Top five 2015 commits for Notre Dame football

South Bend Tribune


With a hot summer on the recruiting trail, Notre Dame’s 2015 recruiting class moved into the top 10 nationally. The 17 current commitments should make up the majority of the Irish class that signs in February.

Notre Dame will continue to recruit to round out an elite class that likely will finish with somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-22. But the current Irish class wouldn’t have moved to No. 7 in the country according to Rivals and 247Sports without the members who have already offered their pledge to head coach Brian Kelly.

Some commitments mean more than others – whether it’s a matter of need, talent or a confluence of circumstances. The top of the class offers more appeal to fellow recruits and hope for a promising future to fans.

Here’s one ranking of the top five staples of Notre Dame’s current recruiting class and why each commitment is so important.

5. OL Jerry Tillery, 6-6, 315; Shreveport (La.) Evangel:

Tillery’s recruitment is part par for the course and part anomaly for Notre Dame. Since offensive line coach Harry Hiestand arrived at Notre Dame, the Irish have been recruiting elite offensive lineman with regularity. In the previous two recruiting cycles, Notre Dame signed nine offensive linemen, almost all with four-star ratings or higher.

Tillery continued the trend when he became the first 2015 commitment in June 2013. If he enrolls at Notre Dame, he will end a Louisiana drought for the Irish. The last player to sign with Notre Dame from the Pelican State was Albert Poree in 1999. In the past year-plus, Notre Dame has increased its efforts in the state behind secondary coach Kerry Cooks. Tillery’s commitment could help the Irish finally break through in a talent-rich state.

Making sure Tillery stays on the path to enrolling early at Notre Dame in January won’t be easy. LSU continues to push hard to prevent him from leaving the state. Both programs covet the size and athleticism Tillery brings to the offensive line. With work on technique with Hiestand, Tillery could become a standout offensive tackle.

247Sports slates Tillery as the No. 8 offensive tackle in the 2015 class. Rivals ranks him No. 15 at the position. Both rate Tillery as a four-star prospect. Watch highlights of Tillery here.

4. WR Miles Boykin, 6-4, 225; New Lenox (Ill.) Providence Catholic: 

Size matters when it comes to Boykin. The recently committed wide receiver would become one of the biggest receivers to sign with the Irish in recent years. Sophomore Corey Robinson (6-5, 205) is the tallest wide receiver on the team. Only Daniel Smith (6-4, 208), Michael Floyd (6-3, 215) and Duval Kamara (6-4, 205) came to Notre Dame in the last decade with similar size.

Boykin could grow into a tight end at Notre Dame, but he’ll start at wide receiver with a 40-yard dash time of 4.5 seconds and a 35-inch vertical jump. His size and speed will allow Boykin to develop into a big-play threat and a reliable red-zone target, something the Irish offense has lacked at the receiver position since the departure of Floyd following the 2011 season.

A prospect from a Catholic school in the Chicago area, Boykin fit the mold of a recruit the Irish should land. If the Irish are able to find a quarterback in the 2015 class, the opportunity to throw to Boykin and his fellow receivers can be a part of the pitch.

Rivals ranks Boykin as the No. 10 wide receiver in the 2015 class. 247Sports slates him No. 34 at the position. Both rate Boykin as a four-star prospect. Watch highlights of Boykin here.

3. CB Shaun Crawford, 5-9, 170; Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward:

Notre Dame fended off a pair of Big Ten recruiting rivals — Michigan and Ohio State — to land Crawford. Once a Michigan commit, Crawford flipped following a visit to Notre Dame and eventually committed to the Irish in June. The impression left from the trip to South Bend wiped out any momentum the Buckeyes could stir up before his second decision.

Crawford is an explosive playmaker on both sides of the ball. He combined for more than 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, then totaled 82 tackles as a safety. He’ll play cornerback in college where he’s developing coverage skills to go with his quick closing speed.

Previous defensive coordinator Bob Diaco may not have recruited Crawford because of his size, but Brian VanGorder pushed for the undersized speedster. At the national Nike football camp, The Opening, Crawford recorded a 4.48 40-yard dash and a 38.8 inch vertical on Tuesday. Some of the numbers coming out of the camp seem more in favor of the athletes than the NFL Combine, but his 40 time seems to match the speed shown on film and in camp settings.

