The early signing period offers a chance to forecast the careers for another round of Notre Dame recruits. These are some signing day superlatives for the Irish 2020 class.
Biggest get — RB Chris Tyree: Running backs coach Lance Taylor needed to deliver in his first recruiting class at Notre Dame. With the help of former offensive coordinator Chip Long, Taylor landed a plug-and-play running back in Tyree, who posted the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.37 seconds) in his class nationally.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Tyree brings impressive short-area burst, elusiveness, pass-catching abilities and recruiting pedigree. He’s the first out of 15 running back signees in the Brian Kelly Era to rank among the top 115 overall players in his recruiting class on both Rivals and 247Sports. The Irish have finally landed that elusive game-changing running back.
Earliest impact — WR Jordan Johnson: Why not Tyree? Unlike Johnson, Tyree still needs to add some weight and will likely compete with six players for time at a position that was unpredictable in 2019. With top options Chase Claypool and Chris Finke gone, Notre Dame will not return a wide receiver that made more than 11 catches in the 2019 regular season.
Sophomores Kevin Austin Jr. and Braden Lenzy, and senior Javon McKinley, if he returns for a fifth season, will be Johnson’s primary competition for two outside receiver spots. All three have missed time for various reasons. Even ranking fourth out of that group as a freshman should still translate to Johnson finding a role in the rotation. Johnson, a five-star receiver per Rivals, looks too talented to keep off the field. His elite blocking skills alone are enough to earn him a niche role. Johnson’s pristine route-running, ball skills and wide catch radius make him intriguing in space and in the red zone.
Disclaimer: Long snapper Alex Peitsch doesn’t count in the earliest impact category, but his path to playing time is clear.
Highest upside — OL Tosh Baker: At this time two years ago, Baker had just finished his sophomore football season on Phoenix Pinnacle’s junior varsity squad. Now he’ll come to Notre Dame in June with the upside of a future first-round pick in the NFL Draft. Once pegged outside the top 50 offensive tackles and top 500 overall players in the 2020 class by 247Sports and Rivals, Baker now ranks No. 44 and No. 48 overall, respectively.
Baker initially favored basketball, earning scholarship offers from UC Santa Barbara, Hampton and Cal Poly. As Baker began to fill out his 6-foot-8, 275-pound frame, football emerged as his top option. The athleticism and quick feet Baker developed on the hardwood gives him the potential to develop into a left tackle comparable to former Notre Dame star Mike McGlinchey. A redshirt season seems appropriate for Baker in year one. Then his dramatic ascension should begin.
Sleeper — WR Xavier Watts: The Irish landing elite skill position players in tight end Michael Mayer, Johnson and Tyree overshadowed the value of Watts. Maybe no other Irish signee possesses more versatility. An elite player on both sides of the ball and on special teams for Omaha (Neb.) Burke, Watts could play offense or defense for Notre Dame.
In 11 games as a senior, Watts caught 62 passes for 1,072 yards and 13 touchdowns and recorded 68 tackles, three tackles for a loss, seven pass breakups and three interceptions, including two pick-sixes. With his 4.49 40-yard dash speed, Watts, an early enrollee, figures to start his Notre Dame career at slot receiver. Cornerback stands as the bigger need, however.
Strongest unit — Tight end: Chip Long left the Irish in good standing with incoming tight ends Michael Mayer and Kevin Bauman. Had Cole Kmet departed a year early for the 2020 NFL Draft, Mayer would have become a serious contender for the vacated starting position. Mayer claimed Kentucky’s Gatorade Player of the Year honors as a two-way player for Park Hills (Ky.) Covington Catholic. He would have received scholarships offers from major Power Five schools as a defensive end if he preferred that position. Mayer has All-American potential as a top 75 overall player on both 247Sports and Rivals. The talented Bauman, at worst case, gives the Irish depth.
Biggest reach — DE Alexander Ehrensberger: The Düsseldorf (Germany) Theodor-Fliedner-Gymnasium product may have a tough time adjusting to the speed of American football. The three-star recruit ranks as 247Sports’ No. 2,333 overall player and faced weak competition in Europe. At 6-7, 240 pounds, Ehrensberger flashes the size, growth potential, explosiveness, motor and aggressiveness. But there will be a learning curve technique-wise as Ehrensberger enters a logjam at strongside defensive end behind Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Justin Ademilola, Kofi Wardlow and NaNa Osafo-Mensah.
Toughest miss — WR Jalen McMillan: Had the Irish not taken a graduate transfer in former Ohio State safety Isaiah Pryor, OSU-bound safety Lathan Ransom would have been their toughest miss. Notre Dame also whiffed on top cornerbacks more than any other position. Even with all that considered, adding McMillan would have turned this skill position haul from great to elite. The Washington signee’s skill set is just as refined — if not more — than that of Jordan Johnson. The Irish looked to pounce on the four-star McMillan once Huskies coach Chris Petersen stepped down. But they remained as McMillan’s No. 2 school.