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Recruiting rankings only part of the puzzle

Jan 31, 2013, 4:23 PM EDT

2008 Army All Americans

It’s been five years since Notre Dame had a recruiting class that was in the running for the top group in the country. That year, beyond any expectation considering the Irish’s horrific 3-9 season, Charlie Weis and company reeled in a class headlined by five-star recruits Dayne Crist, Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph.

Like the Irish’s current class, Notre Dame signed 23 players, with all but four garnering four star ratings or higher. It was a class that was hailed as one of the best recruiting classes ever landed at Notre Dame. Yet for all the accolades the group received, some core inefficiencies ended up sinking Charlie Weis, and making Brian Kelly’s job a whole lot tougher.

As we begin to analyze the final group Notre Dame signs next Wednesday, it’s important to look back at the 2008 class to see if we can learn any lessons, especially when it comes to roster management.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see where Charlie Weis failed. While he brought record production to the Irish offense as a recruiter and almost cherry-picked statistically dominant wide receivers, Weis struggled to find players along the defensive front, failing to fill some massive holes along the offensive line (which he inherited from Ty Willingham), and struggling to find enough pieces in the secondary, a situation Kelly and his staff had to rectify by recruiting an astounding amount of safeties over the past two seasons.

For the sake of the exercise, let’s take a closer look at the 2008 recruiting class, breaking it down into a few key groupings:

STAR PLAYERS

Michael Floyd, WR: Floyd walked onto campus as a productive player and left with the school’s record book. A first round wide receiver taken 13th overall.

BUILDING BLOCKS

Robert Blanton, DB: Blanton was a productive contributor, seeing the field early and starting at field corner before being drafted by the Minnesota Vikings.

Braxston Cave, C: Cave played out his eligibility this season, being selected for the Senior Bowl. He was a three-year starter at center.

Darius Fleming, LB: Never as productive as initially hoped, Fleming was a tweener position wise, and his development wasn’t helped by flip-flopping schemes. Still drafted by 49ers.

Ethan Johnson, DE: After spending his senior year of high school rehabbing an injury, a redshirt season would have done Johnson well. But he played early and often, one of the few 3-4 ends the Irish had.

Kapron Lewis-Moore, DE: After growing into his body, KLM became a rock solid defensive end, starting four seasons and finishing his career as a captain of a 12-1 team.

Trevor Robinson, OG: He never turned into the elite tackle prospect many thought the Irish signed, but Robinson played a lot of football for the Irish.

Kyle Rudolph, TE: He may have been the first tight end off the NFL Draft board, but Rudolph never played to his recruiting stature at Notre Dame, leaving after three seasons.

Jamoris Slaughter, DB: Injuries kept him from being even more productive. If Slaughter isn’t granted a sixth season, he’ll still have exceeding expectations, garnering only three-stars as a recruit.

Sean Cwynar, DT: Undersized for a two-gap player, Cwynar still had a productive career, splitting time during his junior and senior season before passing on a fifth-year to pursue a career in business.

UPS AND DOWNS

Dayne Crist, QB: Crist never played up to the lofty expectations people had for him. But two major knee injuries probably had a lot to do with that.

Steve Filer, LB: Another touted Chicago linebacker that could never quite breakthrough. Four-star elite prospects should be more than special teams demons.

Mike Golic, Jr., OL: If you had told a ND fan in October 2012 that Golic would spend 15 games in the starting lineup he’d have called you nuts. A productive career for the lowest rated recruit of the class.

John Goodman, WR: He never became the down field, vertical threat many expected, following in the footsteps of Jeff Samardzija. But Goodman had a nice fifth year, making some big plays.

Jonas Gray, RB: An incredible senior season turned a disappointing career into a final season of triumph. Gray’s knee injury kept him on the Miami Dolphin’s shelf this season.

NON-FACTORS AND WASHOUTS

Lane Clelland, OL: Clelland looked the part of an elite recruit, yet he couldn’t dent the two-deep. A spring practice experiment to try DE short circuited quickly as well.

