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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

February 1, 2024
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I always preach that recruiting rankings are a marathon, not a sprint.

Well, the race is over. All of the rankings are in and how players in the 2024 cycle are ranked at this moment is how they’ll always be ranked going forward. That includes the ISD Fab 50, which I’ve been compiling in this format since 2018.

There are four Notre Dame signees who made the cut: Bryce Young‍, CJ Carr‍, Cam Williams‍, and Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa‍. That’s more for Notre Dame than any of the other six times I’ve done this.

Three recruits also made the composite top-50 rankings as well (five made the top-100). That’s more than Notre Dame has had in any recruiting class since 2013.

It’s not just significant that it’s the most the Irish have signed in 11 years. From 2017 to 2022, Notre Dame signed three total players who were composite top-50 prospects. This one class matched the last six classes that were Brian Kelly recruited.

The fact that Notre Dame did sign more top tier prospects this cycle is being a bit glossed over in my opinion.

Maybe it’s because this isn’t a top-five class overall. Maybe it’s because someone like Young leapt up the rankings since they all signed back in December. Maybe it’s because headliners like Williams and Carr have been committed so long that they don’t feel like the shiny new toy for a lot of fans.

Maybe it’s because the pace of recruiting doesn’t give anyone much time to celebrate stuff like this. Notre Dame already has 14 players committed in the 2025 class and had a recent Junior Day with several key targets on campus. A lot of people have moved on to the next class because college football programs have shifted most of their focus to it months ago.

This result should be acknowledged, though. It’s what most fans have been hoping for. Marcus Freeman and his staff won’t have to just point to signing a higher percentage of blue-chips (4 and 5-stars). They just signed the most top-50 prospects Notre Dame has signed in over a decade.

And they might just mess around and one-up themselves in this next class by the time the 2025 recruiting marathon is completed.

2. There have been 37 defensive linemen who I’ve ranked in the ISD Fab 50 over the last three recruiting cycles. Out of that group, 21 of them played 100+ snaps as true freshmen. (10 played 200+)

56.8% is a majority, but not an overwhelming one. However, things look a lot different when taking a closer look at the 16 who didn’t play 100+ snaps.

14 of 16 either went to Alabama, UGA, or were part of that loaded 2022 A&M D-line class. That certainly changed how I viewed the 16. Both Alabama and Georgia are loaded with elite talent on the defensive line, so if a freshman were to crack the D-line rotation, he’d have to be exceptional. As for that A&M class, they had five D-linemen in that Fab 50. All five of them weren’t going to be immediate factors because there are only so many snaps to go around.

Take those three groups off the table and it’s suddenly 21 of 23 (13 of 15 if you take out the ones who played from Alabama, UGA, and A&M in ‘22). It’s very likely that a top-50 defensive lineman is going to be in the rotation or at least be on the fringe of it as a true freshman.

That preamble is there to set the expectation for Young this season at Notre Dame.

The Irish should be good on the defensive line, but they certainly can’t match the kind of draft-eligible talent Georgia and Alabama have had up front in recent seasons. There will be an opportunity for Young to get into the mix at defensive end behind RJ Oben. Based on his raw talent, the expectation should be that he will be competing to be a rotation player this fall as a true freshman.

3. Speaking of top-50 prospects that signed with Notre Dame, this is a massive spring for Jaylen Sneed. A composite 5-star as a recruit, he was in the 2022 Fab 50.

Both starters at inside linebacker for Notre Dame last season are at the Reese’s Senior Bowl. Jack Kiser played the third most snaps at linebacker and right behind him was Sneed. The logical progression for him would be to become a starter in 2024, but I don’t see a lot of people projecting that heading into the spring.

There’s more buzz about Drayk Bowen, Jaiden Ausberry, or KVA as an early enrollee than there is about Sneed being an every down starter. That’s partially because a large portion of Sneed’s snaps came as a 3rd down pass rusher and because he failed to make much of an impression in the base defense.

Sneed has a lot of growth he needs to display in order to be a starter, but he’s a freaky athlete and found a role on 3rd down for a reason. He should be the top candidate to take over the role Marist Liufau played on 3rd down.

The path is open for him. Far more open than it was for Prince Kollie last spring and Sneed has established himself in a role more than Kollie did.

The first piece of improvemet ffor Sneed is playing more under control as a tackler. He had the highest missed tackle percentage on the defense last season. The next piece is to develop a better feel as a pass rusher. He can be explosive off the edge and flashes dynamic ability as a blitzer, but hasn’t advanced further than that.

The time is now for him to establish himself as the playmaker everyone wanted him to be when he signed with the Irish. I think people were hoping he’d have a big spring last year. Now he needs to have a big spring. 

