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Thomas: Three priority recruits Notre Dame must land for 2022 class

| Friday, November 5, 2021

Notre Dame recently hauled in a commitment from Drayk Bowen, a five-star linebacker recruit from the Class of 2023. He joined Brenan Vernon (2023 DL) and Jaylen Sneed (2022 LB) as the third five-star commitment for Notre Dame since defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman joined the ranks of the Irish coaching staff. Freeman has Notre Dame in line for one of their best-ever classes, currently sitting fifth in the 2022 rankings. And it’s not just Freeman putting in the work. Despite recent struggles to retain wide receivers on their roster, the Irish still have a couple of premium recruits coming in at the position. C.J. Williams, out of high school football powerhouse Mater Dei, and Tobias Merriweather, are Notre Dame’s top two offensive recruits, ranking 10th and 18th overall at wide receiver. 

The recruiting is borderline elite. With some better player development, The Irish seem to be a step away from being a serious national championship challenger in the coming years. With that being said, here are three players the Irish could land in this highly ranked 2022 class to really push them over the edge. 

Xavier Nwankpa, Safety

If I’m the Irish coaching staff, this is my absolute top priority right now. The secondary is a clear question mark in the 2022 class. Jaden Mickey, a four-star prospect, serves as the top recruit at cornerback, but the Irish could use more. At safety, Notre Dame is currently getting a taste of life without Kyle Hamilton.

The first challenge did not go particularly well, giving up 34 points, albeit against a dangerous quarterback in Sam Howell of UNC. Hamilton is off to the NFL Draft (as close to a certainty as any player could get), and the Irish’s depth chart at the position after Hamilton is questionable. Seniors Houston Griffith and D.J. Brown are the next two options, and they’re not locks for the 2022 roster at this point. One does not simply replace Kyle Hamilton, but upgrades and depth are needed at the safety position, and quickly. 

Nwankpa is the type of prospect Notre Dame could sorely use to really elevate their 2022 class. At 6’2, 190 pounds, Nwankpa’s close to an ideal build for safeties at the collegiate level. He’s one of the top players at the position in the class, and adding a five-star to a depleted secondary would be massive for the Irish. However, it’s an uphill battle to land him. As of now, Iowa and Ohio State look to be ahead of the Irish in recruiting. Never say never though, as Notre Dame has a little over a month left to swing Nwankpa. If they can surge past the Buckeyes and his home-state Hawkeyes, this would be as big a win as any Notre Dame has scored in recent years. 

Billy Schrauth, Offensive Line

Notre Dame could honestly use their sudden offensive line improvement as a huge recruiting chip in the coming year. They took a struggling line, adjusted the playbook to help them succeed, and inserted the correct players when needed. All of this, while overcoming several injuries, has ultimately produced a high-performing unit. The Irish have a few solid tackles in their incoming class, but they’ve got their eyes set on more, with interior offensive lineman Billy Schrauth being a potential key addition.

Schrauth is from Wisconsin, and the Fighting Irish will have to fend off the Badgers in his recruitment, but they’ve put themselves in a good position. Notre Dame is the Crystal Ball favorite, with Wisconsin also receiving a few predictions (Ohio State has also been a factor in the recruiting process). Schrauth stands at 6’5” and is currently 285 pounds. Pack on another 20 pounds in Notre Dame’s superb strength and conditioning program, and Schrauth looks like a mainstay in the middle of the offensive line. Landing Schrauth is offensive priority No. 1. 

Anthony Lucas, Edge

Lucas is Notre Dame’s best chance at an upgrade at the defensive end position. The Arizona prospect is a fringe five-star prospect with no current Crystal Ball prediction. At 6’6”, 220 pounds, Lucas is a terror for opposing blockers and quarterbacks. Quite frankly, Notre Dame hasn’t really had the same kind of edge pressure as 2020 following the departure of Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Much of the quarterback pressure generated by the Irish has come from blitzing safeties and linebackers up the middle. It has also featured a strong effort from interior linemen like Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa. 

To land Lucas, the Irish are going to have to beat out some strong SEC competition. Rivals currently projects Lucas to go to Texas A&M, where he visited twice this fall. Lucas did visit Notre Dame this summer, but he also saw Alabama and Miami as well. Those four schools, plus USC, Oregon, and LSU made Lucas’s top 7 list, released in August. The Irish also did get Lucas out to South Bend for a game day, hosting the priority prospect during the USC night game, an atmosphere that Lucas looked impressed with. 

However, this one is a tough battle, and Notre Dame is going to need to pull out all the stops to secure a commitment from Lucas. If they do, this 2022 class could go down as something special. 

Maybe even, say a 1988 type of special?

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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