RECRUITING

Behind the ranking disparity of Notre Dame OL commit Liam Eichenberg

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Call it an old-fashioned difference of opinion.

As the college football recruiting landscape has grown — earlier evaluations, more camps and easier access to film — the disagreements seem to be fewer and smaller. A ranking disparity of several spots usually comes down to splitting hairs.

That's not quite the case with 2016 offensive line recruit Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame's most recent verbal commitment. Most national recruiting services — from 247Sports to Scout to ESPN to CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming — rate Eichenberg as a four-star prospect.

Rivals, however, pegs the 6-foot-5, 285-pounder from Cleveland, Ohio, as a three-star recruit. A closer look at position rankings shows how wide the opinion gap really is. 247Sports slates Eichenberg as the No. 5 offensive tackle in the 2016 class. Scout rates him No. 9 at position. Rivals lists him as the No. 37 offensive tackle in the country.

The ranking could be simply dismissed as an outlier, but Rivals has built a strong reputation in the recruiting industry for more than a decade. So why the low ranking for Eichenberg?

“What we see out of Liam is that he's a very solid offensive lineman,” said Rivals Midwest analyst Josh Helmholdt, who saw Eichenberg play in person twice as a junior and once as a sophomore. “He has good, not great, movement skills. His technique is solid.”

Helmholdt said a three-star rating designates the player as an FBS-level prospect among the top 750 players in the country. He pointed to four-star offensive tackles Ben Bredeson, an Irish target, and Tommy Kraemer, an Irish commit, as linemen with superior qualities when evaluating Eichenberg. Rivals ranks Kraemer as the No. 2 offensive tackle and Bredeson No. 3.

“Compared to a Ben Bredeson, he probably doesn't have that level of technical skill. Compared to Tommy Kraemer, he doesn't have that level of sheer physical prowess and power. He's not built like a Tommy Kraemer with the big shoulders and the potential to grow into a mammoth, mountain-mover type of a guy. He's a very good prospect. We just don't see him as that elite prospect that some other people do.”

247Sports agrees on the high rankings of Kraemer (No. 3 OT) and Bredeson (No. 8) but puts Eichenberg in between the two. All three are considered top 30 recruits in the country regardless of position, according to 247Sports.

Eichenberg's offer list adds another incongruence. The likes of Alabama, Florida State, Miami, Michigan State, Ohio State and Tennessee, among others were teams that thought highly enough of him to offer him a scholarship.

The player ranked one above Eichenberg at No. 36 on the Rivals list, Cole Van Lanen, claims some Big Ten offers. But teams such as Buffalo, Florida Atlantic, Illinois State, North Dakota State and Northern Illinois are just as representative.   

Helmholdt said he made his initial evaluation of Eichenberg independent of the rankings the player had received elsewhere. But when he went back to see Eichenberg again this past season, he was well aware of Eichenberg's high ranking from other sites and loaded offer list and wanted to make sure his initial impression was the same.

“We were watching. Did we miss something?” Helmholdt said. “Coming out of the season, seeing him twice — I saw him in October and his final game of the regular season — we saw the same thing that we saw as a sophomore and on film: That he's a very good player but not in the elite category that a Tommy Kraemer is in.”

Eichenberg was limited by a torn meniscus in his left knee suffered in August. He still played through the entire season at national prep power Cleveland St. Ignatius and had surgery in January. Eichenberg said he played with little strength in his left leg and had trouble rolling his hips when run blocking.

But theoretically anyone evaluated him during his junior season saw Eichenberg at relatively the same level of health. 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong saw Eichenberg in his 2014 season opener at Indianapolis Lawrence Central. Wiltfong said Eichenberg showed himself to clearly be a four-star prospect and one who could challenge Kraemer (Cincinnati Elder) as the best player in Ohio.

“He has some physical upside. He has a toughness that you're looking for in your offensive linemen that separates good from not good players on the next level,” Wiltfong said. “He's a guy that when he gets hit in the mouth on the next level that first time that he's not going to go into a shell for the next four years and leave as a guy that barely cracked the two-deep.

“He's become a more aggressive lineman. He's a guy that came in as a sophomore and continued to develop as a junior. He comes from a program where he's well-coached and seasoned. He knows how to play the position.”

The health of Eichenberg shouldn't impact his Rivals ranking too much, Helmholdt said, because they are trying to quantify one thing: Who is this guy going to be in college?  

“We're always looking for not just what they show you, but what potential do they have?” Helmholdt said. “And in answering that question, what's the likelihood of reaching that potential? It's all about who is this guy going to be at the next level?”

Having evaluated Eichenberg as a sophomore and a junior leaves Helmholdt confident in the Rivals rating. The rankings constantly evolve and will be updated in May.

Eichenberg has been unsure if he'll participate in summer camps as he recovers from his knee injury. Many top-ranked recruits attend regional camps held by Rivals and Nike in the offseason. The camps allow recruits to measure themselves up against top competition and evaluators to do the same.

The public may relate camp attendance as an opportunity for recruiting services to form a bias for or against a player. Helmholdt refutes the idea and pointed again to Kraemer, who he's never seen in a camp setting.

"We don’t ever downgrade a kid because he doesn’t camp," he said. "It’s just an opportunity to make another evaluation.”

Eichenberg will still have plenty of time to prove himself in his senior season and in the Under Armour All-America Game in January.

“I'm not sure how much or if we will see him this summer,” Helmholdt said. “Every time we see a guy, we are revisiting our evaluations on him and seeing if they need to be changed. We will do that all the way through the end of his senior season.”

For our take on Eichenberg, check out our Film Study (Premium).

tjames@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

A wide gap exists between Notre Dame offensive line commit Liam Eichenberg's rankings from Rivals and 247Sports. (SBT Illustration)