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The Commitments: Running Backs

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[A few days ago, a commenter mentioned how little talk there was about wide receiver Chris Brown, a freakishly good athlete that’s joining the Notre Dame recruiting class from South Carolina to little fanfare. Consider these columns a response to a very good comment.]

In the next six days, the recruiting rollercoaster will surely rumble down the tracks one last time, with twists and turns we already know are coming, yet somehow surprise and amaze us every time. For Notre Dame, we’ve already taken a look at who’s left on the board, with the Irish still in the running for almost half a dozen of the top 100 players in the country.

But while most the attention in the media stays focused on those players still openly considering multiple schools, the Irish coaching staff hasn’t forgotten about the fourteen verbal commitments that plan on faxing their letters-of-intent into the Gug on Wednesday morning. While we’ll certainly recap the names when they become official next Wednesday (more info to come on what will be a crazy, sleep-deprived day), here’s a quick look back at what the Irish have done with this recruiting class, and what it means for the football program.

RUNNING BACK

With the depth chart down to Cierre Wood, George Atkinson, Cam McDaniel, and an injured Cam Roberson‘s future unclear, landing two running backs was a priority for Notre Dame. The Irish cast a fairly wide net, offering around a dozen potential running backs that fit two distinct criteria: powerful one-cut runners, and dual-threat backs that can also split out wide.

While the Irish got official visits from blue-chip prospects like Keith Marshall (who eventually committed to Georgia) and Byron Marshall (who will be in Eugene next season), they also landed two of their top targets, running backs that are perfect complementary parts in the 2012 recruiting class.

KEIVARAE RUSSELL
High School: Mariner High — Everett, Washington
Measureables: Six-foot, 175-pounds
Other major offers: USC, Washington, Stanford, Cal, UCLA, Oregon, Boise State
Fun Fact: Class president at Mariner High.
On choosing Notre Dame: “Once you get a degree from Notre Dame, you’re pretty much set for life. My goals are bigger. I’ll have a chance to go to the NFL. At Notre Dame, you get your degree in 3½ years. And when I graduate – it’s money.”
What he’ll bring to the offense: The ability to make plays in space. Whether or not Theo Riddick stays at running back, Russell will have an opportunity to see the field either in the backfield or the slot. He’s not the biggest of prospects, but he’s an electric open field player, something the Irish clearly missed last year, and will miss even more without Michael Floyd.

WILLIAM MAHONE
High School: Austintown Fitch — Youngstown, Ohio
Measureables: Five-foot-eleven, 210-pounds
Other major offers: Penn State, Tennessee, Pitt, Iowa, Michigan State, West Virginia
Fun Fact: Chuck Martin told him his jumper looks like Ray Allen’s. Be the judge yourself.
On choosing Notre Dame: “They graduate I think 98, maybe it was 99 percent of their players,” Mahone told Irish Illustrated. “After talking with the academic advisors and everything, I felt I could definitely succeed there and there would be no problem getting all the help I need, but I’ll definitely be buckling down and getting my studies done.”
What he’ll bring to the offense: He’s not as physically imposing as Jonas Gray was coming out of high school, but Mahone fits the mold close enough, and shows good power and vision. If Russell has the opportunity to play out on the edge of the offense, Mahone looks like a great fit in the backfield, making one cut and getting up field, which he did incredibly well in high school.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.