Joseph Fauria, TE: Ah, what might have been. Fauria, who transferred to UCLA after a disciplinary issue at Notre Dame, had 12 touchdown catches this season. Imagine the TE depth chart with him in the mix.

Dan McCarthy, DB: A neck injury during his senior season might have delayed McCarthy’s development. But he never turned into the late-bloomer his brother did. Looked the part of an elite safety.

Anthony McDonald, LB: Injuries and Manti Te’o kept McDonald off the field. Reunited with Charlie Weis this season at Kansas, McDonald played in eight games this season.

Brandon Newman, DT: Struggled to crack the two-deep at nose tackle for the Irish, Newman played his fifth year at Ball State, collecting 30 tackles with five TFLs. Did give us Trick Shot Monday.

David Posluszny, LB: The younger brother of former Penn State All-American Paul, Poz didn’t have the size to make it as an inside linebacker. Never collected five tackles in a season.

Deion Walker, WR: An elite wide receiver recruit that never made it onto the field, Walker’s physical skills never matched his own assessment of them. Caught 59 passes for UMass this season.

Hafis Williams, DT: Not big enough to play nose guard, nor fast enough to play end, Williams was surpassed by the youth recruited by Brian Kelly and played only a bit role for the Irish.

***

A swing and miss rate of eight players out of 23 isn’t great, especially considering injuries weren’t really the problem for the bottom section of this grouping. Add to that the underachieving performances from elite guys. Take a look at the staggering amount of Top 100 guys the Irish had on the roster from that class:

RIVALS TOP 100 PLAYERS

No. 20 — Kyle Rudolph
No. 25 — Dayne Crist
No. 27 — Michael Floyd
No. 32 — Ethan Johnson
No. 37 — Trevor Robinson
No. 72 — Jonas Gray
No. 89 — Darius Fleming

Of that group, only Floyd played to his ranking, with Fleming probably coming closest after that. As I mentioned earlier this week, Rudolph certainly had the talent, but he never played up to that level in his three seasons in South Bend.

***

We will find out soon enough if this 2013 recruiting class is the premiere group of talent that many think it is or an underachieving group of prospects. Playing to its favor are the roster holes it fills. Signing a large group of offensive line prospects helps replenish a position grouping that’s dangerously thin. Bringing in two tight ends will help ease the talent loss of Rudolph and Tyler Eifert. Doing the same thing at running back will add high-end talent to an open positional race.

That the Irish are still chasing guys like Eddie Vanderdoes and Kylie Fitts lets you know that Kelly and company understand the need to restock power players up front, even with depth at an all-time high. Conversely, keeping an eye on the inside linebacker position now that Manti Te’o is gone is important, as the loss of an elite player like Alex Anzalone is tough, especially because he was filling a big position of need.

For six more days, recruits will be sized up by rankings and stars. Classes will be assessed by quantity and quality, as determined by analysts who largely have never coached a game or truly scouted the sport. So while we all (understandably) get wrapped up in the Signing Day sweepstakes that has become a February college football holiday, it’s worth a reminder that finding five-star prospects is just part of the equation.

 

 

 

 

  1. hyde - Jan 31, 2013 at 4:48 PM

    Keith, Rudolph only played 6 games in 2010 and had 28 catches for 328 yards.

  2. dudeacow - Jan 31, 2013 at 4:50 PM

    The Irish just landed all-star punter Andrew Antognoli for the 2013 class. Don’t worry, Kelly knows what he’s doing, Andrew is coming to ND as a preferred walk-on. He was originally committed to Harvard. He fills a position of need, especially since Brindza is worse than Turk. I’m not even worse than Turk.

    • mtndguy - Jan 31, 2013 at 6:36 PM

      If ND grinds it out again next season, then a top notch punter will be a welcome addition. Video of him looks good, number 3 punter in the country? Sounds good to me.

