rivals.com

Friday at 4: National Signing Day’s Things We Learned & Things We Knew

31 Comments

From a pure numbers perspective, Notre Dame went above and beyond by signing 27 recruits this cycle. To a degree, that was expected. As soon as the Irish exceeded 23 recruits, the effect was the same, only increasing: Each signee meant another roster spot needs to be found by August. That was known.

It was not known the final piece of that boom would be consensus four-star cornerback Noah Boykin (pictured above). His 11th-hour and unexpected commitment put Notre Dame’s defensive back haul over the top, joining consensus three-star cornerback DJ Brown in choosing the Irish on Wednesday. Signing seven defensive backs in one class is a bit extreme, but considering a year ago included only two safeties and no cornerbacks, the overcompensation served a purpose.

Joe Wilkins (rivals.com)

To that point, Notre Dame cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght acknowledged Wednesday the influx of defensive backs could allow for some flexibility for the likes of consensus three-star Joe Wilkins, who excelled as a receiver as much as a defensive back in high school.

“I think there is going to be some two-way play for him when he first gets here,” Lyght said. “To really find out where his skillset is best served on this team, whether that be on the defensive side of the ball or on the offensive side of the ball, that’s too soon to be determined, but we’ll know soon enough.”

Lawrence Keys (rivals.com)

Not that the receivers exactly need another piece to consider, either. Consensus three-star receiver Lawrence Keys appeared to be trending toward the Irish before this week, but sealing the deal with him created a receivers class of four, equally balanced between speed and physicality. Keys and consensus four-star Braden Lenzy offer the breakaway speed that can single-handedly force a coverage adjustment, while consensus four-star Kevin Austin and rivals.com four-star Micah Jones offer physical threats possibly ideally designed for sideline receptions.

“That’s the goal. Year-in and year-out you want to make sure you bring in a different skillset and that you’re not one dimensional,” Notre Dame receivers coach Del Alexander said. “We’ve got quickness, we’ve got speed, we’ve got size, we’ve got a little bit of everything. That’s what you should do each year you bring in a group of receivers.”

The Irish may have had that with or without Keys, but considering the numbers game inherent to college football, doubling up on speed doubles the chances of it making an impact down the road. (See: Stepherson, Kevin.)

This class’s depth of defensive backs and receivers will be cited for a time to come. Eleven of the 27 recruits fill the edges of the passing game, be it on offense or defense or, in the case of Wilkins, perhaps both. In a year when Notre Dame did not excel in defensive line recruiting, focusing on the pieces of the aerial game served as an adequate alternative. If this class leads the Irish to the bowls always mentioned as a season’s goal, those two position groups will almost certainly be heavily involved.

Pardon the second usage of the following quote just today, but it best underscores the Irish success this year in recruiting defensive backs and receivers.

“From an across the board depth standpoint on the back end of our defense and at the wide receiver position, an area that I feel is [as] good as any class that we’ve recruited here at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “… When I walk away at the end of the day and take a step back, those two areas I feel really good about relative to what we’ve done there.”

Admittedly, what the Irish had done at those two positions was largely hit-or-miss. If looking at the last three classes via rivals.com ratings, even just the top-end recruiting has yielded inconsistent results. Last year, Notre Dame managed only one defensive back (safety Isaiah Robertson) rated as highly as each of this year’s top two defensive backs (safety/cornerback Houston Griffith and safety Derrik Allen) and top two receivers (Austin and Lenzy).

In 2016, two receivers matched that ranking, Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley. The former broke out a bit this past fall while the latter has been hampered by injuries. A total of five defensive backs reached that recruiting ranking. The cornerbacks (Julian Love, Troy Pride, Donte Vaughn) have largely lived up to that billing while the safeties (Jalen Elliott, D.J. Morgan) have not, just like the rest of the safeties on the Irish roster.

Similarly, three receivers met that metric in 2015, and their careers covered the spectrum. Equanimeous St. Brown is already headed to the NFL, Miles Boykin may be a starter Sept. 1, and C.J. Sanders is transferring out of the program. The two defensive backs offer a similar range: Finally healthy, Shaun Crawford excelled this past season; Mykelti Williams never took a snap for Notre Dame.

The objective here is to reinforce a point Kelly made while discussing the incoming depth.

“They’re all young players, and they’ve got to prove themselves.”

That echoed both common sense and words from recruiting coordinator Brian Polian on the first day of December’s early signing period.

“Let’s be careful about who we are anointing the next stars,” Polian said then. “… Obviously we feel these young men can come in and compete at a high level, but sometimes it takes time, and we need to allow for that learning curve and that process before we start anointing guys as saviors.”

