Let’s put 2017 recruiting in the rearview mirror. It is over and done with. In four years, hindsight will tell us if this Notre Dame class was better or worse than its No. 13 rivals.com ranking. Perhaps that slot will be proven exactly accurate, but only because three-star receiver Michael Young vastly exceeds his ranking, making up for a four-star’s disappointment or early departure.
Let’s move on to 2018. There are, after all, only 363 days until National Signing Day.
Irish coach Brian Kelly has already received six commitments in the class of 2018, led by consensus four-stars quarterback Phil Jurkovec (Pine-Richland High School; Gibsonia, Pa.) and linebacker Matthew Bauer (Cathedral Prep; Erie, Pa.).
A numbers crunch may limit how many peers join Jurkovec, Bauer and their four quick-to-commit comrades. Working backward from the current roster of 84 scholarships (pending a possible graduate transfer, but that would not affect this exercise as he would presumably exhaust his eligibility in 2017), only nine Notre Dame players will play their fourth year of college football this fall:
Fifth-year tight end Durham Smythe
Fifth-year offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey
Fifth-year offensive lineman Hunter Bivin
Senior quarterback Montgomery VanGorder
Senior tight end Tyler Luatua
Senior defensive lineman Andrew Trumbetti
Senior defensive lineman Daniel Cage
Senior linebacker Nyles Morgan
Senior linebacker Greer Martiniti
Additionally, senior offensive lineman Quenton Nelson will, injury-notwithstanding, be projected as a high NFL Draft pick. While the Irish coaching staff would certainly jump at the chance to bring Nelson back for a fifth year, one should not expect him to.
That math gets the 2018 Notre Dame roster to 11 open scholarships.
Senior offensive lineman Jimmy Byrne has yet to see the field for the Irish, so do not expect him to receive an invite to spend a fifth year with the team. Senior defensive lineman Pete Mokwuah saw action in only four games last season, making one total tackle. His odds seem low, as well. Senior tight end Nic Weishar may provide depth at the position, but Notre Dame just signed two of the top-three tight end recruits in the country. Even if both Brock Wright and Cole Kmet do not see the field this year, youth should make its demands by 2018. Weishar will likely miss out on a fifth year as a result.
That makes 14 open scholarships.
Acknowledging the realities of college football, it is unrealistic to expect the fifth-year returns of all seven of offensive linemen Alex Bars and Sam Mustipher, defensive linemen Jay Hayes and Jonathan Bonner, defensive backs Drue Tranquill and Nick Watkins and punter Tyler Newsome. Yet, all seven could bring either on-field production or needed roster depth. Rather than speculate who does not join Notre Dame in 2018, let’s simply give a head nod to the possibility some do not. For that matter, injuries, academics and transfers annually open up space on the Irish roster. Suddenly that 14 may approach a more traditional 20 without any extra effort.
2018’s Points of Emphasis
Naturally, after not signing any cornerbacks in the 2017 class, Notre Dame will need to make up for that in 2018. Aside from that, Irish coach Brian Kelly indicated his staff will focus on playmakers more than anything else.
“The corner position will be a point of emphasis for us,” he said last Wednesday. “Elite speed on offense will be a primary goal for us. Guys that can change the game on one possession. I think we’ll see that.
“We’ve got very good size. We’ve got guys that can run. We want a couple of home run hitters. We don’t care if they’re Darren Sproles’s size. We’re going to come off the board in terms of profile. We want some guys that can change the game on offense with elite speed.”
This focus on speed makes sense when considering Notre Dame signed four offensive linemen and two tight ends in 2017, meaning the 2018 roster is already stocked with 11 linemen and three tight ends. Adding a couple lineman and a tight end to bolster reserves would make sense, but neither position needs to be a driving concern.
“On the defensive side of the ball, we continue to move toward the needs that [new Irish defensive coordinator] Mike [Elko] needs defensively relative to the positions,” Kelly said. “Continue to develop the back end of the defense, especially at the cornerback position.”
Currently, Notre Dame has two linebackers in each class, and scout.com four-star linebacker Ovie Oghoufo (Harrison; Farmington, Mich.) joins Bauer to make the class of 2018 fit that trend. With Elko’s “Rover” position, though, adding another linebacker or two to the class should come as no surprise.
The other three commits in Notre Dame’s class of 2018:
Consensus four-star defensive lineman Jayson Ademilola (St. Peters Prep; Jersey City, N.J.)
Consensus three-star defensive lineman Justin Ademilola (St. Peters Prep; Jersey City, N.J.)
Consensus four-star running back Markese Stepp (Cathedral; Indianapolis)
Yes, the Ademilola defensive linemen are twins.