      • bernhtp - Jan 31, 2013 at 6:53 PM

        Have you looked at Brindza’s HS highlight video? It was even more impressive, both kicking and punting. We’ll see how Kyle does at all three kicking positions this year. My guess is that he’ll be very good.

  3. barneysbullet - Jan 31, 2013 at 6:25 PM

    “EDDIE VANDERDOES, KYLIE FITTS, etc., COME ONNN DOWWWWNNNN!!!!!!

    ….please?? PLEASE???

    • nudeman - Feb 1, 2013 at 10:11 AM

      Not gonna happen, unfortunately

      Fitts is almost certainly gone.
      Has been tweeting about his love for UCLA and going to bball games

      Vanderdoes has always had an Arik Armstead feel to me. Don’t think he’s flat out using ND like Armstead did, but I just have never been able to get the feeling he’s Irish, regardless of how much his mom loves it.

      • ibleedirish - Feb 2, 2013 at 9:51 AM

        I agree unfortunately. EV sounded downright giddy in his pre-Alabama visit tweeting. Damn, how sick am I that I read tweets from 18 year olds. Oh well, passes the time.

  4. kiopta1 - Jan 31, 2013 at 7:31 PM

    I love the current class and hope to get EV and Fitts but they are just icing on the cake.

  5. solo076 - Jan 31, 2013 at 8:08 PM

    EV looks to be a beast and would help to wreak havoc. Let’s just hope Kellz can keep developing players.

  6. 410keith - Jan 31, 2013 at 8:39 PM

    Roll tide!!!! Hahahahahahahahahahah!!!!!! Hahahahahahahahahahah!!!!!!!!!

    • tony34343434 - Feb 1, 2013 at 10:39 AM

      If you have not heard a few Bama players got caught with PED”S. if they used them once i am sure they might still be using them.

      Roll Dam Cheaters!!!!
      Roid Dam Cheaters!!
      A-ROD Dam Tide!!

      not which is the best they all apply.

    • papadec - Feb 2, 2013 at 1:39 AM

      410 – you and harv might want to keep in mind that “what goes around, comes around”. The media, especially sports jerks have had a jolly good time with Manti & ND of late. Now we hear about BAMA players and deer antler PEDs. As much as BAMA, LSU & the SEC have been their darlings – when they turn on you guys, with egg all over their faces, boy-oh-boy will there be hell to pay. Have a good laugh now – it ain’t goin’ to last, and it’s goin’ to get real ugly.

  7. 410keith - Jan 31, 2013 at 8:46 PM

    Te’o and lennay send best wishes from narnia to the Irish this season.

    • goirish1979 - Feb 1, 2013 at 10:48 AM

      Hey Keith410, Tell me how that Deer Antler spray tastes…hahahaha…doesn’t pay to cheat, and I’m not talking about cheating on your cousin, dumba$$ hillbilly redneck. Go back to your trailer and fry something !!!

  8. papadec - Jan 31, 2013 at 10:33 PM

    I’m not a big (or even small) fan of espn. However, Alex Scarborough has an excellent piece “Just The Fax” there today. In my opinion we (college football fans) should print it out, and tape it to the wall behind our computers as a reality check, at this time of year.

  9. hemisweeeet - Jan 31, 2013 at 11:19 PM

    Enough about Notre Dame

    • papadec - Feb 1, 2013 at 1:54 AM

      hemi – what were you expecting at a ND website? Did you think this was an online anatomy class?

    • Laughing Tulkas - Feb 1, 2013 at 2:52 PM

      1. Come to Notre Dame blog.
      2. Tell everyone to stop talking about Notre Dame.
      3. ????????
      4. Profit.

      • dbldmr - Feb 1, 2013 at 3:51 PM

        Nicely done. The gnomes from South Park or Brett Stephens take on the gnomes from South Park. Either way, a winner.

  10. cpfirish - Jan 31, 2013 at 11:50 PM

    Golson to Daniels, and Jones, all season long 2013!! Irish will roll!!

