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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

January 26, 2023
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I wish I was better at self-promotion, but it’s the kind of thing that makes me uncomfortable. I think if you’re one of those people who needs to tell others that “I know ball”, you probably don’t know it as well as you think you do.

That’s why I always feel a bit weird about tooting my own horn with certain things because I don’t want to come off condescending or pretend like I know everything. I definitely don’t. I’m always learning more about the game and each year I’m working to get better.

That’s my prelude to sharing how the ISD Fab 50 compares to the rankings of the national recruiting services. I wanted to write about this because as much as this is a fun exercise to learn from for me and for ISD readers to see how I did, this is also something that I hope to use to promote the work I do on the Fab 50 each year.

Some of you may be reading this and wondering what the ISD Fab 50 is. It’s my ranking of the top-50 prospects in a recruiting cycle that I started doing when ISD moved over to the F5 platform. I started doing it in 2017, but that was a different version where I only ranked players with Notre Dame offers. The version that I do now is where I rank the players regardless if they were offered by the Irish or not. That started in 2018.

The idea behind it is that Notre Dame fans can look at it and see how I rank Notre Dame recruits compared to the top players in the country. I know that they can look at where 247Sports, Rivals, or ESPN (and now On3) rank the players as well, but for longtime ISD subscribers, they know that I also grade/rank recruits and I think that most respect my opinions on the players the Irish offer.

One thing I want to do each year is look at how my rankings on the Fab 50 look like compared to those other sites. Now that we’re at a point where most of the 2018 class is no longer going to be playing college football in 2023, it feels like a good time for this to start.

I broke it down into four categories to measure the results of everyone’s top-50 from the 2018 recruiting cycle.

The categories are:

1) players who became first round picks 2) players drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft 3) total number of NFL Draft picks and 4) all-conference players or players projected to be picked by NFL teams this year

If a player fits into any of these categories, they are a hit. If a player doesn’t fit into these categories, they are a miss.

There are definitely players who were multi-year starters who were decent players in college, but if we’re talking about a top-50 prospect, there’s frankly more expected of them than just being a solid starter for their program.

The 2018 Fab 50

What’s a good hit rate? It’s difficult to say an exact number, but anything over 50% is pretty good. That may sound surprising to some. It’s a reality in recruiting evaluations or the NFL Draft. No one comes close to batting 1.000.

In addition to some players just not being as good as projected, there’s also injuries, off the field issues, and other factors that can turn a top ranked recruit into a miss.

Okay, that’s enough background information. Let’s get into the results. (A reminder that On3 didn’t exist back then so you won’t see them in here for that reason)

247Sports

7 first round picks

13 in the first three rounds

20 NFL Draft picks

5 more who were either all-conference players or are projected to be drafted in this year’s NFL Draft

Total number of hits: 25 out of 50

Note: a massive hit with Ja’marr Chase that no one else had, but not as many hits as I expected from them.

Rivals

5 first round picks

10 in the first three rounds

19 total draft picks

3 more players are either projected to be drafted or were all-conference selections

22 hits out of 50

Note: I can’t say I’m surprised by seeing them being this low. They routinely have the most rankings for top players that leave me scratching my head. Then again, maybe this was an off-year.

ESPN

5 first round picks

13 in the first three rounds

20 total draft picks

7 more guys who are either projected to be drafted or were all-conference selections

27 hits out of 50

Note: Are you surprised that ESPN had more hits than 247 and Rivals? I’m not because they tend to be worse with the lower ranked guys than the top ones.

247Sports composite

6 first round picks

11 in the first three rounds

21 total draft picks

6 more players who are either projected to be drafted this year or were all-conference selections

27 hits out of 50

Note: this shows the value of the composite rankings. It was a 54% hit rate for the industry composite rankings. That’s better than 247 and Rivals did on their own.

ISD

7 first round picks

15 in the first three rounds

22 NFL draft picks

5 all-conference players or those projected to be picked by NFL teams this year

27 hits out of 50

Note: I was the only one to have Penei Sewell (first round pick) and Matt Corral (third round) in my top-50.

