Recruiting: Notre Dame Must Go After Nation's Elite
You’ve heard the line. Go big or go home. It’s time Notre Dame took that mantra with recruiting. With the way the class of 2021 begun, it’s clear that the Irish struck recruiting gold. The Irish already landed seven players that were coveted by many of the nation’s top college football programs. To get into the top five of the national recruiting rankings, Notre Dame will need to continue the trend of landing great players all the way through national signing day.
Most prospects will not decide before their junior season concludes, unlike the prospects like elite talent and Notre Dame commitment Blake Fisher, OL, 6-6, 340, Avon (Ind.). That’s where Notre Dame must evaluate the risk of waiting until the last moment for elite talent and possibly not signing anyone at a given position, or accept a commitment from a good player but not a truly elite talent.
Every recruitment is different. Therefore, there’s no blueprint. Enter at your own risk. For every recruit the Irish signed that many thought would end up elsewhere like Aaron Taylor in 1990, Bobby Taylor in 1992, Jeff Faine in 1999, Justin Tuck in 2001, Stephon Tuitt in 2011, Will Fuller in 2013, Daelin Hayes in 2016, or even Kyle Hamilton in 2019, there have been far more misses for Notre Dame.
The 1995 class alone included misses of Jevon Kearse and James Jackson, two future NFL players. Not to mention some guy named Randy Moss. He might have helped too. Just a little.
More recently, the 2020 class included misses like Jalen McMillan, WR, 6-2, 182, Fresno (Calif.) San Joaquin Memorial to Washington, and simply passing on Kyle Edwards, RB, 6-0, 210, Destrehan (La.) before he signed with Alabama. There are others that could have signed with Notre Dame as well. The point is adding just a couple of really good players can dramatically change Notre Dame’s recruiting fortunes.
With that, Notre Dame already orchestrated seven early commitments for 2021. This creates a huge advantage. The Irish coaching staff can focus on its core group of recruits throughout spring. More than likely several of those recruits will wait it out and make their decision this fall or into December and January. That’s where it gets interesting.
Many factors come into play. When will each of the prospects in question most likely decide? The difference between a mid-October decision and a January decision is gigantic. What if a top-of-the-board player like Rocco Spindler, OL, 6-5, 285, Clarkston (Mich.) wants to decide in early January at one of the All-Star games? Most, if not all, of Notre Dame’s other offensive line options will have already decided. As a rule, offensive linemen commit earlier.
With the Irish wanting to join the truly elite group of college football programs, the decision may be easier than one thinks. The Irish need to roll the dice. Notre Dame is not beating Alabama or Clemson with just good talent. First round draft picks win playoff games more often than not.
Many first round draft picks play the infamous ‘hat game’ on television and select a school. Notre Dame is going to need to win a few of those recruiting battles to reach the top five of recruiting for 2021, and begin to close the roster talent gap with the likes of Clemson, LSU, Alabama and Ohio State.
Notre Dame is not far off from reaching elite status, but one position needs to be addressed with elite talent. That position would be cornerback.
Signing an Elite Cornerback Should be Priority No. 1
The Irish will have numbers at cornerback this fall, but very little experience beyond projected starters TaRiq Bracy and Shaun Crawford. Thus, Notre Dame needs to sign at least one bonafide elite talent that can come in and compete for a spot on the two-deep from day one, if not a starting spot. That’s easier said than done.
That’s what programs like LSU and Clemson do, so if Notre Dame wants to compete with them they need to sign recruits like them. Think about how much adding Julian Love to the 2019 team would have done to Notre Dame. Unfortunately for the Irish, he turned pro a year early. At schools like LSU and Clemson, those loses don’t hurt as much because they recruit cornerback at a much higher level than Notre Dame. That’s just a fact that needs to change for the Irish to consistently compete for a playoff run.
Notre Dame needs a big-play cornerback. That’s where recruiting history is not friendly to Notre Dame, but it has improved in recent years.
Notre Dame struggles to recruit cornerback more than any other position. It’s always been a struggle. Grades, distance from home, and many other issues (some self-inflicted) hurt Notre Dame over the years. The class of 2021 is a little different, however.
Notre Dame does not need numbers at cornerback, it needs to sign at least one playmaker. Signing two would be better. There’s one clear name to start things off, but more will emerge throughout spring.
Jakailin Johnson, CB, 6-0, 170, St. Louis (Mo.) De Smet Jesuit would be that player. Ohio State appears to be the biggest competition. Maybe he makes an early decision, but if not, Notre Dame must go all-in. He’s a great prospect and one that it’s worth taking the risk of waiting until the eleventh hour to hear his final decision. He’s a pure cover corner and one that could compete early.
From what I’ve learned about some of the top cornerback prospects for the Irish, a few other names to remember include Daylan Carnell, CB/S, 6-1, Indianapolis (Ind.) Ben Davis, Ceyair Wright, CB, 6-1, 175, Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola, and Ishmael Ibraheem, CB, 6-1, 175, Dallas (Texas) Kimball. The next couple of months will be key.
Hopefully Notre Dame can get these young men on campus for official visits this spring. Further, hopefully these same players make decisions prior to the beginning of the football season. If not, again, Notre Dame needs to go to the wire and wait on the big names. The Irish need elite cornerbacks.
Make no mistake, Notre Dame is really targeting athletic and long cornerbacks coveted by the nation’s elite. It’s probably the most sought after player -- the long and rangy cornerback -- for any school because of college football’s focus on the spread offense and big wide receivers.
Ibraheem’s offer list alone includes Alabama, Texas, Texas A&M, Georgia, and LSU. If those schools want a cornerback, Notre Dame would do well to sign that prospect.
For Notre Dame, much of how the 2021 class will be rated will come down to elite players, and that starts with cornerback. The Irish could help themselves with an age-old tactic.
Save at Least Two Scholarships
Notre Dame could hold a couple of scholarships until the bitter end. Notre Dame has done this during past classes, but this could be viewed a little differently this year. It’s slightly more position specific.
Save those scholarships are for a few of the best players regardless of position. Florida State used to use this strategy, and many other programs as well. It’s okay to load up on top talent even if it means stacking at a particular position.
Maybe Notre Dame lands a commitment from a major talent at running back like Will Shipley, 5-11, 198, Matthews (N.C.) Weddington. Still, hard to pass on another great running back target like Donovan Edwards, RB, 5-11, 195, West Bloomfield (Mich.) if he wants to join the Irish.
Those are the decisions that Notre Dame needs to start thinking about now. The recruiting timeline has been accelerated dramatically. Notre Dame could be sitting with 10, maybe even 14 commitments by the end of May.
Will Notre Dame be willing to truly go all-in for elite players that want to take all of their visits and decide in January? That’s not the approach Notre Dame took with the class of 2020. It was certainly a very good class, but that does not mean it’s likely to work out that well again. While cornerback could be the best example of a tough spot for Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and his coaching staff, that situation could play out at any one position.
Notre Dame just needs to land a couple more elite players. The sure-fire studs that can help the Irish at critical points in a game. The Irish talent level is very close to top five, but it still needs more playmakers.
Cornerback is first on the list, but adding playmakers across the board is a priority for 2021. How will Notre Dame strategize its recruiting plan if a handful of its top prospects push back their decisions until January?
Will the Irish go all-in and wait? This is what makes recruiting intriguing. Time will tell.