Jarrett Patterson (rivals.com)

Speaking of the early signing period, it stacked the deck for the Irish to close this strongly. Kelly described the last six-plus weeks as “extremely intentional.” Notre Dame knew it needed defensive backs, and it got them in spades. It wanted a couple more offensive linemen, and new offensive line coach Jeff Quinn made a strong first impression in retaining consensus three-star Luke Jones’ commitment and in bringing in three-star offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson. The Irish hoped for a running back, and consensus three-star C’Bo Flemister will help relieve some of the burden felt by a depleted position group.

But let’s not forget the two areas already known to be excellent.
Notre Dame signed 3 four-star linebackers. Two of them, along with consensus three-star Ovie Oghoufo, enrolled early. As strong as the Irish coaching staff finished in recruiting defensive backs and receivers, this linebacker group is the best in recent memory, to say the least. It is not beyond feasibility to envision three of them starting as sophomores, nor would that necessarily be a bad sign.

And any year in which Notre Dame signs the quarterback it initially targeted can be counted a success at that position.

So, if defensive back, receivers, linebackers and quarterback were all recruiting wins, and offensive line and running back filled the depth as necessary, then 2019’s goal is clear: Defensive line recruiting will be the driving priority.

Thus spins the never-ending recruiting cycle.

Brian Kelly on Notre Dame’s six signees, with some assistant insights

Associated Press
37 Comments

December’s early signing period allowed Notre Dame to focus its final efforts in this recruiting cycle, narrowing its range of targets to defensive backs, offensive linemen and — due to roster reductions — running back. In discussing Wednesday’s six signees, both Irish head coach Brian Kelly and recruiting coordinator Brian Polian mentioned going 3-for-3 in those categories, at least in part thanks to securing those 21 prospects six-plus weeks ago.

Adding in a receiver provided even further depth.

Lawrence Keys (rivals.com)

Kelly on consensus three-star receiver Lawrence Keys: “[He] really gives us an explosive playmaker. He adds to the depth at that class. … We just felt like we were looking for a guy that could make plays with the ball in his hand.”

Receivers coach Del Alexander on consensus four-star receiver Braden Lenzy, a December signee who made that decision after Kelly’s comments during the three-day early signing period: “Just a spark plug. A kid that has a wealth of knowledge of everything sports, is really intelligent outside of sports. It was just great listening to him and his dad argue back-and-forth about current and past players of their favorite teams and watch that father-son bond and also appreciate where he is mentally. He is a gym rat, he is a junkie, and he wants to be really good as a football player, but he also wants everything that Notre Dame has to offer off the field.”

Kelly on the class of 2018’s depth at both receiver and defensive back, setting it apart from most years: “It’s probably from an across the board depth standpoint on the back end of our defense and at the wide receiver position, an area that I feel is good about as any class that we’ve recruited here at Notre Dame. Now, look, they’re all young players, and they’ve got to prove themselves. But I think when I walk away at the end of the day and take a step back, those two areas I feel really good about relative to what we’ve done there.

“That stands out to me.”

Noah Boykin (rivals.com)

Kelly on consensus four-star cornerback Noah Boykin: “We love the intangibles about Noah. He comes from a school that is not a predictor, a school that we would normally not recruit here at Notre Dame, but I will tell you that one of the things that we were so impressed with — and maybe this doesn’t happen everywhere — we weren’t certain about Noah and his ability to come to Notre Dame and be a great fit until after his admissions meeting. The feedback that we got from admissions in terms of his interview really sold us on this was the right place for him.

“Here’s a young man that wanted to reach for the best and not settle, and that’s what really, for us, drove this.

“… He has got a confidence about him at that corner position. He’s a natural corner, and just gives us great flexibility and depth at that position that we’ve been lacking for so long here.

“But here’s a young man that chose Notre Dame for the right reasons, and we’re really excited about having him here.”

Kelly on consensus three-star cornerback DJ Brown: “We really think that we’ve got somebody here that is a true corner. He’s long at 6’1″. Very smart player. I think what stood out for us is his football intelligence, the way he played the game.

“… DJ has got the skills to play corner right now, but he’s 6’1″, 190, so we know that he’s got length. We know he’s got the ability to be a bigger, stronger player, as well. We liked his football IQ. We liked the way he played football. And so that was first and foremost, and then his length. Those are things that I think you can’t teach, and we wanted some size at that position. He brings it to us.”

