Eight days from now, Notre Dame will finish off its recruiting class, likely signing three more prospects to reach 25 in the class of 2018. Before looking ahead at those possibilities, it seems pertinent to offer a refresher of December’s early signing period. The first of its kind, the Irish coaching staff put the three-day stretch to better use than nearly any other program in the country.
Notre Dame expected 20 commits to sign the week before Christmas, and all delivered on that pledge. Consensus four-star receiver Braden Lenzy finished off the early period with a last-minute signing, announced via an essay on The Players’ Tribune. Lenzy joined two other four-star receivers in Kevin Austin and Micah Jones, creating perhaps the strongest position group in the class, rivaled by the linebackers.
Three of the four linebackers enrolled early — Jack Lamb, Bo Bauer and Ovie Oghoufo — the core of seven early enrollees.
Though he did not enroll early, consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec remains the most hyped and discussed recruit in the class thus far. The chances of him starting as a freshman may be unlikely, though, as they are for any freshman quarterback.
That hurdle will not be as high for consensus four-star safety Derrik Allen. One of five defensive backs, Allen and consensus four-star Houston Griffith will have an early chance to contribute at safety, given that position’s struggles of late. Griffith will likely spend most of his career at cornerback, even if not beginning there, where he and two others in the class, Joe Wilkins Jr. and Tariq Bracy, help salve the error of not recruiting any cornerbacks a year ago. Local product Paul Moala will add further depth to the sub-par safety situation.
A similar, though less extreme, issue may be developing at running back and defensive end, with only one of each in this class at the moment. Typically, consensus three-star running back Jahmir Smith would be enough to fill that need for a year, but with the dismissals of sophomore running back Deon McIntosh and freshman running back C.J. Holmes in the interim since the early signing period, the roster desperately needs depth at the position.
Notre Dame does not desperately need depth at defensive end, but adding a couple to the depth chart each cycle creates better odds of finding success at arguably the most necessary and volatile position in college football aside from quarterback. As of now, only consensus three-star defensive end Justin Ademilola fits that billing of the 21 signed commits. His twin brother, consensus four-star defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola, joins at defensive tackle, along with consensus three-star defensive tackle Ja’Mion Franklin.
Per usual, there are no concerns at either tight end or offensive line. The Irish signed two tights and two offensive linemen, with another tackle, consensus three-star Luke Jones (Pulaski Academy; Little Rock, Ark.) committing shortly after the early signing period, still needing to put finger to cell phone screen next Wednesday, Feb. 7.
RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s eight offensive signees — Brian Kelly’s take
Notre Dame’s 12 defensive signees — Brian Kelly’s take
Friday at 4: Context shows Notre Dame succeeded in the early signing period (Dec. 22)
With Jones bringing the class total to 22, Notre Dame’s focus the last the last six weeks has been on defensive linemen and defensive backs, adding running backs to that fray when McIntosh and Holmes were removed from the program. Of course, those three positions are not the end-all, be-all. There are exceptions in which the Irish coaching staff will take the best players it can get.
“Which true freshmen could you see making significant contributions this upcoming season?” — popelovesnd
Let’s first issue the necessary disclaimer: This answer could and likely will change based on how the seven early enrollees fare in spring practice, what remaining roster turnover will occur between now and August, and who Notre Dame signs with those three remaining spots in the class of 2018.
The obvious answer is Allen. The Irish need someone to step forward at safety, and there has been little-to-no indication that will be either of the current sophomores, Jalen Elliott or Devin Studstill. Notre Dame made Allen a recruiting priority because he just might be up to that task from the outset.
Sticking with defense, Lamb and Bauer will have a chance this spring to earn a starting spot, or at least a spot in the linebacker rotation. That would be quite a leap for someone who would normally be a high school senior, but it is a possibility, nonetheless.
If neither does offer that surprise, it will increase the odds of current senior Drue Tranquill moving from rover to inside linebacker. At that point, consensus four-star linebacker Shayne Simon enters this contribution conversation at rover.
Lastly, Lenzy very well could have a freshman season a la Kevin Stepherson in 2016. Comparisons to Stepherson may feel off-putting, but this is in discussing on-field performance only. Lenzy has outstanding speed, the type that can force its way up the depth chart regardless of age, immaturity or positional competition.
So, if a betting man were offered worthwhile odds, Allen and Lenzy seem the smartest wagers.
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