Top five needs for Notre Dame's 2015 recruiting class

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

A productive summer of recruiting leaves Notre Dame with only a handful of needs to fill in the 2015 class.

The class holds 17 verbal commitments but should have room for as many as six more recruits depending on which fifth-year players the program chooses to retain. Plenty of work is left to do in tracking down prospects to grab the remaining spots by February’s signing day.

Big visit weekends for the Michigan and Stanford games will go a long way in helping decide the fate of Notre Dame’s class, as will the play of the team this season. Here’s a look at the top five areas of need left for the staff to address in the 2015 recruiting class.

5. Quarterback: The Irish appear poised to go without a quarterback in its 2015 recruiting class after losing the commitment of Blake Barnett in June. But the situation seems to be dictated by circumstance as much as preference. In February, head coach Brian Kelly listed quarterback first when asked about the focal point of the 2015 recruiting class. Now the Irish are left with limited options.

Notre Dame offered three quarterbacks with little success after losing Barnett, who landed with Alabama. Jarrett Stidham stuck to his Texas Tech commitment, and Deondre Francois (Florida State) and Travis Waller (Oregon) made commitments to other programs before visiting South Bend.

The search for a quarterback has remained stagnant since then. The staff has yet to extend more offers to prospects in the 2015 class while moving forward aggressively with a number of the top quarterbacks in the 2016 class. It’s hard to imagine Kelly not signing a quarterback in a recruiting class at Notre Dame because it hasn’t happened previously. Don’t rule out the possibility of the Irish making a move for a quarterback late in the cycle. Until then, the scholarship Barnett once pledged to will be used elsewhere.

4. Wide receiver: Numbers aren’t a problem for Notre Dame at the wide receiver position. Three commitments – Jalen Guyton, C.J. Sanders and Miles Boykin – give the Irish a well-rounded unit gifted with upside. But the Kelly offense can never have quite enough playmakers at the spot. That’s why the Irish remain in pursuit of several receivers with room for likely one more left in the class.

A receiver with size would complement the roster well, which is why the Irish continue to target the 6-foot-5, 195-pound Equanimeous St. Brown from Anaheim (Calif.) Servite. The four-star prospect should make an official visit to Notre Dame this season. Cordell Broadus, the son of rapper Snoop Dogg, also remains on the board as receiver with size (6-2, 185). His high school teammate at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, Irish safety commit Nicco Fertitta, could help procure a visit from Broadus.

Other smaller receivers on the periphery include K.J. Hill, Malik Lovette, and Stanley “Scrappy” Norman. Hill, a four-star prospect, plans to announce a commitment on Friday. He has yet to make a visit to Notre Dame, but previously indicated the Irish would receive one of his official visits.

3. Running back: A lack of roster depth pushes running back to third on this list. The Irish landed a commitment from 2015 running back Josh Adams in June, but that still only gives Notre Dame three scholarship players at the position when he joins Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant. A miss at running in the 2014 recruiting class left the Irish with the need for two running backs in the 2015 class from the outset.

Adams, who has returned to full health after ACL surgery last season, gave the Irish a good start at the position. His injury raised questions in his long-term potential, but he proved dynamic with a sophomore season of 2,089 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns. Two other Notre Dame commits, Sanders and cornerback Nick Coleman, have played in the backfield in high school but have been recruited first at other positions. The Irish shouldn’t have to switch their positions if they can land another running back.

At the top of the realistic wish list sits four-star Soso Jamabo of Plano (Texas) West. The 6-3, 203-pound prospect, who visited South Bend in June, expressed plans to visit Notre Dame again for the Michigan game. Pairing Jamabo with Adams would qualify as a big win for running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Tony Alford.

Another running back, Cameron Scarlett, plans to use an official visit to Notre Dame as well. Rivals ranks the 6-1, 205-pound prospect from Portland (Ore.) Central Catholic as a four-star recruit and the No. 8 all-purpose back. 247Sports slates him as a three-star prospect.

2. Linebacker: Josh Barajas needs some friends to join him at linebacker. The four-star Irish commitment pledged to Notre Dame in May but remains the lone recruit at the position. New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s 4-3 base defense requires less linebackers on the field than the previously used system, but youth has already moved into the two-deep because of slim pickings. The Irish could use another inside linebacker and/or outside linebacker.

Notre Dame sits in a good position in one of its biggest areas of need. Barajas may be one of Notre Dame’s most impressive commits, and the Irish are closing in on two more targets: inside linebacker Te’von Coney and outside linebacker Asmar Bilal.

Coney, a 6-1, 220-pound prospect from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., would provide a physical presence inside for Notre Dame. Florida and Miami have emerged as the top threats against Notre Dame in the recruitment of the four-star linebacker.

Bilal, a 6-3, 201-pound prospect at Indianapolis Ben Davis, offers athleticism as his biggest asset. It remains a Notre Dame-Michigan battle for the four-star, in-state recruit.

1. Defensive end: Defensive line recruiting continues to be a struggle for Notre Dame. Last cycle the Irish were left scrambling for defensive tackles in the final weeks before signing day. This year the dilemma has shifted outside. The Irish have landed three commitments on the defensive line already, but all three are best suited as interior linemen. The class remains with zero true defensive ends.

The good news is a pair of defensive end prospects, Porter Gustin and Bo Wallace, plan to be in town for the night game against Michigan. The bad news is some elite targets, Byron Cowart and Keisean Lucier-South, appear destined to sign elsewhere.

Gustin, a four-star on Rivals and five-star on 247Sports, may be the most talented pass rusher to visit this season. The 6-foot-5, 237-pound from Salem, Utah, brings size and athleticism to the football field. Wallace, a three-star prospect, is a smaller player at 6-4, 210 pounds, but plays at the powerhouse program of John Curtis in River Ridge, La. Both would be fits in Notre Dame’s class.

Cowart, the No. 1 overall player in the class according to Rivals, will announce his decision on Sept. 28. The 6-4, 250-pounder from Seffner, Fla., is considered a Florida lean. Lucier-South, also a five-star prospect, scratched a planned Notre Dame visit for the Michigan game when he updated his list of top schools in July. Now Florida, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon and UCLA make up his top five.

Work remains to be done at the position, and the Irish staff is likely to spend a lot of energy improving its chances at landing a pair of defensive ends to close the cycle. | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Wide receiver C.J. Sanders, a 2015 prospect from Brentwood, Tenn., verbally committed to Notre Dame shortly after visiting campus. (George Walker IV/The Tennessean)

The following players are expected to visit Notre Dame for Saturday’s game against Rice:

2015 Commitments

LB Josh Barajas

WR Miles Boykin

DT Brandon Tiassum