Daelin Hayes
Rivals

Linebacker Daelin Hayes commits to Notre Dame

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Notre Dame landed a commitment from blue-chip prospect Daelin Hayes on Thursday, with the linebacker picking the Irish over Ohio State and Michigan State. The Michigan native is an early-enrollee candidate who at one point was committed to USC before stepping away from that decision this fall. Hayes is rated as the No. 21 player in the country by Rivals.com.

At 6-foot-3 and 254 pounds, Hayes has readymade size that could project to an edge rush position as well as linebacker. His offer list includes schools like Alabama and LSU, though he officially visited Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State before settling on the Irish.

Hayes made his commitment “in style,” paying homage to the Dark Knight in a Bleacher Report video similar to the one made by Iman Marshall and other top-flight recruits.

Outside of that flash, Hayes decision came after a long look at Notre Dame. The 5-star recruit wants to make the same kind of impact that Jaylon Smith has made in his three seasons in South Bend. Hayes credits Smith for the advice that led to him making this commitment.

While Hayes hopes to be the same type of player that Smith is, his game is a different. He’ll likely find multiple ways to be impactful, just like Smith—if he can stay healthy. Shoulder injuries have limited his time on the field, and Hayes has bounced around high schools as well, transferring to St. Bonaventure in California before returning home to the Detroit area, finishing his high school career at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor.

Brian Kelly has already taken to Twitter for his customary commitment tweet. A slew of interviews with Hayes are popping up around the web, where Hayes discusses his decision to come to Notre Dame, including an in-depth video interview with Irish 247.

Hayes makes 19 commitments in Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class. He’s set to be an early-enrollee, beginning his time in South Bend after the semester break.

Here’s a collection of highlights showing Hayes at work on the football field.

 

 

Jaylon Smith’s Butkus Award win a trend in the right direction

Jaylon Smith, Tyrone Swoopes
AP
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For the second time in four years, the best linebacker in the land is from Notre Dame. Junior Jaylon Smith won the Butkus Award yesterday, given to college football’s top linebacker. That’s the second major win for Smith in as many days, named to USA Today’s All-American first team—with the chance to follow Manti Te’o’s footsteps as both a Butkus winner and consensus All-American as well.

Smith’s win came in an interesting year for linebackers. Preseason favorites Scooby Wright and Myles Jack went down with injuries. Smith’s upside and gigantic pro potential likely won him the award over Alabama’s Reggie Ragland, who statistically had a big season as well.

Awards at the end of the year do more than put more hardware on the shelves of the Gug. They help recruit talented athletes, giving coaches someone to point to as they help blue-chip prospects imagine themselves filling Smith’s shoes. That’ll be happening this weekend, as Notre Dame hosts a group of recruits for their annual awards show, and will likely play into the recruiting decision of a dynamic defensive prospect like Daelin Hayes, who plans to announce his college choice on Thursday.

Smith’s kudos also likely silence some of the criticism of Brian VanGorder. In his two seasons playing under VanGorder, Smith’s stats exploded. Confined to the Dog linebacker position under Bob Diaco, Smith’s best work went mostly undetected, his impact felt more off the stat sheet than on it. (To be fair to Diaco, he was also a true freshman playing college football for the first time.) Shifting to the Will linebacker and moving all over the field, Smith’s play this season was his most consistent, and only a fraction of what he could do if he stuck around for a fourth season, a decision that doesn’t seem likely considering his current draft stock.

Smith is the first defender to win both the high school and collegiate version of the trophy. He’s a rare 5-star prospect who has delivered everything that was expected from him, his rapid ascent the product of opportunity, good coaching and elite skills.

With a request in to the NFL’s advisory board and a meeting with Brian Kelly still upcoming, Smith’s final game as a Notre Dame linebacker may come against Ohio State. It’s a contest that’ll mean quite a bit to him, playing a team where his brother played and matching up against All-American running back Ezekiel Elliott.