4. Five years ago I wrote about Notre Dame being a high end development program. In hindsight it was good timing because they just signed a recruiting class which would end up producing a handful of lower ranked players who would become multi-year starters and likely NFL Draft picks.

Marist Liufau, Cam Hart, and JD Bertrand are currently at the Reese’s Senior Bowl. Howard Cross returned to Notre Dame after being a second team All-American. They didn’t arrive with the same fanfare as Kyle Hamilton or Isaiah Foskey. They developed into important players for Notre Dame and NFL prospects.

That 2019 class for the Irish could have as many as eight NFL Draft picks when all is said and done. That doesn’t happen without the development from players who aren’t the highest ranked in the class. Landing those top guys in this cycle is important, but the class will be judged overall by how well the staff did with evaluations and development from the players who weren’t as highly ranked.

What role is Teddy Rezac‍ going to grow into? He’s a really good athlete, but his future will likely depend on how much he fills out his frame over the next few years. The same could be said for Loghan Thomas‍ as an edge rusher. He has the twitchy athletic traits, but it’s going to be a process for him. It’s the long term potential that makes him an intriguing prospect and we’ll see if he can be like Julian Okwara, another skinny edge prospect that eventually developed into something great for Notre Dame.

There are several players in the class Notre Dame just signed who aren’t ranked in the top-300 of the composite that I could easily see ending up like the three at the Senior Bowl or maybe even becoming the next Joe Alt, Ben Morrison, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, or Julian Love. They’ll need some of those players to develop into studs in order for the class to be remembered as a great one down the line.

5. It’s hard to say what number would be a satisfying one when it comes to a class producing future NFL Draft picks.

The second ranked class Charlie Weis signed in 2008 only produced six. The much less heralded one he signed a year later produced seven and that class was ranked 14th. That’s seven only out of 18 total players! 

From 2010 to 2015, no class Notre Dame signed had more than five future NFL picks. It went to a different level in 2016 with nine and that class was only ranked 15th.

That’s not the only factor when evaluating a class later on. The 2015 class had five NFL picks, but that doesn’t include Josh Adams, Te’von Coney, Shaun Crawford, Asmar Bilal, or Justin Yoon. It’s not as simple as just saying X amount of picks equals a great class.

The current standard is the nine future NFL picks Notre Dame signed in ‘16, which was a class that also featured undrafted players like Tony Jones Jr., Jamir Jones, Tommy Kraemer, Javon McKinley, Jalen Elliott, and (sigh) Kevin Stepherson. That’s the class in which all future classes should be judged.

Nine draft picks is the bar at the moment and close to that is very good. We’ll eventually see where Marcus Freeman’s classes end up comparing and if they can set a new bar.

6. In last week’s ISD Intel, my man Christian McCollum had the very important note that Notre Dame is trending towards taking significantly less players in the transfer portal in the next offseason. The primary reason for that being that they are counting on these high school players they have evaluated and signed under Freeman to develop.

With that in mind, there should be less immediate needs on the roster. That leads into the always relevant question: how many players should they sign in their 2025 recruit class?

That number always feels fluid, but when looking at certain positions, it’s instructive to look at not only what you might lose, but who they are most likely to have transfer out of the program.

I’m not talking about specific names. I’m talking about specific positions.

The most likely to transfer are skill position players. That’s not speculation. That’s a fact and it’s backed up by this statistical analysis Bud Davis did back in 2022 looking at the total transfers from 2016 to 2021.

Quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers lead the way out of all the positions for all of college football. Notre Dame has felt it at those positions the most as well.

From 2016-2021 they signed nine running backs. Six ended up transferring. Over that same time they signed 18 receivers. 11 of them have transferred. They’ve already had three transfers from the 2022 and 2023 classes as well. (This isn’t even counting the players who decommitted at the position)

It’s difficult to land quality in the transfer portal on the offensive line and for that reason, I think it’s a smart decision to always oversign at the position if the quality is there. So if Notre Dame is able to land Will Black‍, Owen Strebig‍, Jack Lange‍, and Matty Augustine‍ in the 2025 class, they should take all of them.

While there is a bit more quality to be had on the defensive line in the portal (Javontae Jean-Baptiste and RJ Oben are two examples of that), it’s a position where development can take longer and more players see the field in the rotation. It’s smart business to never turn down a good defensive linemen who wants to commit. It's a spot where it’s fine to oversign as well.

Receiver and running back are different. Transfers have been an issue for Notre Dame and have been an issue for just about everyone. That’s why the emphasis should always be on signing as many receivers and backs as possible. Whatever the number is the staff thinks they should add at receiver, add at least one more to that total.

They have to be prepared to go over the planned number every year in recruiting. If they don’t, then the plan to take less players in the portal isn’t something they’ll be able to follow through with very often.

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