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Notre Dame Football

Looking for Special Players Who Don't Specialize

June 24, 2020
2,626

82.

Out of 100 3-star recruits who were drafted from Power 5 programs in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft in the last five years, 82 of them were either multi-position athletes for their high school team or played multiple sports.

That’s more than a coincidence. That’s a trend.

With some players, it’s obvious that they project to be impact players at the college level. No one ever saw Jaylon Smith and thought he wasn’t going to be exceptional, which is why he was a no-brainer 5-star prospect. With others, it’s less obvious.

There are 3-star recruits who far surpass where they were projected to become in college. Looking back on it, though, maybe the recruiting industry (and many college coaches) should have looked at it from a different perspective.

There’s something to be said about a high school football player who doesn’t put his all into working at a single position. They may not be as sharp with technique, but have other traits they can bring over from playing other positions or other sports.

Julian Love was a perfect example for Notre Dame. He was a dynamic offensive player and a do-it-all defender who had 19 tackles for loss as a senior in high school. He developed into an All-American corner in college.

Defensive tackle Maleik Collins (3rd round, Las Vegas Raiders) was a state champion wrestler before playing at Nebraska. Stanford’s Harrison Phillips (3rd round, Buffalo Bills) was also a state champion wrestler.

Before Josh Allen (7th overall) was an elite pass rusher at Kentucky, he was an all-state receiver in New Jersey. Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons (8th overall) was utilized in many different areas on the football field and was also a state champion long jumper.

There are track guys who become explosive playmakers like Baylor’s Denzel Mims (200 meters state champion) and Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor (100 meter state champion). There are some standouts in track who become great corners as well like Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler (rushed for 1,901 yards and won a championship in long jump) and Colorado’s Isaiah Oliver (10.56 100 meters).

James Washington did just about everything (tennis, basketball, track, seven interceptions on defense) before becoming a deep threat at Oklahoma State. Deebo Samuel did everything in high school including picking the ball off 12 times on defense. Yet somehow, he was a 3-star recruit.

You get the point. These guys and others didn’t specialize, but it doesn’t mean they weren’t special and it probably should have been recognized.

In recent years, we’ve seen Notre Dame value the multi-position and multi-sport athlete in their evaluations more than they might have done in the past. Whether it was brought on by Mike Elko, Clark Lea, Brian Polian, or Bill Rees, it appeared to be more of an emphasis starting with the tail end of the 2017 recruiting cycle.

They brought in Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah at that time who played a hybrid safety on defense and was a star receiver on offense in addition to playing basketball. He’s developed into a heck of a linebacker for the Irish, but it took until his third year for him to break out.

Notre Dame has brought in several 3-star prospects who were multi-position or multi-sport athletes in subsequent classes. None of them have broken out yet, but we may see them do so this season.

TaRiq Bracy is entering year three at Notre Dame. He was an all-around star as a prep athlete (2,094 all-purpose yards, baseball) and is going to get an opportunity to start this season at cornerback. The only player who got his hands on the football more than him (seven pass breakups) last season was Kyle Hamilton.

Joe Wilkins Jr. (corner, receiver, basketball) will also be in his third season. His health held him back in 2019. More opportunities are going to be presented to him this fall. Ovie Oghoufo is looking to make his mark in the defensive line rotation after starring on both sides of the ball in high school.

Jack Kiser (quarterback, safety, track) and Marist Liufau (safety, receiver, edge rusher, track) were in the 2019 recruiting class. They were joined by Kendall Abdur-Rahman (quarterback, safety), who now is in his second year working as a receiver. Cam Hart (safety, corner, receiver) was another intriguing 3-star athlete who has already moved from offense to defense for the Irish.

We’ll see if any of them can develop into the kind of player Love was and JOK is for the Irish. None of them has come close to reaching their ceiling, which is exactly why Notre Dame wanted them. There is plenty of room for growth.

As for current targets in the 2021 class, receiver Andrel Anthony Jr.‍ (basketball, defensive back), receiver Christian Lewis‍ (basketball, track), safety Jaden Slocum‍ (receiver, state champion in 4X400), and cornerback Chance Tucker‍ (track, receiver) are all composite 3-star prospects that I have ranked as 4-stars for ISD. I didn’t rank them that way because they play multiple sports, but it certainly played a part in my evaluation.

Most programs have figured out that there is value in signing players who don’t specialize in only one position. Notre Dame certainly has. In addition to 4-star multi-sport athletes like Chase Claypool (basketball) and Cole Kmet (baseball), who developed into day two NFL Draft picks, they’d like to have more underrated prospects become difference-makers to help them get one step closer to the ultimate goal of a championship.

 
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