I tied for the most first round picks, I had the most day one or day two picks, currently have the most NFL Draft picks up to this point, and I’m even with ESPN and the composite for highest overall hit rate (54%).

I feel pretty darn good about that.

Maybe it will be another story when we look at the 2019 Fab 50 a year from now, but I’m one guy doing this as opposed to a team of people from these other sites. Of course I want to do better than 54% and I’m sure those sites want to do better too. I also want everyone who reads ISD to know that I put a lot of time into it in addition to what I do covering Notre Dame’s team and this hopefully shows anyone who might have dismissed the Fab 50 as not being as consequential as those other sites that it is something worth checking out.

For anyone who missed it, I posted the final 2023 ISD Fab 50 yesterday. I look forward to looking back five years from now to see how it turns out.

2. There’s always going to be evaluations you want to have back. There are many who were consensus amongst the industry from the ‘18 cycle that people would like to pretend didn’t happen.

(JT Daniels? Isn’t he that old kid? Never heard of him.)

For me personally, two players I went out on a limb on had red flags that I chose to overlook and now wish I didn’t. I’m talking about former Notre Dame players and then eventual transfers Phil Jurkovec and Derrik Allen.

With Jurkovec, I thought he had it all. He was a multi-sport star. A dual-threat with a big arm, he was one of those guys who was identified early as an elite prospect. He also led his team to an undefeated state championship and was putting up prolific numbers for his high school.

I considered it a blip when ISD’s Matt Freeman and I saw him have a horrible day throwing the ball at The Opening regional in Cleveland. He looked like one of the worst quarterbacks on the field that day, but I didn’t want to react to one camp.

When he struggled again at the All-American game and was mediocre in practices, I again shrugged it off because I was in love with all the other things I saw from him.

Whoops. I wish I had that one back. It turns out when the lights got brighter, he got worse. Even without his immaturity off the field, I still overrated his ability.

Allen was a case where even though I felt he was a man without a true position, I thought he could develop into the type of hybrid defender that was perfect for Notre Dame’s Rover. I didn’t think it would be immediate, but I thought it woudl eventually happen. 

He had the size, receiver ball skills, and physicality that I thought would translate well to Notre Dame’s defense.

There were two things he lacked that I didn’t account for enough with him. He wasn’t twitchy enough and didn’t have the instincts (something that future Butkus winner Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah had in spades). Oh, he also thought he was a safety.

With this stuff, you have to own your mistakes or else you risk making the same ones again and again. I wish I had those ones back.

3. Georgia just won back-to-back national championships and they did it with superior talent. From 2018-2022, they signed 34 players who I had ranked in the ISD Fab 50. They just signed seven more in this recent class. They aren’t slowing down or getting worse any time soon.

Not all of them have hit and not all of them stayed at Georgia, but when you sign that many, your hit rate doesn’t have to be all that spectacular. They can have transfers (Justin Fields, Brenton Cox, Jalen Kimber, etc) or players not turn out to be stars (Dominick Blaylock) and it still works out because they have Jalen Carter, Nakobe Dean, Nolan Smith, Quay Walker, and others end up as studs.

Alabama just signed nine from the Fab 50. They signed 31 from ‘18 to ‘22. There are plenty of whiffs in those 31 (Trey Sanders, Ishmael Sopsher, etc), but then there’s Bryce Young, Evan Neal, Patrick Surtain, and others so they end up more than fine.

Notre Dame just signed one in this class and 11 from ‘18 to ‘22. When that number is smaller, it hurts more when a Houston Griffith doesn’t end up becoming an impact player. They need more Fab 50 players like Michael Mayer and Kyle Hamilton.

Notre Dame has certainly found some players who were outstanding in college who weren’t anywhere close to being ranked in the top-50 by anybody as recruits (Joe Alt, Julian Love, and Owusu-Koramoah are at the top of the list). Those guys hit less frequently than the top-50 level recruits, though. I know most people understand that so I’m not breaking news by any means, but sometimes it’s just good to lay it out there so people can see the teams that ND is chasing sign three times as many top-50 players and therefore have a lot less consequences when those recruits “miss”.

4. Here’s one thing that struck me when looking at the last couple of years for the Fab 50: out of those 100 players, Notre Dame was a contender for roughly 17 of them. That’s not enough.

