Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

February 9, 2017

You've heard it time and time again from me and from others: stars matter in recruiting.

This is fact. One look at Manti Te'o stuffing an inside run or Jaylon Smith running down the opposition like a cheetah does a gazelle should be evidence enough for Notre Dame fans to know it's true.

Still, some want to argue for the underdog. I get that. Rudy and Hoosiers are iconic sports movies for a reason. The ones that aren't expected to be stars and then become that make for great stories. Not everyone loves a 3 star recruit, but they love to say a 3 star is a "diamond in the rough".

Now here is where it flips for me. Some of them can be considered "diamonds in the rough" that I feel should be ranked higher. Maybe that's because some sites grade based on NFL standards. I don't do that. I write about Notre Dame and not the Chicago Bears. When I project players, I'm projecting to how I think they will play in college.

I also grade based on how I see they may fit into Notre Dame's scheme too. That matters just as much as stars because a 5 star can look nothing close to a 5 star if they are not a fit within the scheme. Former 5 star recruit Ishaq Williams is someone that I always felt was ill suited to be an outside linebacker in Bob Diaco's 3-4, but would have had a much better career if he was in a more traditional 4-3 in college. That's how someone like him can go from not starting a game in his three years of playing in blue and gold to being on the roster for the New York Giants.

As I was looking back at the grades for Notre Dame's class they just signed, 11 of the 21 were 4 stars based on the national average rankings. I actually gave 4 star grades (90 or better) to 5 other prospects in addition to the 11.

I wasn't alone on three of them. Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and Jordan Genmark Heath all were ranked as 4 star prospects by at least one other site. The two I went out on my own for were Michael Young and Drew White.

My friend Ian Boyd of Inside Texas and SB Nation wrote a piece last week talking about programs signing the right kind of 3 star recruits. It's a great read and lists some distinctions for 3 star prospects that fit in between the margins of what would normally make someone a 4 star. I always like to say that all 3 stars aren't alike. Some are much better than others and Ian does a nice job of talking about how some can be undervalued for different reasons.

I think all five 3 stars that I have ranked as 4 star prospects in the 2017 class are undervalued for different reasons. They aren't the same categories that Ian listed, but should hopefully explain to ISD readers why I have them ranked higher than most.

For Tagovailoa-Amosa, I think he is a perfect example of being from a region that consistently has players who are tougher to identify as top prospects. If he was from southern California, then there is no doubt in my mind his offer list and overall ranking would be much different. Lack of exposure was probably his biggest detractor and that shouldn't take away from a great first step, advanced hands, and an awesome motor.

JGH is from California, but he is also someone that is pretty new to the game of football. He checks all the boxes in terms of size, ball skills, and physicality. His best football is ahead of him and it's other intangibles like his love of the game that led me to project him above what others see him as.

It's pretty simple for JOK. He is undersized to play linebacker and is probably not a deep safety that can split the field. But the guy is darn good football player. He is a really good athlete that shows explosion as a blitzer and versatility in his overall skill set. I can see why he isn't a 4 star according to some. I think he is a 4 star prospect because he is a great scheme fit at Notre Dame as a Rover. For teams that don't have that kind of role, I think his value wouldn't be as great.

With Young, he is a high 3 star on most sites. That's pretty standard for most slot receiver types and for those that are his size. Those players are always undervalued in my opinion because the focus is what they can't do rather than where they win.

I think Young has the right kind of athleticism that should help him win quite a bit out of the slot for the Irish. His short shuttle time and vertical jump are comparable with the other elite slot receivers in this class. Those are two times I care about for his position and they are outstanding. Throw in the fact that he is a tenacious blocker and I see potential for him to make an impact out of the slot.

Lastly, White has been someone that I have been praising as a prospect for awhile. Is he the most physically gifted inside linebacker in the class? No, but his athleticism is much better than given credit for. He has elite instincts, is a physical finisher as a tackler, and has a knack for making big plays. Put him beside some others and compare them physically and he may not measure up. Put the film side by side and there aren't many who were as productive as him against the level of competition he faced.

Everyone wants 5 stars and that's what they should want. Those guys tend to be difference makers like Te'o and Smith were. But when you don't land those types of players and end up with some 3 stars, it's not as bad as some think it is as long as they are the right kind of 3 stars. They landed several of the right kind in the 2017 class that have a chance to do some really good things over the next four or five years.

2. Before anyone gets too excited, I am going to walk things back a little. No one should assume that someone is going to end up being Zack Martin or Tyler Eifert from the 2017 class or that someone will emerge to provide big plays like Will Fuller or CJ Prosise did. Those players are exceptions. They are called exceptional for a reason.

That is the biggest reason why I like the class, but don't love it. I'm not sure if there is an exception where someone who is a high 3 or low 4 star prospect will become a star at the next level. There is no second team all conference at Notre Dame. It's All-American or bust.

Earlier this week on Power Hour, we did pick some sleepers for the class. Matt chose Avery Davis and I really like that pick. I could see him becoming a great player one day, but obviously the competition at that spot is going to be stiff over the next few years. Who knows, maybe he can be the exception in this class. We'll have to wait and see.

Mike picked JGH as his sleeper and I selected White. I think both of us were excited about them as prospects before signing day, but Todd Lyght and Clark Lea probably swayed us even more with what they said about them last Wednesday.

“I think after meeting (Jordan), it’s just his love for the game," said Lyght. "The game being so new to him and his desire to learn more and more and to push himself. I think he is going to be a great fit here at Notre Dame and I’m really, really excited about him coming.”

Lea had similar praise for White.

