Jan 31, 2013, 4:23 PM EDT
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:
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.
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.
Jul 27, 2015, 3:02 PM EDT
Ready or not, Cole Luke was thrown into the deep end in 2014, forced into a starting role after KeiVarae Russell’s August suspension. Paired with Cody Riggs as the team’s field cornerback, Luke more than held his own as a sophomore starter, taking on one of the most challenging schedules in college football, with elite receivers testing the Irish secondary nearly every week.
Jul 27, 2015, 11:52 AM EDT
Looking for a sledgehammer in an offense that sometimes gets branded finesse? Look no further than tight end Tyler Luatua. The big-bodied thumper may not look like the rest of the tight end depth chart, but certainly will come in handy as the Irish do their best to transform into a run-to-win team in 2015.
Jul 26, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
The big news of the spring was supposed to be DeShone Kizer ascending to the job of holder on field goals and PATs. Instead, Kizer is one snap away from being Notre Dame’s starting quarterback, his development kick-started with Everett Golson’s decision to transfer.
Jul 24, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
After Jim Grobe presided over the Wake Forest football program for 13 seasons, the school made a change bringing in coach Dave Clawson after five consecutive losing seasons. What followed was ugly, an understandable bottoming out—and a three-win season that may have been one of the least impressive in any Power Five conference.
Jul 24, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
After struggling to find his way in the program as a defensive end, Jarron Jones saw a lightbulb come on after filling in for Louis Nix at nose guard. With no other options available, the Irish defensive staff called on Jones to fill Nix’s sizeable void, and Jones responded—turning the trajectory of his career around in the process.
Jul 23, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
Notre Dame won a long recruiting battle for Alizé Jones, landing one of the best tight ends in the country over UCLA. To the victor goes one of the most ready-made pass catching tight ends in the country, and Notre Dame gets a potential difference maker from the moment Jones takes the field.
Jul 23, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
After a long recovery following a gruesome non-contact injury at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Torii Hunter Jr. fought his way back to the field in 2014. Now comes the hard part—playing up to the potential that had many so excited before the broken femur.
Jul 22, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
The fact that Chase Hounshell is still a part of Notre Dame’s football program is noteworthy. After shoulder surgeries essentially derailed the defensive lineman’s career, Hounshell was given the opportunity to reinvent himself this spring, serving as a tight end when many expected him to be done with the program.
Jul 22, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Notre Dame finally got back into Florida high school powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas when they landed Corey Holmes. After establishing in roads with Sam Young and holding court with specialists Ben Turk and Jordan Cowart, landing an elite receiver out of one of the country’s best programs was the handy work of Tony Alford.
Jul 21, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Harry Hiestand finally recruited a true center in early-enrollee freshman Tristen Hoge. Now it’s up to the two-time Idaho state player of the year to earn the opportunity to replace Nick Martin at the heart of the Irish offensive line.
Jul 21, 2015, 12:39 PM EDT
Our Offseason Q&As continue as we look at Pat Narduzzi’s Pitt Panthers. Anson Whaley of Cardiac Hill gets us up to speed.
Jul 20, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Rising sophomore Kolin Hill had a dazzling debut, notching 1.5 sacks against Michigan to send the Wolverines packing. Irish A-to-Z continues as we look at one of Notre Dame’s best pass rushers.
Jul 20, 2015, 12:05 PM EDT
When Notre Dame recruited Mike Heuerman, they were chasing a tight end unlike any other on their roster. Undersized but highly-touted, Heuerman didn’t look like Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert or Ben Koyack, but he certainly came with a similar recruiting pedigree.
Irish A-to-Z continues.
Jul 20, 2015, 11:37 AM EDT
We finish up the mailbag, talking the A-to-Z marathon, the Irish return game, Ishaq’s fate and travel logistics.
Jul 18, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
The emergency removal of Jay Hayes’ redshirt gives you an idea that Notre Dame’s coaching staff believes in the young defensive lineman. But burning Hayes’ redshirt was also immediately followed by a significant ankle injury against USC, making it difficult to get a season’s worth of work in the year’s final three games and bowl practices.
Jul 17, 2015, 3:13 PM EDT
Notre Dame’s wide receiving depth chart is fast becoming one of the toughest two-deeps to crack. And that was before the freshman class stepped on campus. Among that new group is Jalen Guyton, the most electric playmaker on the top team in the state of Texas.
Jul 17, 2015, 3:05 PM EDT
In part one of the mailbag, we imagine what Hard Knocks: Notre Dame would look like, talk about the Navy hangover, and covet Urban Meyer’s offense.
Jul 17, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
As a versatile senior along the offensive line, senior Mark Harrell is something we haven’t seen around Notre Dame in quite some time: Veteran Depth. No, we haven’t seen much from Harrell in his three seasons in South Bend. But he’s among the elder statesmen in Harry Hiestand’s position group, and a piece of the puzzle that can shift inside and out.
Jul 16, 2015, 8:13 PM EDT
In their search for a pass rusher, Notre Dame added an intriguing piece to the puzzle in Michigan defensive end Adetokunbo Ogundeji. The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder picked the Irish over offers from Rutgers, Oregon, Cal and Toledo in a ceremony on Thursday evening. Ogundeji was an early commitment to Western Michigan until he reopened his recruitment as his game tape spread across college football.
Jul 16, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
His long road back after a catastrophic injury has been well-discussed. Now Jarrett Grace gets to the fun part—finding his way back to the middle of the Irish defense. Irish A-to-Z continues with a look at one of Notre Dame’s emotional leaders.