route more effectively. He always showed the ability to read routes and mirror wideouts, but his improved strength and speed resulted in his coverage grade taking a big jump.

My two knocks on Mickey as a sophomore was his lack of size and speed, but he went a long way towards answering those questions as a junior. Those traits allowed Mickey to be even more productive on the ball as a junior, and projects to be a top-notch run defender at the next level. I mentioned in evaluations prior to his junior season that he had tools to eventually be a Top 100 caliber player, and he took big steps to becoming that player this spring.

6) NOLAN ZIEGLER, LINEBACKER

Height: 6-4
Weight: 205

IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 200 caliber player)
Upside Grade: 4.5

Rivals: 4-star - No. 20 athlete
247Sports: 4-star - No. 34 linebacker
ESPN: 4-star - No. 36 outside linebacker
Composite: 4-star - No. 316 overall - No. 35 linebacker

Junior Highlights

Film Analysis: When Ziegler first committed to Notre Dame I saw a player on film that was raw, but also one that was athletic, had a great frame and one that had a lot of upside. As a junior, Ziegler started to turn that upside and potential into even greater production and impressive play.

The first thing that stands out about Ziegler is his combination of length and athleticism. He's listed between 6-3 to 6-4, and he has very long arms, plus the kind of frame that should allow him to add plenty of weight. He's a tough young defender that shows impressive natural pop, but as one would expect of a junior that weighs 205 pounds, there is still plenty of work needed from a strength and size standpoint.

Ziegler is an impressive athlete. He's fluid and shows easy change of direction skills, but he can also explode downhill when he needs to do so. His balance is impressive, and his short-area quickness combines well with his long speed to make him an incredibly rangy defender on the second level.

Ziegler is physical and more than willing to mix it up as a defender and a blocker on offense. His length and strong hands allow him to keep blockers off his body, and he showed off impressive run game instincts as a junior. He needs technique work in coverage and he must show better route recognition, but he has the length and athleticism to become a dominant pass defender as a linebacker.

There is versatility to his game as well, as Ziegler shows traits that fit perfectly at rover, but he also has the frame, pop and instincts that would allow him to thrive as an inside linebacker as well.

7) DARREN AGU, DEFENSIVE END

Height: 6-6
Weight: 230

IB Grade: 4.0 (Top 250 caliber player)
Upside Grade: 5.0

247Sports: 3-star - No. 21 edge
Rivals: 3-star - No. 27 athlete
ESPN: 3-star - No. 14 tight end
Composite: 3-star - No. 463 overall - No. 26 edge

Junior Highlights

Agu is exactly the kind of defensive end that line coach Mike Elston covets. He's listed at 6-6, but beyond that he has incredibly long arms. Agu is listed between 225 and 235 pounds, but he has a long, lean, muscular body that will hold plenty of weight.

On film you see Agu play all over the defense, something you don't often see from a 6-6, 230-pound athlete. He'll line up as a standup edge and rush the passer, he'll put his hand in the ground and be physical in the run game, he plays off-ball linebacker and he'll line up in space and cover. What's even more impressive is that Agu looks just as comfortable in space as he does playing with his hand in the ground.

Agu must clean up his technique and become more consistent, but there are a lot of snaps where he shows a great burst off the edge, the kind that could lead to him being a top-notch edge rusher. The England native also shows quick feet and easy change of direction traits, which allows him to be as versatile as he shows.

You also see Agu showing extremely fast and strong hands, which combines well with his elite length to give him the potential to be a great block destructor. He shows a natural feel for it already, and with even more technique work Agu will be incredibly difficult to handle as both a pass rusher and run defender. He shows a good motor on game film and his closing speed is outstanding.

His combination of length, athleticism and experience on offense makes it very hard to ignore the comparisons of Agu to current Notre Dame junior Isaiah Foskey, who was also a standout high school tight end. Like Foskey, Agu is woefully underrated right now, and once he gets into college his rare traits give him a chance to one day develop into a special player on the edge at the Vyper position.

8) DONOVAN HINISH, DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Height: 6-2
Weight: 270

IB Grade: 3.5 (Top 400 caliber player)
Upside Grade: 4.0

Rivals: 3-star - No. 33 defensive tackle
247Sports: 3-star - No. 70 defensive lineman
Composite: 3-star - No. 480 overall - No. 71 defensive lineman

Junior Highlights

Hinish is the younger brother of current Notre Dame veteran nose guard Kurt Hinish, and it is spooky how similar their games are. Kurt was a bit bigger and stronger while Donovan is the better athlete on film.

The younger Hinish has an impressive first step and he gets off the line quickly. He is a penetrator that consistently plays with good pad level. Combine those traits with his naturally low build and it allows Hinish to consistently win the leverage battle. His motor and ability to find the ball are the final traits that allow him to make a lot of plays up the middle.

Hinish is on the shorter side from a length standpoint, and that hinders his block destruction at times. It doesn't hurt him much at the high school level, but it could become problematic at the next level. His brother had a similar problem early in his career but eventually was able to use his leverage, motor, quickness and strength to make plays. Donovan will need to learn to do the same thing.

Marcus Freeman's defensive philosophy is more aggressive up front than was the previous scheme, which should fit the younger Hinish's game even better.

GRADE KEY

5.0 - Elite player
4.5 - All-American caliber player
4.0 - Multi-year starter
3.5 - Key role player / Late career-starter
3.0 - Backup

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