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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

February 22, 2024
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Even though Notre Dame has averaged double digit wins per season since 2017, they haven’t been immune from dealing with roster issues during recent years. Under Marcus Freeman they have done well to address these issues as a whole, but he did inherit a precarious situation at receiver in 2022.

It says everything you need to know that they brought in three receivers in the transfer portal this offseason just to fill in some gaps at the position. 

Recruiting the position seems to be difficult for every program these days. There are high transfer rates and plenty of poor evaluations by coaching staffs and recruiting sites. Go look at the top-10 receivers in the composite rankings in recent classes to see how frequently players who are considered elite prospects end up as busts. There’s been more misses than hits with the supposed cream of the crop in the 2018-2021 classes.

I highlighted this in a comment to 6 Thoughts a couple of weeks ago, but in case you missed it, eight of the top-40 receivers in the composite rankings have already transferred from the 2023 recruiting cycle (20%). 50% of the top-40 from the 2022 class have already transferred.

That doesn’t mean all of them will be misses, but they aren’t hitting for the programs who originally signed them.

All of this is true with blue-chip receiver recruits, but that doesn’t stop the need to sign them. It’s important for Notre Dame, mostly because they haven’t had much luck at all when it comes to finding diamonds in the rough at the position.

From 2013-2020, the Irish signed 11 receivers who were ranked as 3-star recruits. Four of those players ended up moving positions. Seven of them ended up transferring.

Out of that group, the only NFL player at receiver is Jalen Guyton and he ended up transferring. Three of the four who changed positions ended up being very good players for Notre Dame (Cam Hart, James Onwualu, and Xavier Watts), but outside of Avery Davis and Chris Tyree (both 4-stars), they haven’t found success with moving players from other positions to receiver.

It’s not like the Irish were lights out with identification and development of the 4-stars they signed over that same time period, but Will Fuller, Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool, and Equanimeous St. Brown became NFL Draft picks with those players leading the team in receiving for six straight seasons. Kevin Austin and Javon McKinley followed that group up in leading the team in receiving yards and they were 4-star prospects as well.

Knowing that, I don’t know how anyone can blame fans for questioning how they are recruiting at the position so far this cycle. Though I think their two commitments in the 2025 class, Elijah Burress‍ and Shaun Terry II‍, could very well end up as composite 4-stars, they aren’t at the moment. Jerome Bettis Jr.‍ is another who they are likely to add to the class soon and he’s also a 3-star prospect.

Cincinnati had success with lower ranked receiver recruits who were developed into NFL Draft picks. Maybe receivers coach Mike Brown and the staff can do the same at Notre Dame. They’ll need to develop regardless of ranking and it would be helpful if they landed a couple more blue-chips at the position before the end of the cycle.

Teams don’t win national championships without championship skill talent. That means at least one day one or day two picks (first to third round) at the receiver or tight end position. Every single team who won a title in the College Football Playoff era had at least one on their roster and that includes Michigan. Their leading receiver Roman Wilson is projected as a day two pick. (Tight end Colston Loveland should be a high pick in 2025 as well)

Notre Dame has had only five day one or two picks at those positions. If we include this year, with no one projected, that will be five in nine NFL Drafts.

They need it to be more of an annual thing, which is why each class they sign at receiver should ultimately be judged by if at least one of the receivers they sign ends up blossoming into that type of player at Notre Dame.

2. It’s important to note that most of these receivers who are considered top prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft were not close to 5-stars.

Unsurprisingly most of them were 4-star recruits, but there wasn’t any single player who could have been considered anywhere near “can’t-miss”.

In The NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah’s latest mock draft, he had six wide receivers taken in the first round and all of them were composite blue-chip recruits. In The Athletic’s Dane Brugler’s top-100 prospects, he has 17 receivers ranked. Six were not blue-chips, but three of them were players who transferred up to better programs.

Florida State’s Keon Coleman was ranked 377th in the composite rankings. Texas’ Adonai Mitchell was 383rd. USC’s Brenden Rice was 336th. Michigan’s Roman Wilson was 354th. LSU’s Malik Nabers was 251st. Washington’s Rome Odunze was 221st. LSU’s Brian Thomas Jr. was 89th. (I did have Thomas in the 2021 ISD Fab 50 and no other site had him as a top-50 prospect).

The highest ranked receivers were Xavier Worthy (62nd), Troy Franklin (41st), and Jalen McMillan (67th). Even Marvin Harrison Jr., considered by some to be the best receiver prospect in over a decade, was only 97th.

Ladd McConkey, Malachi Corley, Tez Walker, Ricky Pearsall, Ja’lynn Polk, and Xavier Legette are the ones who were not blue-chips.

Most of the players I listed wouldn’t have generated a ton of excitement if they signed with Notre Dame based on their rankings. I don’t recall Fuller (279th), Boykin (194th), or Claypool (171st) causing people to do back flips either, yet they were the three highest drafted and best receivers the Irish have had in the last decade.