    Haha. Go Irish!
    Early prediction Golson throws for over 3000 yards in 2013.!!

  11. yaketyyacc - Feb 1, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    gettting the better recruits, keeping them, turniing them into good college footbal players, good students is a delicate balance. some coaches manage one or two. Coach Kelly manages all of them, and it is why we can expect good years to come at Notre Dame. 2013 will be tougher than 2012, as now the question of how good Notre Dame really is, has been evolved into how to defeat a great Notre Dame Football team, great because a learning team of 2012 is now even better.
    THE IRISH ARE COMING

  12. fnc111 - Feb 1, 2013 at 1:33 PM

    Summing it up. Following recruiting is pointless. If you want to learn the players names on signing day, great. But to follow recruiting like some people do everyday is just weird and a waste of time. Half of the recruits will never produce.

    • bernhtp - Feb 1, 2013 at 4:10 PM

      Nonsense. While the correlation between the recruiting ranking and their performance in college football is less than perfect, it is significantly high. Your statement is analogous to saying that because some smokers live very long and some non-smokers die of lung cancer, it is a waste of time to look at smoking as a predictor of cancer and early death more generally.

      • idratherbeinsouthbend - Feb 1, 2013 at 4:18 PM

        while the smoking analogy doesn’t quite fit the bill, you make some good points bern…i think fnc is simply overstating a sentiment that i share with him…recruiting is overhyped. Period. Not a single 3-4-5 star recruit, at any school deserves the press that they get. They have proven nothing at the college level to warrant the media attention that they receive…and because of the hype, the downside for these kids is far greater than the upside.

        If the high school beat writers at the Biloxi Bee want to do an overhyped piece on Biloxi High School’s stud left guard, so be it. But the nation attention is just media noise to fill the offseason.

        I’m excited for the excellent recruiting class, but, nonetheless, they are all still overhyped

  13. fnc111 - Feb 1, 2013 at 2:33 PM

    Kyle Rudolph did to live up to his billing. A late injury got in the way. Just look at his numbers and you’ll see he is one of the greatest ND TEs of all-time. One late injury doesn’t affect that. He made a smart decision in going pro when he did. Don’t hate on a guy for going for millions. You’d do the same sir.

  14. nudeman - Feb 1, 2013 at 3:42 PM

    “Just look at his numbers and you’ll see he is one of the greatest ND TEs of all-time”

    I liked Rudolph a lot. But his injuries held his numbers down significantly, so I don’t know how you can even make that statement, unless you’re putting us all on.

    Right off the top of my head, without using the google or the internets (shout out to W there), I’d say Ken McAfee, John Carlson, Dave Casper, Mark Bavaro, Tyler Eifert are AT LEAST on a par with him, if not better. I’m sure I’m forgetting some others.

    • andy44teg - Feb 1, 2013 at 3:55 PM

      I was always a fan of Fasano…

      • nudeman - Feb 1, 2013 at 8:43 PM

        Loved Fasano too
        Also on a par or better with Rudolph

  15. halbert53 - Feb 3, 2013 at 8:48 AM

    Ratings of recruiting classes proves nothing until four years later. Everyone knows about the supposedly elite players, but it is evaluating obscure players that can turn up the quality of a recruiting class. Just because someone is not highly recruited doesn’t mean they aren’t good players. Brett Favre only had one scholarship offer to play QB.

  16. jwalusis - Feb 5, 2013 at 7:13 PM

    Keith Arnold in your post about the stars & flops from past ND recruiting class, you never gave Trevor Robinson his just due. Trevor actually made the Cinccinnati Bengals and started some games with them at center. In my opinion, when they hit their stride right about games 8-12 I believe he filled in for the starting center Cook and did a great job and plugged the middle. Cook came back right before the playoffs game 13-16 and the offense suffered and the middle was a weak spot. He signed as an undrafted free agent but ndid make the team, played and started.

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