Day, Smith and Fuller earn USA Today All-American honors

North Carolina v Notre Dame
Getty
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Notre Dame’s trio of top stars earned All-American honors on Tuesday with Sheldon Day and Jaylon Smith named to USA Today’s first team and Will Fuller named to the second team. The Irish trailed only Alabama (four) with three players awarded.

That Day and Smith landed first-team honors shouldn’t come as a surprise. Both had excellent seasons by any measurement. Statistically, Day led the Irish with 14.5 tackles-for-loss among his 41 tackles. Smith led Notre Dame with 113 total tackles including nine TFLs. CollegeFootballFocus also graded the duo among the nation’s most dominant players. Day currently ranks No. 2 at defensive tackle among top overall performers, Smith No. 3 among all 4-3 outside linebackers.

Fuller’s inclusion on the second-team All-American team comes after another dominant season for Notre Dame’s big-play receiver. Fuller leads Notre Dame with 13 touchdowns and 1,145 receiving yards on 56 catches. That he was able to top his yardage totals from 2014 with 20 less catches—and much more attention from the opposition—points to his dominance, a startling ability to beat a team deep even when they know it’s coming.

Stanford, Baylor, Oklahoma and Florida also had three representatives on the All-American teams.

Evaluating Notre Dame’s five early NFL Draft prospects

Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt, Justin Thomas
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Notre Dame submitted five names to the NFL Draft advisory board, looking for feedback on juniors Will Fuller and Jaylon Smith and seniors C.J. Prosise, KeiVarae Russell and Ronnie Stanley. Brian Kelly said he’d be meeting with all five players to discuss their NFL future before any decisions are made.

“We’ll see where that goes. I hope they all come back. I don’t know if that’s going to be the case, but we’ll see,” Kelly said Sunday.

For the Irish, it appears that two prospects have bright immediate futures at the next level. Stanley, who’ll graduate at the semester but has a fifth-year of eligibility remaining, and Smith, who has started for three seasons at Notre Dame, notching 100-tackle seasons in both 2014 and 2015. Both are widely believed to be first round prospects, at or near the top of their position group heading into the evaluation season.

The other three players aren’t quite as cut and dry. For Fuller, a two-season run as one of college football’s most explosive players has been undercut by some bad drops. Prosise’s single-season greatness, not to mention his versatility as a receiver, make him an intriguing prospect at the next level, but he’s far from a readymade player at a position already devalued with talent.

Russell’s return to college football wasn’t necessarily as triumphant as many expected. Now he’ll spend the majority of his combine prep time rehabbing from a major leg injury, far from an ideal situation for a defensive back that needs to show great testing numbers to be drafted anywhere in the first three rounds.

To get an outside perspective on the decisions each of these five players have in front of them I reached out to Josh Norris. He’s the NFL Draft writer for Rotoworld and NBC Sports and took some time to breakdown each prospect.

Norris seems to be with just about everybody else who believes that both Smith and Stanley have top of the first round potential. Here’s his quick eval on Notre Dame’s All-American linebacker:

Plenty of games where [Smith] shows complete LB traits. Athletic and quick enough to work around blocks and succeed in coverage, strong enough to take on blocks and shed when necessary. Aggressive finisher. Early round 1 pick is within reach.

While some wondered if Stanley’s “struggles” during the 2015 season would impact his draft grade, it appears that he remains the same type of high-ceiling prospect that finds his way to the first round as well.

Norris believes Stanley will compete with Ole Miss’s Laremy Tunsil for the top tackle off the board, with many NFL scouts keeping a very close eye on the Fiesta Bowl battle between Stanley and Ohio State’s Joey Bosa.

I remain a big fan of Stanley’s. Sure, he was beat a few times against Clemson and sprinkled in some other “losses” against other teams, but all tackles lose. I think he offers great size, length and athleticism, which can equal power. He and Laremy Tunsil will compete for the top tackle spot.