The one argument might be that they’ll never get involved with many more than that because they don’t have collectives playing the NIL game like some of these other programs. With some players, that will be the case.

Not all, though. If it was all about that, more of these kids who would have gone to Miami and Oregon would have signed a few more of the players that Alabama and Georgia did.

One thing you can give Notre Dame credit for is identifying some big time prospects before they blow up as recruits. Brandyn Hillman‍ is one example. I’m going to apologize in advance for mentioning him considering how it worked out, but the Irish were in on Keon Keeley‍ very early when he wasn’t one of the top prospects in the class. It’s an L in the recruitment, but a win with the evaluation.

In order to get in the game with an eventual 5-star prospect from Florida, Notre Dame has to get involved early. They can’t swoop in with the offer and then get that kid on campus a week later after that player has already blown up.

If I had all of the answers for how Notre Dame can be contenders for more top-50 recruits where it doesn’t involve NIL in a major way, then I would have shared them a long time ago. All I know is that that number would be a lot better for them if they were in it with closer to double the amount they have been contenders for recently.

5. That sort of leads into 2024 recruiting.

I’m not close to putting out my first Fab 50 for that cycle yet, but I feel very strongly that CJ Carr‍ and Cam Williams‍ will both make the cut. That’s a nice start.

It’s too early for me to say who else they’ll be contenders for that will be top-50ish prospects, but one thing to remember is that many of these early rankings are going to change quite a bit.

Oklahoma signee Adepoju Adebawore‍ ws a 3-star a year ago. He’ll end the cycle as one of the top rated players in the country. Alabama signee Yhonzae Pierre‍ was a low 4-star a year ago. I have him 9th in the final Fab 50.

I’m excited to dive into ‘24 evaluations fully now that I’ve wrapped up ‘23. It’s always fun to watch the film and realize that this player’s ranking is not going to stay this low for very long. Some of those guys may end up being the next Kyle Hamilton.

6. The position rankings of these NFL Draft experts don’t say it all in terms of talent on a college football team, but they do say something.

For Notre Dame, that something is probably “Hmm, that’s not ideal”.

Out of the eligible players from Notre Dame for this spring’s NFL Draft, only three are ranked in the top-15 at each position for The Athletic’s Dane Brugler’s rankings. They are, unsurprisingly, the players who elected to stay in school rather than enter the NFL Draft last year. That would be Michael Mayer (#1 tight end), Isaiah Foskey (#7 edge), and Jarrett Patterson (#11 interior offensive lineman). They’re the only ones ranked in Mel Kiper Jr.’s top players at each position as well.

I’m sure if I went and looked at most of the NFL Draft media’s position rankings, it would be the same for just about everyone. Like I said, it doesn’t say it all about Notre Dame’s team. They beat the brakes off of Clemson and they have five on Brugler’s rankings.

From the College Football Playoff teams this past season, Ohio State has seven, Michigan has six, TCU has six, and Georgia has nine. That says something.

The Irish had six players drafted after the 2018 CFP season. They had eight after the 2020 CFP season. For every question that gets asked about Notre Dame being a playoff contender for Power Hour or Hit & Hustle, the better question might be how many draft picks do we think Notre Dame is going to have in 2024?

My answer today is probably not enough.

There’s Sam Hartman, Cam Hart, likely Joe Alt, and just about everyone else who could be draft eligible will depend on the type of season they have. My answer eleven months from now could be a lot different.

So, can Notre Dame make the CFP in 2023? Of course they can, but so much will depend on things like Kaleb Smith having a big year, Howard Cross and/or Rylie Mills having productive seasons, maybe Logan Diggs or Audric Estime having the type of season that has them contemplating leaving early, and other young players looking like they are going to be serious prospects for the 2025 NFL Draft.

It all starts with recruiting. Five of the nine Georgia players listed by Brugler were in the Fab 50 as recruits. That doesn’t hurt and eight of nine were blue-chips (4 or 5-stars).

College football players can rise up draft boards just like recruits can rise up the rankings. Notre Dame needs some risers this season to get to where they want to be.

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