Which Notre Dame commits could play in 2016?

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

In the weeks following signing day, countless media outlets compile lists of recruits who could make impacts as freshmen.

Few, if any, of those lists included Notre Dame running back Josh Adams before the 2015 season. More than anything, a depth chart that included Tarean Folston, Greg Bryant and C.J. Prosise made the possibility slim. Some even believed fellow freshman Dexter Williams had a better chance of playing as a freshman.

Then Bryant received a suspension, Folston suffered a season-ending knee injury and someone needed to spell Prosise in his first season at the position. Adams delivered on his first career carry — a 14-yard touchdown run against Texas — and in his first career start — 141 yards and a record-setting 98-yard touchdown run against Wake Forest.

But Adams isn’t the only freshman to find a role at Notre Dame this season. Six freshmen have played in all 10 games: Adams, defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, tight end Alize Jones, kicker Justin Yoon, wide receiver C.J. Sanders, and cornerback Nick Coleman.

The list may be even shorter next season. As Notre Dame continues to improve its overall depth on the roster, the fewer opportunities there will be for freshmen to play.

“Notre Dame’s such a deep, talented football team and they’re bringing a lot of it back next year,” said 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong. “It’s going to be hard for these true freshmen to make a pivotal impact.”

Identifying positions of need leads to the easiest answers. Kicker Kyle Brindza exhausted his eligibility last season, so it was no surprise that Yoon would join the starting lineup. An inexperienced group of tight ends made the path to the field shorter for Jones.

For Notre Dame’s 2016 class, the biggest positions of need are clearly safety and defensive end. The Irish have showed as much by attacking both positions on the recruiting trail. Notre Dame has received verbal commitments from four defensive ends and three safeties.

Both Wiltfong and CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming pointed to safety Jalen Elliott and defensive end Khalid Kareem as Notre Dame’s best freshman prospects at their positions.

Wiltfong said Elliott, a 6-foot-1, 177-pound senior at Chesterfield (Va.) L.C. Bird, is his top candidate to play as freshman from Notre Dame’s current class. Both 247Sports and Rivals rate Elliott as a three-star recruit.

“Jalen’s a kid that’s so smart,” Wiltfong said. “He’s a two-year captain who plays quarterback. He can play corner or safety on the next level. He’s one of the better players in Notre Dame’s class despite what the rankings say. I think Jalen Elliott’s an instant impact guy in South Bend in some capacity.”

Kareem leads the list of defensive ends because of his physical traits and high school production. The 6-foot-4, 257-pound recruit totaled 16 sacks, 56 tackles, and 37 tackles for a loss in 10 games as a senior at Farmington Hills (Mich.) Harrison.

Lemming has compared the addition of Kareem to Notre Dame’s signing of Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch in the 2011 class. Both played as freshmen and made it to the NFL.

“He’s going to come in physically ready to go,” Wiltfong said of Kareem. “He can get some snaps immediately.”

247Sports slates Kareem as the No. 9 strongside defensive end in the 2016 class. Rivals ranks him 19th at the position. Both peg him as a four-star recruit.

Beyond the previously mentioned players, Lemming pointed to running back Tony Jones Jr., whose opportunity will be dictated by the return of Prosise and Folston, and cornerback Donte Vaughn, a lanky athlete who could also play safety, as other names to watch as freshmen.

Of course Notre Dame could add a few instant-impact recruits in the final months before signing day. Linebacker Daelin Hayes, wide receiver Javon McKinley, safety Devin Studstill and defensive end Oluwole Betiku would all fit the criteria.

Just don’t count anyone out. Adams is the proof.

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Safety commit Jalen Elliott walks off the field after Notre Dame's 41-31 win over USC on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015. (SBT Photo/JARED HAMSHER)