It’s something to keep in mind when people get upset about not signing a 5-star or top-100 receiver. It’s better if the are blue-chips, but they don’t have to be ranked that high to develop into elite college receivers.

3. So, we can move on to the more important question at this moment.

Does Notre Dame have a day one or day two pick at receiver/tight end on their 2024 roster?

At receiver, the answer is no. At least it is today. It doesn’t mean that can’t change, but they aren’t heading into the spring with any thoughts of that being the case.

The answer is maybe at tight end. It could end up being the case with Mitchell Evans or even Eli Raridon. I wouldn’t count out him having a Cole Kmet in 2019 type of breakout season.

The fact that they have a couple of real possibilities at tight end and not any obvious ones at receiver at the moment backs up why there is so much anxiety about receiver recruiting.

4. I still feel confident Notre Dame’s passing game will be better than it was last season because the receivers will be better overall and the scheme will be better. I also believe that the Irish have a lot of untapped receiving potential with their running backs.

Jeremiyah Love is at the top of that list for me and the fact that he forced eight missed tackles on only seven catches is further evidence that they should try to get him the ball in space more often as a sophomore. PFF had him second on the team in missed tackles forced as a receiver behind Mitchell Evans (10).

Kyren Williams had the sixth most MFTs on receptions for any FBS running backs with 14 in 2021. That was on 42 catches.

What Love did with those limited opportunities was exceptional. Imagine what he can with more.

5. I had written something earlier on the CFP deciding on the inevitable choice to move 5+7 rather than 6+6, but had to scrap that with things already appearing to move in a different direction.

We may only get two seasons of the 12-team playoff because they are already talking about 14 or 16 for 2026.

While it does seem incredibly stupid to jump to more teams before we even get a glimpse of what 12 looks like, it wasn’t surprising to me as soon as I saw that they were discussing automatic-bids for conferences. There is no way that that isn’t being driven by the Big Ten and SEC because they have all of the power in these negotiations along with Notre Dame.

They drive television ratings. There were 30 games during the regular season that had five million or more viewers in college football in 2023. Notre Dame along with teams who are in the B1G or SEC in 2024 were involved in 27 of them. (Notre Dame had four total)

The three games that had other teams who weren’t were two early season Colorado games, back when people were believing the Deion hype, and Florida State-Clemson.

The Big Ten, the SEC, and Notre Dame dominate the television ratings in the college football regular season. That’s a fact.

They also have better teams. Out of the top-20 in F+ (combined FEI and SP+ rankings) at the end of last season, four were not in those conferences (Kansas State, Florida State, Arizona, and Oregon State). Five others (Washington, Oregon, USC, Texas, Oklahoma) others have now joined the B1G and SEC. 

Out of the top-16 ranked by the CFP committee at the end of the regular season last year, 13 of them will be in the B1G or SEC this fall or play their home games in Notre Dame Stadium. If we’re talking top-12, FSU was the only exception to not make it 12 for 12 for the SEC and B1G.

They bring in the highest ratings and after adding who they’ve added, they have just about all of best teams. What exactly are the other conferences bringing to the table in terms of bargaining power?

There is no way that the big two conferences aren’t driving further CFP expansion because their two and three-loss teams will have proven more than everyone else’s one-loss teams. Expanding only ensures that they will get more teams in with those automatic-bids and therefore make more money than everyone else.

The other conferences can’t do much about it either. They can’t make it too contentious because if they don’t agree to what the true power conferences want, it’s one step closer to them deciding to break off and not even bother to include them.

I don’t think I could make a real argument as to whether or not expanding the field again will be better or worse. I just know why they are doing it and it has everything to do with it being the Power 2 (and Notre Dame).

6. If they get to 16, it means they won’t give out any byes for teams.

That will be the end of conference championship games. No one will want to play a 13th game when there is no incentive for playing in that game.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The SEC didn’t start playing one until 1992. Everybody else just followed suit. It was also driven by money. This just shifts that money to home playoff games for two SEC programs.

I’m one of many who think that this will all inevitably leading to a super league. There’s too much money involved and the haves already don’t want to share with the have-nots. And if more bids for the Big Ten and SEC do become a part of the next iteration of the CFP, how they end up deciding who finishes fourth in the Power 2 could become a big problem unless they are able to establish a fair scheduling agreement between every team in those conferences.

It does all seem like it will only get messier over time and when everything does break off, I’m not sure the Big Ten or SEC will exist in a separate entity. What that means for programs like Northwestern or Rutgers or Vanderbilt, I don’t know. They compete in the big leagues, but they might as well be the Oakland A’s.

I know most Notre Dame fans don’t want to see the Irish join the Big Ten. The good news is that they probably won’t have to. It will be them joining a college football version of the AFC or NFC instead.

I guess that could be seen as even worse for some (many? most?), but at least Notre Dame will still be included unlike most of these programs who are happy to agree to almost anything just to stay involved with the real power brokers of college football.

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