Kelly on three-star offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson: “He’s a guy that’s long but can play both guard and tackle, as well. So versatility was really what we were looking for at that offensive line position. Again, augmenting, obviously, the depth there. I think we did an incredible job of adding two offensive linemen that are going to shape this class quite well.”

Jarrett Patterson (rivals.com)

Offensive line coach Jeff Quinn on Patterson: “A great athlete, great size, length, moves well. The one thing also that I felt that was really key for me, when I saw his film, it caught my eye: There was a focus and a determination, he was intentional with his technique, his hands, his body positioning, how he was finishing guys.

“You could tell between his junior year and his senior year, he made great strides in the weight room, he dedicated himself into the weight room, he was eating better. He had that mindset. There was a purpose that he had in terms of what he wanted to demonstrate on the field because he knew that was going to provide him some opportunities to be able to come to Notre Dame.”

Kelly on consensus three-star offensive lineman Luke Jones: “Luke gives us great versatility, can play the guard position, can play center. We were looking for that. In particular an inside guy that had that versatility.”

Kelly on consensus three-star running back C’Bo Flemister: “The running back position, obviously, was a need for us, and C’Bo Flemister is a guy that really was attractive to us with his running style. From a football standpoint, we loved the fact that we had a north-and-south back here that played with low pads, and that’s what we were looking for, a guy that could really hit it inside-out for us and be extremely productive at the position. Great fit for us, really solid student that fits here at Notre Dame. So really excited about C’Bo.”

Running backs coach Autry Denson on Flemister: “I call him my throwback player. He is a down-dirty, old-school, get-it-done kind of player. It was refreshing to watch his film.”

Notre Dame gets the letter: Lawrence Keys, consensus three-star receiver

rivals.com
3 Comments

Lawrence Keys

McDonogh 35 High School; New Orleans

Measurements: 5’11”, 160 lbs.

Accolades: Consensus three-star prospect, No. 22 recruit in Louisiana, per rivals.com.

Other Notable Offers: Holding offers from the likes of Georgia, LSU, Michigan and Oklahoma, Keys’ recruitment came down to Notre Dame and Texas.

Projected Position: Receiver.

Quick Take: Keys brings more speed to the Irish receiving corps. His measurements may indicate he is slight of frame, but that would not be wholly accurate. Nonetheless, time spent in a collegiate strength and conditioning program will diminish those concerns and help Keys fit more in line with what Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long typically prefers in receivers.

Short-Term Roster Outlook: Notre Dame’s current receivers do not boast an excess of top-end speed, especially after the dismissal of current sophomore Kevin Stepherson and the intended transfer of junior C.J. Sanders. Keys will not arrive as highly-touted for his speed as classmate Braden Lenzy will, but if he can establish himself before the Oregon track star does, then there may be a role for Keys right away.

Long-View Depth Chart Impact: Even if Lenzy gets the nod ahead of Keys this season, the latter will have plenty of chances moving forward, considering they are essentially the only two burners in the Irish receiving room at the moment. Junior Chris Finke is certainly quick and graduate transfer Freddy Canteen was brought in largely for his speed when healthy, but neither has the ability to take the top off a secondary like Lenzy and Keys should.

Keys is the fourth receiver in this class. That is quite a haul in every respect, and from a pure numbers standpoint, it sets up Notre Dame very well for the next few years.

Friday at 4: The pros, cons and math of Notre Dame signing more than 25 recruits

rivals.com
37 Comments

On Wednesday, Notre Dame might exceed 25 scholarships in one recruiting class for the first time since 2006. Undoubtedly, the Irish coaches have thought about the ramifications such a large single-year group would have on recruiting in the next 12 months.

As is, Notre Dame has 21 signees in the class of 2018, one additional commitment already in hand and the possibility of multiple more by National Signing Day.

That is not to say the Irish will assuredly exceed 25 scholarships. Recruiting changes just like milkshakes melt. Yet, when considering prospects who were committed to schools before December’s early signing period but did not sign on the proverbial dotted line (consensus three-star running back C’Bo Flemister [Pike County High School; Zebulon, Ga.] and consensus three-star defensive lineman Derrick Eason [Norview H.S.; Norfolk, Va.], pictured above, as pertinent examples), they very clearly are on the market and considering current suitors.

One does not even need to read between those lines with consensus three-star cornerback DJ Brown (St. John’s College; Washington, D.C.), who de-committed from Virginia to weigh other options in Notre Dame, Cal and Northwestern.

Lawrence Keys (rivals.com)

Those three possibilities would bring the Irish to 25 players in the class, with distinct chances at consensus five-star offensive tackle Nick Petit-Frere (Berkeley Prep; Tampa, Fla.) and consensus three-star receiver Lawrence Keys (McDonogh 35; New Orleans), among others, still afloat.