From there, it appears that Notre Dame’s three remaining draft prospects would do their stock a favor by returning to school in 2016. For as dynamic as Fuller has been, he’s projecting as a Round 2 or 3 type player right now, per Norris.

“A team who drafts him (in 2016 or 2017) will have to understand the drops come with the big plays,” Norris explained. “Therefore, benching him or decreasing reps because of drops is pointless. It is who he is. He will atone for a mistake with a huge play.”

Prosise projects to be a similar player to another former Irish running back/receiver, the Detroit Lions’ Theo Riddick. While we all know Prosise has better breakaway speed, Riddick’s instincts as a runner and ability as a pass catcher have allowed him to find a niche at the next level. That might be what teams think they can get from Prosise, which is why Norris sees him as a fourth round-type back entering the offseason.

Lastly, KeiVarae Russell’s senior season left a lot of scouts trying to understand what to make of him. After appearing to be on a great trajectory at the end of his sophomore season, Russell allowed 14 catches on 29 downfield targets, a stat that left many thinking he was rustier than he let on. Russell may have accomplished his goal of returning to South Bend and earning his degree, but he may help his career by coming back in 2016.

“[Russell] was far from consistent. Maybe it can be chalked up to missed time in 2014, and I bet some evaluators will conclude it was,” Norris said.

Last year, Brian Kelly, Jack Swarbrick and a contingent from Notre Dame sat down with Sheldon Day and Stanley as the duo weighed NFL options. Both opted to stay after talking things through.

This year, those conversations will happen—even with Fuller, who pledged his return a few weeks back and Smith, who everybody assumes is gone. As Kelly has shown in the past, his recruiting skills have helped keep Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Tyler Eifert and Michael Floyd. Building on the team’s 2015 success, keeping players like Fuller, Prosise and Russell could lead to a very impressive 2016.

Even outside the playoff, winning bowl is critical for Irish

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The last few years Notre Dame has used their month of bowl preparations to get a jumpstart on spring practice. Whether that was force-feeding reps to then freshman Max Redfield to prepare for the Pinstripe Bowl or getting a closer look at redshirt linemen like Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars, Brian Kelly valued the December month of practice in a way not dissimilar from spring football.

Not this year.

While there was certainly disappointment in the air yesterday when the four playoff teams were set and Notre Dame came in at No. 8, it disappeared quickly when the Irish saw they were playing Ohio State. In years past, Kelly talked about combatting disinterest from outgoing seniors. This year that seems far from the problem—with the veterans on this roster knowing how important it is to their legacy to win a premier bowl game in their final chance to play together.

“I think first and foremost, this team wants to win, and so winning will be the most important thing,” Kelly said. “I think that we’d like to say that experimenting with positions and getting young guys work is really left to the spring. This is about preparing this football team for one last game.”

If the Irish were looking for a consolation prize for having a great season ruined in Palo Alto, they were given that opportunity. Now they need to rise to the challenge of facing Urban Meyer’s latest dynasty in the making, facing off with a Buckeyes team that won the national championship last year and is a ridiculous 49-4 in the four seasons since Meyer took over the Ohio State program.

That means another three weeks of preparing for a dominant running football team, with the Buckeyes averaging over 240 yards a game behind All-American Ezekiel Elliott and a very good offensive line. On the other side of the football, it means preparing for Joey Bosa, the Buckeyes havoc-wreaking defensive end who’ll likely be among the top five picks in the NFL Draft.

Between the three former Notre Dame assistants on staff with the Buckeyes, the countless recruiting battles—past, present and future—and a claim for superiority among the Midwest’s bluechip powers (sorry Spartans), a bowl game that doesn’t lead to a championship sure feels like a grand stage nonetheless.

“Heck yeah. Winning this is important. It’s important,” Kelly said, when asked about the impact this game will have on his program. “Not being there in a while and not playing well in 2012 on a national stage, you know, it’s very important for us to play well and win the game.”