“When I put (Drew's) highlight tape on, it took just a couple of clips before I knew he was special," Lea said. "I didn’t know him as a person, but I knew him as a player and was really excited about him. So when I got the job and knew I would be coaching him, I was fired up. Then as I got the chance to go down and meet he and his family in their home, it just further solidified my feelings that he is going to be a special player.

“He’s a good athlete. He has played on the fast track in Florida. He knows the type of skill and athleticism he is going to have to defend here because he has done it in high school. He’s a great tackler, great finisher. Has a knack for finding the ball at the line of scrimmage. All of the things we are going to look for in a box linebacker, he shows on tape. Combine that with an intellectual capacity, he is going to learn the defense fast. The sky is the limit.”

I know it was signing day and of course they are going to hand out praise to the new additions to the program, but things like JGH having the desire to learn and his love for the game and White having the intellectual capacity to learn the defense quickly are the kind of things that separate good players from great ones.

Four years from now we'll know exactly how good they are for Notre Dame, but if I had to pick who will be he next Eifert, Martin, or Fuller that surpasses expectations and becomes a star for the Irish, then I think I would feel pretty good about White or JGH being those guys.   

3. Notre Dame even being involved with players who have the potential to exceed projections only happens with the work put in initially by the recruiting/personnel department. Brian Kelly mentioned him during the press conference, but Dave Peloquin and the work he does is not talked about very often. He plays an important role in identifying recruits and I think he and the rest of his staff did a very good job identifying several good ones late in the process this past cycle.

We've mentioned on ISD and on Power Hour numerous times how they need more help in the personnel/recruiting department. They don't have enough bodies there and need to hire as many qualified and hungry people as possible to evaluate and help constantly add to the recruiting board. With the way they recruit nationally, they need more eye balls to find more players and close the gap between them and some other programs.

After signing day, Marla Ridenour from the Akron Beacon Journal wrote about Ohio State's personnel department and how things have progressed since their director of player personnel, Mark Pantoni, got there back in 2011. He spoke about how "the next wave is you're going to see it have more personnel specific departments like the NFL." That is where he see things going in college football with as many as 20 people cutting up film and helping evaluate players.

I felt it was and should be headed this way for awhile. I understand why Kelly would want FieldTurf or other coaches want facilities to be upgraded for the players lounge to lure recruits. But if it was me, all of that money into that kind of thing should be put on hold until they use the resources to build up the right sized personnel department.

If Notre Dame wants to gain an edge, this is the way to do it more quickly. Invest in the people who can help them recruit and evaluate better. And don't wait until everyone else has already done it. Chill on the other bells and whistles and put more money into building the foundation of the program by throwing money into personnel.

4. It was a pretty big surprise to find out that offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was leaving Alabama for the Atlanta Falcons. Steven Godfrey at SB Nation reported it was in the works for awhile after some disagreements about philosophy between Sark and Nick Saban. I can't ever recall someone being an OC for one game and then bolting so this makes more sense now after hearing about that.

Heading into his eleventh season at Alabama, the next OC will be Saban's sixth. Any other program with that kind of turnover would suggest dysfunction is on its way. Too much change and the foundation can start to crack. With Alabama, it's been business as usual.

Saban has had 22 different coaches on his staff since he started there. The one thing that has never changed is him. He stays and "The Process" keeps happening. It really hasn't mattered who is coaching with him, although he has had plenty of great assistants.

Alabama under Saban is going to stay Alabama. I don't think that will change. But as they head into a new season with four new coaches, it's going to be interesting to compare how they adjust to a staff overhaul that is similar to what is going on at Notre Dame.

The circumstances are clearly very different and the stability of Saban's standing with the program is the polar opposite of what is going on with Kelly, but change when things are going well is much different than when change is necessary because things are going bad.

Seeing how Alabama responds to this much change in one year, they've never had this many new staff since he's been there, is going to be interesting to watch.

5. Mike Elston mentioned on signing day that they found out about Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa when they saw him in the tunnel on a visit to USC. Some people were critical of it taking a fluke occurrence like that for him to be discovered by Notre Dame, but all that matters is that they found him and then signed him. They can worry about making sure they don't miss on someone like him the next time around.

I'm hoping that the staff is more proactive out west when it comes to defensive tackle this time cycle and they can get a good start on that by pursuing Tuli Legutligasenoa out of De La Salle (California) and Tommy Togiai out of Highland (Idaho).

Tuli is a big, powerful one tech with a good motor. He flashes strong hands and really bullies opponents when he gets his hands inside the frame of a defender. Togiai is from the same high school as Tristen Hoge and like Hoge is the rare national prospect from that region. He is more of a three technique that has some big potential as an interior rusher, but could also play one tech at the next level. The level of competition is not good, but his traits are. He's got a great first step, much like MTA.

The Irish only have five offers out to defensive tackle and have one commitment with Jayson Ademilola already on board. There is no guarantee that PJ Mustipher is going to join his brother so I think it would be a good idea for them to expand the board with a couple offers to two stud d-tackles out west.

6. One prospect that has blown up recently with offers is Trent Gordon out of Manvel, Texas. He's ranked as a cornerback on most sites, but this kid is going to be a deep safety at the next level. He has the ability to come downhill and punish as a tackler and shows great route recognition.

Whenever I see a safety who doesn't make plays on the football, alarm bells ring in my head. There were no such alarm bells with Gordon. He gets his hands on the football a lot.

I think he is ranked far too low in regards to his average ranking and I have him as a 4 star prospect. His offer list is reflective of that as well with LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma, Penn State, and Texas A&M all on board early in the process. Some other offers stand out too like Dartmouth, Duke, Northwestern, and Vanderbilt.

I can't say he is under the radar considering how many other programs are aware of him, but I can say he is undervalued. He is another example of the right kind of 3 star and one I hope to see Notre Dame offer in the near future.
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