RELATED READING: Whom might Notre Dame add to this recruiting class in [five] days?

For a thought exercise, let’s say Notre Dame enjoys a banner close to the recruiting cycle, pulling in four of those five, bringing the class to 26 total. (That still falls two short of the class of 2006, retroactively led by a trio of offensive linemen in Sam Young, Chris Stewart and Eric Olsen.)

Suddenly, the Irish could be looking at a class of 18 or 19 recruits next year. It would effectually be an inversion of the cycle seen in 2012 and 2013. Notre Dame signed only 17 prospects in 2012, including names such as KeiVarae Russell, Ronnie Stanley, CJ Prosise … and Gunner Kiel. That slim class allowed for 24 recruits in 2013, the nation’s No. 3 haul per rivals.com, highlighted by Jaylon Smith, Will Fuller and Mike McGlinchey.

Quick, rough math explains the crunch without spending much time. Currently, the Irish roster has 84 players slotted for 2018, including consensus three-star offensive tackle commit Luke Jones (Pulaski Academy; Little Rock, Ark.). Add the aforementioned four yet-to-commit hypothetical surprises and that count jumps to 88.

The first piece of practicality here: The attrition of three more players before August has long-been expected and became a near-certainty when Notre Dame signed 21 commitments in December.

“It is a reality,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said then. “Our situation here at Notre Dame is we have not been at that 85, so we’ve been more aggressive this year with that. I never feel really comfortable with it, to be quite honest with you, but I’ve had to get over that.”

When he says “aggressive,” Kelly means he and his staff have needed to be more up-front with certain players about their futures within the program. Presumably, someone had a frank conversation with junior defensive tackle Elijah Taylor, indicating he had been passed by multiple freshmen in the depth chart and would not likely see much playing time moving forward. Taylor then made the decision to transfer to find a better chance at contributing elsewhere.

There is nothing amoral or bothersome about that, as long as all parties are honest, but it is still an awkward and uncomfortable conversation.

To get from 88 to 85 by August, this thought exercise will presume an injury, a transfer and a suspension each occurs in the next six months.

Looking forward another whole year, the nine fifth-year players will all depart, obviously. Nine current juniors will, as well. Perhaps current sophomore cornerback Julian Love opts to turn a likely third excellent collegiate season into an NFL draft entry. Maybe one of those juniors, offensive lineman Trevor Ruhland, for example, is offered another season by the Irish coaching staff. An incoming transfer or two could arise, though an outgoing transfer or two inevitably will develop.

Those ebbs and flows would then create the opportunity to sign only 18 or 19 players in the class of 2019. If presuming another year of “aggressive” attrition, that could conceivably rise to 21 without much stress.

That may not seem to be a steep drop from the usual 24 or so, but it will alter recruiting strategies knowing there are that many fewer spots to hold open for the late-deciding, like Petit-Frere.

If possible, Notre Dame should absolutely find a way to make space for Petit-Frere on the roster. Not only is he a top-line offensive lineman to build around for a few years, but there is some credence to the thought of One in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Logic knows that is a decision being made already. It is made every year crucial class move past 22 commitments, though every signee more than 22 increases the magnitude of the effect in the years to come.

The roughest of math to settle on that figure of 22: It’s algebra, and it changes each and every year, but …

— If an average of one player leaves each year before his sophomore season,
— And another two leave before their junior years,
— And then two departs, be it for the NFL or transfer elsewhere, between their junior and senior seasons,
— And about a quarter of each class is invited to return for a fifth year, meaning 5-6 annually,
— And two transfers coming to Notre Dame every four years,

Then the average roster distribution is … [class size as freshmen] + [sophomores: class size as freshmen – 1] + [juniors: class size as freshmen – 3] + [seniors: class size as freshmen – 5] + [fifth-years: class size as freshmen / 4] + two incoming transfers = 85.

(4 x class size + class size / 4) minus seven = 85.

Average class size = 21.6, rounded up to 22.

That math is intentionally and admittedly conservative, so as to draw an inherent and hopefully-illustrative contrast to the “aggressive” tendencies needed to recruit these larger classes.

Whom might Notre Dame add to this recruiting class in six days?

rivals.com
24 Comments

Less than a week from National Signing Day, Notre Dame is in a position of power compared to most schools. The Irish have just one unsigned commit — consensus three-star offensive tackle Luke Jones (Pulaski Academy, Little Rock, Calif.) — and that is a firm pledge by every indication. Instead of worrying about losing committed high schoolers to last-minute impulses, Notre Dame stands to possibly gain a few.