Rivals ranks Crawford as the No. 13 cornerback prospect in the 2015 class. 247Sports slates him No. 15 at the position. Both rate Crawford as a four-star prospect. Watch highlights of Crawford here.

2. WR C.J. Sanders, 5-10, 176; Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame:

The Irish may have finally found the slot weapon they’ve been looking for. Since Kelly’s arrival, the search has been virtually fruitless. In the 2012 class, the answer was supposed to be Davonte’ Neal. He transferred to Arizona a year later. Last cycle, the Irish chased wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, but academic complications rerouted him to Georgia. This time around, Sanders chose Notre Dame over Stanford, Tennessee and USC.

He brings the speed and elusiveness to make plays in crowded slot areas. He might even find time in the backfield if needed. But his natural position will be in the slot, where he can create mismatches with defenders and bring the possibility of turning a quick slant into a big yards. He caught 52 passes for 734 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior at Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy before moving to California this summer for his senior year.

On Tuesday at The Opening, Sanders was credited with one of the fastest 40 times at 4.32. Sanders is fast, but it’s unlikely that he’s faster than all but one of the players at the 2014 NFL Combine (Dri Archer, 4.26). But his speed compared to the other recorded times at The Opening is what matters most, and his time helped him qualify as one of the top 10 performers in SPARQ testing.

Rivals ranks Sanders as the No. 37 wide receiver in the 2015 class. 247Sports slates him No. 38 at the position. Both rate Sanders as a four-star prospect. Watch highlights of Sanders here.

1. LB Josh Barajas, 6-3, 215; Merrillville (Ind.) Andrean:

Despite his offensive reputation, Kelly’s successful Notre Dame teams have been defined by stars along the defensive front seven. Linebacker Manti Te’o and defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix helped lead that resurgence. An impressive freshman campaign gives linebacker Jaylon Smith the proverbial torch. Barajas is next in line.

Barajas seemed destined to land in South Bend following an offer from the Irish in March. But the prospect from a Catholic school just 70 miles from Notre Dame verbally committed to Penn State at the end of March. By May 30, Barajas flipped his commitment.

Keeping Barajas, the top Indiana prospect per 247Sports, in state and away from new Penn State head coach James Franklin marked an important recruiting victory for the Irish. Notre Dame doesn’t offer many Indiana prospects but should expect to keep the best of the bunch that attract top programs.

With good length and a strong frame, Barajas can do a little bit of everything at linebacker. He can be disruptive stuffing the run, rushing the passer and in coverage. A combination of Jaylon Smith, Nyles Morgan and Josh Barajas could be a fearsome linebacker corps for the Irish in the future.

247Sports slates Barajas as the No. 2 inside linebacker in the 2015 class. Rivals ranks him the No. 14 outside linebacker. Both rate Barajas as a four-star prospect. Watch highlights of Barajas here.

Have a different top five? Comment your list below.| 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

5. OL Jerry Tillery, 6-6, 315; Shreveport (La.) Evangel: Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand reached into the talent-rich state of Louisiana for a gem in the tall, athletic Tillery. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN).
4. WR Miles Boykin, 6-4, 225; New Lenox (Ill.) Providence Catholic: Notre Dame hasn't landed many wide receivers with a better size and speed combination than Boykin in the last decade (Photo courtesy Sun-Times Media/Allen Cunningham). 
3. CB Shaun Crawford, 5-9, 170; Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward: Though undersized, Crawford brings the skill set of an explosive playmaker to Notre Dame's defens (Photo courtesy of Cleveland Plain Dealer/THOMAS ONDREY).
2. WR C.J. Sanders, 5-10, 176; Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame: Sanders, with the ability to turn quick slants into long touchdowns, is the slot weapon that head coach Brian Kelly covets for his spread offense (Photo courtesy of The Tennesseean/George Walker IV).
1. LB Josh Barajas, 6-3, 215; Merrillville (Ind.) Andrean: Barajas could be the next star in Notre Dame's recent front seven resurgence (Photo courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana/Mike McArdle).