Linebacker is a very, very important position for Notre Dame in the 2022 class. After missing at the position in 2020 and landing just one linebacker in the 2021 class, the Irish need a 2022 class that is strong on talent and strong on numbers.
Notre Dame kicked off the 2022 class in impressive fashion, landing Grand Rapids (Mich.) Catholic Central standout Nolan Ziegler. The 6-4, 205-pound Ziegler plays a rover position in high school, and he could certainly begin his career there at Notre Dame. His frame and skills also give him the tools to eventually develop into an inside linebacker if the need arises.
The reason this is important for Notre Dame is his versatility means the Irish staff can just take the two best players they can get, and if that means another player is a rover type of athlete that works just fine because Ziegler projects just as well inside as he does outside.
I expect the offer board to continue to grow at the position, but there are already some outstanding prospects on the list. Below are some names you need to know as you look to what’s next at the position.
MUST GET PROSPECT
Sebastian Cheeks, 6-2, 205, Evanston (Ill.) High School
Rivals: 4-star - No. 97 overall
247S: 4-star - No. 138 overall
ESPN: 4-star - No. 245 overall
Comp.: 4-star - No. 151 overall
If there was a dream class scenario for Notre Dame, in my view it would involve Cheeks being the next linebacker to commit. Cheeks is an outstanding prospect, he’s local and Ziegler/Cheeks would be a strong complementary duo.
Cheeks lacks the ideal size teams tend to look for with an inside linebacker, being listed at 6-2 and 200 pounds, but great size isn’t a requirement for inside backers in the Irish defense, and Cheeks should have no problem getting to 220 pounds by the time he’s in college.
Remember, Notre Dame’s starting Mike linebacker in 2019 - Drew White - is listed at just 6-0 and 227 pounds. Cheeks has superior length and has the frame to match that kind of girth.
What allows Cheeks to overcome his lack of size is excellent athleticism, top-level instincts and impressive natural power for his size. The power will only increase as his body matures and he starts to fill out. His foot quickness is excellent, his closing speed on the football is top-notch and his ability to get skinny and get through small windows makes him an impact player in the box.
Cheeks makes a lot of plays at or behind the line in the run game and he shows good timing as a blitzer. What you’ll also see on his film is a young player that shows a high football IQ and a strong feel for making plays in coverage. That all-around ability is exactly what Notre Dame wants and needs at inside linebacker.
Cheeks is a must-get for Notre Dame in the 2022 class.
Joshua Burnham, 6-3, 205, Traverse City (Mich.) Central
247S: 4-star - No. 84 overall
ESPN: 4-star - No. 156 overall
Rivals: 4-star - No. 186 overall
Comp.: 4-star - No. 129 overall
Burnham is one of my favorite linebackers in the 2022 class. He’s a consensus Top 200 player, and there is plenty of room for him to continue developing as a player. Burnham is listed between 200 and 2005 pounds, but he has a great frame at linebacker. He has long arms, broad shoulders and a big frame. I could see him easily growing into a 230-pound player and maintain his athleticism.
Burnham is a standout on both sides of the ball, and the Traverse City Central star is an athletic defender. He's range, shows impressive foot quickness and he's fluid and smooth. Burnham gets downhill quickly, shows impressive in the box range and he's a quality pass defender.
I see his game projecting best at the Mike linebacker position, but like most linebackers that Notre Dame recruits, Burnham has positional flexibility inside.
Robby Snelling, 6-3, 205, Reno (Nev.) McQueen
Comp.: 4-star - No. 285 nationally
Snelling and Ziegler are comparable prospects. Both are long, both are athletic, both are rangy players and both have positional versatility. While Ziegler is more of an outside-in player, Snelling is a bit more of an inside-out prospect.
Snelling is also a two-sport standout that is currently committed to Stanford to play baseball, but now he’s getting a lot more attention for football. Notre Dame, of course, has had plenty of success with football-baseball players over the last two decades.
If Snelling sticks with football in college he’ll likely fill out quite a bit and get to at least 225 pounds. When that happens his linebacker game will explode. He’s already a rangy prospect, but he packs quite the punch when he arrives at the ball. When his size and weight room strength catches up his physical tools will really take off.
Snelling is an instinctive player that makes quick reads, is efficient, and shows prowess as an in-the-box run defender, a coverage player and he’s a really good blitzer off the edge. I really like his game as a Mike linebacker in Notre Dame's defense, but his skills also project quite well to the Buck linebacker spot.
Two more names to know are Salisbury (N.C.) High School linebacker Jalon Walker and Baltimore (Md.) St. Frances standout Jaishawn Barham. Both are Top 100 recruits, and both have Notre Dame offers. The Irish seem to be an early contender for Barham, but he's very, very early in his recruitment. Walker is a talented player as well, but right now the Irish are more on the outside looking in, but he's worth keeping an eye on.
Tevarua Tafiti, 6-3, 205, Honolulu (Hawaii) Punahou
Rivals: 4-star - No. 187 overall
ESPN: 4-star - No. 232 overall
247S: 4-star - No. 241 overall
Comp.: 4-star - No. 224 overall
Tafiti is a top target, of that there is no doubt, but he's a wildcard for linebacker because a case could be made that by the time his high school career is over his game and body might be better suited for the Vyper/drop end position.
Tafiti has a high-level of interest in Notre Dame early on, and both Clark Lea and Nick Lezynski are heavily involved with him already. Notre Dame should be a major player in his recruitment, and right now it looks like the staff likes him at linebacker, but will that change as his body continues to fill out?
Tafiti certainly has linebacker dimensions right now, but he's quite long and has the kind of frame that could result in him really blowing up physically over the next two years. When you watch his film, Tafiti does a lot of work off the edge, and he's a highly effective pass rusher.
He's mobile and athletic enough to play inside as well, and that's why he deserves mention on this list.
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