Technically speaking, the Irish can exceed 25 scholarships in this class by counting up to four of the early enrollees toward last year’s signing class. That remains unlikely both from a roster construction standpoint and in considering the streak of possibilities that would need to align in a row for Notre Dame to close on four players in the next six days. Even if there were four players leaning 75 percent toward the Irish, for example, there would be only a 31.64 percent chance of landing all four.

That is clearly an example using a relatively round initial number to make a point. It is not to say there are four distinct recruits leaning that strongly toward Notre Dame, or that weakly if wanting to be critical.

There are eight prospects remaining in play for the Irish coaching staff, albeit to varying degrees. Without attempting to get too far into the minds of 17- and 18-year-olds making life-changing decisions, the eight are listed below in vague order of most- to least-likely to commit to Notre Dame no later than Feb. 7. These rough estimations are intentionally based on facts more than anything else because, again, these are teenagers considering the sales pitches of literal recruiters.

Consensus three-star running back C’Bo Flemister (Pike County High School; Zebulon, Ga.)
Any pledged commit from before Dec. 20 who did not sign during the early signing period is a dubious commitment at best. That is part of why Notre Dame emphasized receiving a National Letter of Intent from each and every one of its then-commitments. That removed all doubt.

Flemister has been committed to Georgia Tech since early December, but he did not seal the deal during that three-day period. Though he remains committed to the Yellow Jackets, the Irish have pursued Flemister diligently since dismissals ravaged their running back depth. Perhaps more notably, Notre Dame has not chased other running backs in a similar fashion, indicating some sense of comfort with Flemister.

He is also considering Tennessee to some degree, visiting both the Vols and the Irish this month.

DJ Brown (rivals.com)

Consensus three-star cornerback DJ Brown (St. John’s College H.S.; Washington, D.C.)
Brown de-committed from Virginia on Tuesday, and then to add insult to injury, he announced a top three not including the Cavaliers. It did include Notre Dame, Cal and Northwestern.

Such a shift should bode well for the Irish, who will continue to take as many cornerbacks as they can after not signing any last year. The Under Armour All-American may create an abundance of options at the position in the short-term, but the depth chart is only a year or two away from needing every piece of this class.

Consensus three-star defensive lineman Derrick Eason (Norview; Norfolk, Va.)
Eason committed to North Carolina State back in late July. Care to guess what he did not do in December? That’s right, Eason did not sign with the Wolfpack. At 6-foot-4 and 240-plus pounds, Eason could yet end up at defensive end or tackle. Either way, adding a fourth defensive lineman to the class would create a sustainable roster distribution for Notre Dame.

Lawrence Keys (rivals.com)

Consensus three-star receiver Lawrence Keys (McDonogh 35; New Orleans)
The first holdover from a December look ahead to this coming Wednesday, the Irish have maintained the recruitment of Keys despite landing three quality receiver prospects in the early signing period. That consistency will be needed if Notre Dame is to keep Keys from heading to Texas.

Consensus five-star offensive tackle Nick Petit-Frere (Berkeley Prep; Tampa, Fla.)
There was some consideration to adding a ninth, superfluous name to this list in order to make the No. 5 spot the exact midpoint. Petit-Frere’s possibilities include the Irish, Michigan, Alabama, Florida and Ohio State, and he is unlikely to tip his hand before National Signing Day.

The reason Petit-Frere, pictured above, ends up a slot ahead of the next name is simple: Notre Dame would move roster heaven and earth if it needed to make space for the future stud at offensive tackle, the No. 1 tackle in the class, per rivals.com. From day one, Petit-Frere would change the landscape of the Irish offensive line — even if he did not start as a freshman, the looming days of him doing so would force other Notre Dame linemen to reconsider their best paths to playing time.

Rivals.com three-star offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson (Mission Viejo; Calif.)
The Irish may want another lineman in the class, and Patterson would fill that distinction nicely, but that would require convincing a Los Angeles product to walk away from UCLA.

Consensus four-star linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu (Mater Dei; Santa Ana, Calif.)
Similarly, landing Tuliaupupu as the fifth linebacker in the class would mean talking him out of joining two high school classmates at USC. Could it happen? Sure, but it does not seem probable.

Consensus four-star cornerback Noah Boykin (H.D. Woodson; Washington, D.C.)
Boykin ended his commitment to Maryland shortly after visiting Florida. Those tea leaves point to him becoming a Gator.