Plamondon: ND starts slow, finishes with depth
Brian Plamondon | Thursday, February 4, 2016
When Notre Dame opened the 2015 season against Texas on Sept. 5, its recruiting class sat at a mediocre 27th place in Rivals’ Team Rankings, behind the likes of Kentucky, Texas Tech and Duke.
At that time, the top committed players to the Irish were two four-stars in offensive lineman Tommy Kraemer and receiver Chase Claypool — two great players in their own right, but not prospects to hang your hat on as the big gems of the class.
“I think the fact that Notre Dame lost four coaches, they took a lot of steps back on the recruiting trail,” Blue and Gold Illustrated’s Andrew Ivins told The Observer in September. “ … Right now, it might not be the most star-studded class, but at the end of the day … this staff has proven they can flip kids down the stretch.”
Fast-forward five months, and Irish head coach Brian Kelly has put together his deepest recruiting class to date, if not his most impressive.
What has been key for Notre Dame is the level of talent Kelly has doggedly pursued throughout the season. Of the eight players who have committed since the start of the season, five are four-star talents and one, linebacker Daelin Hayes, is rated as a five-star talent per Rivals. For comparison, take Brian Kelly’s 2014 class: Although nine players signed with Notre Dame between September and Signing Day, only two were ranked as four-star prospects. This year, Kelly has closed harder than ever before.
Critics can argue Kelly’s 2013 haul was stronger, and it might be. But that class had the benefit of Notre Dame’s national championship game appearance that season. Three of that class’s four five-star recruits — running back Greg Bryant, defensive back Max Redfield and defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes — all pledged to the Irish after they had locked up their spot in Miami.
What makes this class so special, however, is the momentum Kelly has had on the recruiting trail. Notre Dame has had a player decommit in every class since Kelly arrived on campus, oftentimes late in the process and thus deflating. Last year it was four-star safety Prentice McKinney backing off his pledge in late January. The year before saw early-enrollee five-star inside linebacker Alex Anzalone snub the Irish days before he was expected on campus, while 2012’s saga was four-star receiver Deontay Greenberry spurning the Irish on signing day in favor of Houston.
This year, no player who has committed to Notre Dame has decommitted from the Irish.
Conversely, Notre Dame has flipped seven recruits of its own. Kelly has been able to take advantage of instability at USC and Virginia Tech to flip Hayes and defensive back Troy Pride Jr., respectively. Equally impressive was Notre Dame’s ability to flip four-star defensive end Khalid Kareem from Alabama. Sure, Notre Dame has flipped recruits in years past, but never the caliber of player they have this cycle.
Perhaps the single most impressive thing about the 2016 recruiting haul is the depth it brings across the board. Troubles in the secondary the last few years? Seven defensive backs will sign. 2015’s top three receivers leaving? Three new ones will join the fold, with a potential to add another when five-star talent Demetris Robertson decides in the next couple of weeks. Attrition at linebacker? Three highly recruited linebackers will join the fold, with four-star defensive end Julian Okwara looking to take on a hybrid role on defense as well.
Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class might not have the most stars or flashiest playmakers, but it should be viewed as one of Kelly’s best efforts. As Kelly likes to say, he’s found RKGs — the Right Kind of Guys.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.