Jun 5, 2012, 4:21 PM EDT
Jaylon Smith‘s commitment over the weekend gave the 2013 recruiting class it’s proverbial crown jewel. More importantly, it puts the Irish on a pretty impressive trajectory as it heads into a time of year where recruits start to buckle down and narrow their lists.
For the Irish, sitting at 13 commitments after a season where just about everyone thought Notre Dame took a step backwards is a pretty impressive feat. To land a guy like Smith — one of the elite athletes in the country and also a must-have recruit in the Irish’s backyard — was essential, and will only go towards helping get other top flight players into South Bend.
In the momentum game of recruiting, the best want to play with the best. Malik Zaire‘s inclusion in Elite 11, along with the Irish’s signing of Gunner Kiel last cycle, should keep skill position recruits’ eyes open. Smith’s work on other defenders, whether it’s linebacker Alex Anzalone or cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, won’t hurt either.
With a staggering eight months until Signing Day, let’s take a look at where this recruiting class is and where it’s likely headed:
THE OFFENSIVE LINE: The Irish have already locked down their offensive line class, one of the biggest needs in the class of ’13. While guard John Montelus has moved to the top of the Rivals totem pole, Steve Elmer, Mike McGlinchey, Hunter Bivin and Colin McGovern can all stake a legitimate claim for being a national prospect, and one of the top 100 to 250 players in the country.
CORNERBACK: Even the biggest naysayers couldn’t have anticipated what happened with last year’s cornerback class. After the defection of Ronald Darby, the disappearance of Tee Shepard, the academic pitfalls of Anthony Standifer, and the unfortunate tweeting of Yuri Wright, the Irish were left for dead at a position of need, filled admirably by Cam McDaniel this spring.
The Irish have moved quickly in this recruiting cycle, landing Devin Butler and Rashad Kinlaw, two players that profile perfectly in the Irish scheme. They’ve got Smith working on Hargreaves, while blue-chip Arizona cornerback Cole Luke is on campus today with his high school coach, former Irish QB Steve Belles. The Irish are likely going to bring in one more player at this position, and have quite a few big names still on the board.
RECEIVERS & TIGHT ENDS: Notre Dame snagged an important prospect when Florida tight end Mike Heuerman gave the Irish his commitment. It was a huge victory, the first of two blue-chippers that had brothers playing for Urban Meyer that chose the Irish over the Buckeyes. Heuerman won’t likely put up big numbers in his high school offense, but he’ll walk in and immediately compete to help replace Tyler Eifert.
It’s hard to look at Corey Robinson without assuming he’s going to grow even more. At 6-foot-4, he’d already be one of the biggest wideouts in the Irish stable. But with a seven-foot Hall of Fame basketball player as a father, who just so happened to be a late bloomer himself, Robinson might turn into an instant mismatch, especially if he can hold onto his athleticism. James Onwualu keeps a pretty prolific pipeline open at Cretin-Derham Hall. He won’t be expected to replace fellow CDH’er Michael Floyd, but Onwualu will impress you with his power in the open field, where he gets the football as both a running back and wide receiver.
The Irish have a ton of offers out to elite receivers coast-to-coast, and have fought their way into the battle for Illinois’ Laquon Treadwell. With neither Robinson or Onwualu a true burner, expect Notre Dame to focus on getting a guy with elite speed onto campus.
FRONT SEVEN: For the purpose of bundling, we’ll look at these two commitments together. Jacob Matuska is a guy that doesn’t garner the star-power of some of the other Irish recruits, but he’s got offers from Michigan, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. At 6-foot-5, 240-pounds, that’s an intriguing prospect to add along the defensive line, and it’s hard to argue with the current staff’s success at that position.
We’ll mention Smith again just because it’s fun, but he’ll walk onto campus and probably be the most dangerous defensive player on the roster. Other than Manti Te’o, he probably would be that this season as well.
QUARTERBACK: There’s nothing not to like about Malik Zaire. After landing one of the country’s top quarterback prospects last cycle in Gunner Kiel, and with a mess atop the depth chart with Andrew Hendrix, Tommy Rees, and Everett Golson still ironing things out, hoping for a quarterback and landing one this class were two very different things. But head coach Brian Kelly got the commitment of Zaire, who might just be the best fit for the system of the group.
FIVE TARGETS TO WATCH
Listed in absolutely no order of importance, here are five recruits worth keeping an eye on.
Isaac Rochell, DE: McDonough, Georgia — Rochell is an elite prospect who sounds 99 percent committed to the Irish.The 6-foot-5, 260-pound blue-chipper has offers from the best of the best, and just left South Bend after another visit. Better to have him go slow than flip-flop.
Ebenezer Ogundeko, DE/OLB: Brooklyn, New York — One of the Big Apple’s best prospects just visited campus as well, mingling with Ishaq Williams and Prince Shembo, two players that’ll join him in his position group. Getting Ogundeko to campus this summer was a big deal, and he’ll likely return for an official visit this fall.
Ryan Green, RB: St. Petersburg, Florida — Even when the Irish were chasing Ty Isaac, Green was their top running back on the board. The Irish coaching staff thinks Green compares favorably to Keith Marshall, one of the best in the class of 2012. It’ll be a dog fight getting Green out of Florida, but one Tony Alford is ready for.
Alex Anzalone, LB: Wyomissing, Pennsylvania — After committing to the Buckeyes at their spring game, Anzalone’s step away has been widely discussed. What gets overlooked is the linebacker’s talent, where the 6-foot-3, 225-pound two-way star lights up game film. He and Jaylon Smith have grown close during this recruitment. He’d be a huge addition and anchor the middle linebacking corps.
Danny Mattingly, LB: Spokane, Washington — Mattingly might be the perfect Brian Kelly recruit. Prototype size (6-foot-5, 225-pounds), moderate star-rating, but incredible recruiting cohorts. With Alabama, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and every team in the Pacific Northwest chasing him, Mattingly is as close to under the radar as this Irish staff is going to get.