Eddie Vanderdoes

Big recruiting weekend begins home stretch

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It’s a winter wonderland in South Bend. With the first big snowfall of the new year falling earlier this week, Notre Dame will welcome four important guests to a very picturesque campus. For the four warm weather state recruits, a January weekend with temperatures in the 20s will pull no punches, giving kids a true picture of winter at its finest. But with less than two weeks to go before Signing Day, there’s good reason for highly touted players to give Notre Dame one of their last looks.

With 22 current commitments, there’s not a ton of room left on the bus. Earlier this week, one more prospective player took himself out of contention, with California wideout Sebastian Larue declaring the Irish out of the running. Multiple reports had Larue’s offer still contingent on some work in the classroom, and many believe the parting was mutual.

Let’s take a closer look at the four targets making their way to South Bend this weekend.

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Kylie Fitts, DE: 6-4, 260 lbs.

Fitts was long committed to USC until earlier this month, when Fitts was reportedly told he no longer had a spot to early enroll. After graduating early from high school, the Southern California native opened up his recruitment and Notre Dame was there from then on.

A USC Army All-American, Fitts looks like a prototype defensive end for the Irish, though he’ll need to continue to put on weight. Fitts is still considering UCLA, Oregon and Washington, with staying on the West Coast seemingly likely, but all bets are off until he finally visits Notre Dame’s campus.

Fitts might not be a huge need in the recruiting class, but Brian Kelly and Bob Diaco seem happy to stockpile big bodies. With Kapron Lewis-Moore moving on and Stephon Tuitt likely with a tough decision to make after next season, adding another defensive end — especially a top 150 player in the country — would be a good move.

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Deon Hollins, LB: 6-2, 225 lbs.

Hollins received a visit from Bob Diaco and Kerry Cooks this week, with the result an official visit set for the weekend. In Hollins, they have a player that’s a little bit outside profile, but he’s got pass rush skills that would immediately make an impact for the Irish.

Hollins is committed to UCLA, but taking visits the next two weekends. “Me and my dad and my family thought it’d be smart to weigh our options, visit other places, just make sure that UCLA is the right place for us,” Hollins said earlier this week.

Getting Hollins away from UCLA would be a major feat for the Irish coaching staff, especially with the Bruins recruiting class looking stronger by the day. But when the Irish staff fawns over Hollins’ pass rush skills and opportunity to thrive in the Irish defense, it won’t be lip service. He’s an elite athlete that’s got true difference making speed.

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Durham Smythe, TE: 6-6, 235 lbs.

Smythe is a guy that’s come onto Notre Dame’s radar late, with the Irish thought to be closed at the position once Mike Heuerman committed to the 2013 class. But Smythe’s de-commitment from Texas and reopening of his recruitment gave the Irish another opportunity to reconsider, and he’s built a ton of fans inside the program.

A quick look at Smythe’s offers gives you an idea of the type of prospect that he is. Michigan, Stanford, Florida, Georgia, Miami, Nebraska, Oregon, and Texas join a flock of others. Smythe may not be ranked in the final Rivals250, but he’s got elite recruiting cohorts, and that certainly says something.

Many think this is down to Stanford, Michigan and the Irish, but reading the tea leaves, Notre Dame could be in very good shape. The admissions process still isn’t finished at Stanford, and Michigan’s recruiting class already features two tight ends. Smythe has to see the Irish’s recent success with tight ends, and a favorable depth chart as reasons to give Notre Dame a very close look this weekend.

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Eddie Vanderdoes, DL: 6-3, 310 lbs.

There’s no bigger target left on Notre Dame’s radar than Vanderdoes. He’s an elite talent, a consensus top 25 players in the country, a five-star prospect, and the heir apparent to Louis Nix if he decides to come to South Bend. With the size to play inside and the speed to play outside, Vanderdoes’ versatility makes him a key weapon to any defensive front at the college level.

Vanderdoes visited USC again last weekend, spending time with Trojan players and commits as they tried desperately to get him back into the fold. Even athletic director Pat Haden was seen putting in work with the prized lineman, and the Trojans offered Vanderdoes’ 13-year old sister a basketball scholarship, hoping that’d help keep him in California (that move was also reportedly done by Alabama).

Vanderdoes will be visiting campus with both his parents, a key towards securing the commitment of one of the nation’s top players. But there’s still road to cover, with Vanderdoes tripping down to see Nick Saban next weekend as well. The Irish will put their best foot forward this weekend, with none other than Louis Nix hosting the recruit this weekend.

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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.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”