Identifying the reasons for rankings disparities in Notre Dame's recruiting class

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Before Brian Polian finished his opening remarks about the 20 recruits who signed with the Notre Dame football program on Wednesday, the Irish recruiting coordinator asked for patience on the development of each player.

“Obviously we feel these young men can come in and compete at a high level, but sometimes it takes time,” Polian said, “and we need to allow for that learning curve and that process before we start anointing guys as saviors.”

The recruiting industry, and coverage such as this, has been built on the star-rating system, projections and evaluations on kids who have yet to attend their senior proms. The debate that comes from that process won’t be ending any time soon. A little bit of patience doesn’t have to stop the discussion.

In Notre Dame’s 2018 class, four of the recruits who signed with the Irish Wednesday have been graded vastly differently by Rivals and 247Sports. In the spirit of debate, we caught up with analysts from both recruiting networks to expand on their thoughts regarding each player.

• LB Bo Bauer, 6-3, 220; Erie (Pa.) Cathedral Prep: Rivals likes Bauer quite a bit. He’s pegged as the No. 5 inside linebacker in the 2018 class and as a four-star recruit.

His physical play at Cathedral Prep propelled him to that ranking.

“I love his size, No. 1,” said Adam Friedman, Mid-Atlantic recruiting analyst for Rivals. “But No. 2, when you watch his film, this guy's taking people's heads off. He's a big-time hitter, He has really good instincts, and he sees the play very quickly. He's able to get there with authority.”

In an undefeated senior season, Bauer totaled 106 tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. He frequently disrupted plays.

“Teams have a hard time game-planning for him, because he can do so many different things well,” Friedman said. “He's good as a blitzer. He's good reading and reacting. He's fairly good in coverage too, although he didn't face too many teams that tried to throw a ton on them. The only knock on him is we haven't really been able to figure out how good he is in coverage.”

That would be a notable question mark in the current college football landscape. Opponents threw the ball an average of 34.3 times per game against Notre Dame this season.

If Bauer struggles in coverage, his ranking from 247Sports may be justified. That’s where he’s been slated as a three-star recruit and the No. 23 inside linebacker.

"Bo Bauer's incredibly stiff,” said 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong. “He's fast and hard-hitting, but he doesn't move laterally well. A linebacker has to move laterally. He has to be able to change direction and tackle. So there's a question mark there.

“I'm not saying that he won't be a great player, but we didn't rank him as high because of the question mark of how he's going to play in space at a position where it's very important to change direction and tackle. Downhill, he's tremendous. He's fast and he hits hard. We like him, we just don't like him as much some others."

In April, Bauer recorded less-than-stellar times in the 40-yard dash and the 20-yard shuttle at The Opening Regional camp in Cleveland. Where the 40 measures straight-line speed, the shuttle requires quick change of direction.

Bauer finished the 40 in 4.85 seconds and shuttle in 4.78 seconds. For comparison, fellow Irish linebacker recruit Jack Lamb was timed at 4.7 in the 40 and 4.37 in the shuttle at the Los Angeles version of the camp.

Rivals ranks Lamb as the No. 2 inside linebacker in the class. 247Sports slates him No. 7.

• WR Micah Jones, 6-5, 202; Gurnee (Ill.) Warren Township: Rivals has the higher ranking for Jones as well. And Josh Helmholdt, the Midwest recruiting analyst for Rivals, feels pretty strongly about that position.

"I think it's crazy some people don't have him even in their top 100 wide receivers,” Helmholdt said. “You look at his size, his hands and his route-running. They're elite. I'm talking like top 5-10 at the position. That's three attributes that are elite.

“The question from early on was does he have enough explosiveness? Is he sudden enough to create separation? He answered that question for me at the Irish Invasion camp before his junior year by going against top Division I prospects. He reiterated that to me when we had him at the Rivals 100 Five-Star Challenge in Indianapolis, which is the best of the best defensive backs.”

Rivals ranks Jones as the No. 36 wide receiver in the class as a four-star recruit. 247Sports slates him as a three-star recruit and the No. 126 wide receiver.

Jones saw a dramatic increase in his production between Jones' junior and senior seasons. He only caught 23 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns as a junior. In 12 games this past season, he finished with 53 catches for 710 yards and 12 touchdowns.

That jump wasn’t enough for a sizable bump from 247Sports.

"For a guy that's as big as he is, for us to rank him higher,” Wiltfong said, “he just hasn't flashed dominant one-on-one ball skills to just destroy smaller defenders. We just can't go higher on him. It doesn't mean we think he's bad."

• S Paul Moala, 5-11, 200; Mishawaka (Ind.) Penn: 247Sports has the higher ranking on Moala, and Wiltfong isn’t willing to rule out that it should be even higher. Moala has been pegged as a three-star recruit and the No. 39 safety in the class by 247Sports.

"He's very athletic, first of all. He's very quick,” Wiltfong said. “(Rover) Shayne Simon is the quickest guy in the (ND) class, but Moala's up there. Moala runs pretty well too with a 4.7 (40) laser time. There's a lot more in the tank for Paul.

“If anything, Paul could make our three-star ranking looking bad, because he's such a good athlete. You know he's going to be a tough kid. He's smart. I feel good about Moala being an impact player at Notre Dame."

Rivals has much more uncertainty with Moala rated as a two-star recruit. As defined by Rivals, a two- star recruit is “a mid-major prospect with limited pro potential and expected to contribute 1-2 years at a high level maximum or often as a role player."

Moala could still receive a higher grade when Rivals finishes its final 2018 class rankings in January. Helmholdt said Moala’s rating came from his junior film. He was unable to see Moala during the offseason and had yet to see his senior film before the last rankings update.

“He has a decent skill set and a good-sized frame,” Helmholdt said. “Is he a guy that provides a uniqueness that you're not going to get from a lot of other players? No. What we saw in junior film, he has a skill set that is duplicated by a lot of players around the country."

Moala finished his senior season with 79 tackles, 686 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns.

• CB Tariq Bracy, 5-11, 170; Milpitas (Calif.) High: Both Polian and head coach Brian Kelly pointed to Bracy on Wednesday as one of the most underrated recruits in the class. Despite a highly productive high school career, Bracy lacked a lot of big-time scholarship offers.

That didn’t prevent 247Sports from rating Bracy as a four-star recruit and ranking him as the No. 20 athlete in the class. The athlete designation is given to recruits who could play a number of different positions in college.

Bracy spent a lot of his career playing running back, but the Irish have recruited him initially as a cornerback.

"We love him. He shows up across the board on the stat sheet,” Wiltfong said. “He ran 4.5 on the laser before his junior year. I couldn't find any speed on him after that, but that was good enough for me. I doubt he got slower. He runs really well. He's ultra-productive.”

Bracy finished his senior season with 2,067 rushing yards. The year prior, he recorded 1,117 rushing yards and 1,036 receiving yards. He also had 14 interceptions in his career on defense.

“I think he could be a guy that Notre Dame could play at receiver and get a lot of mileage out of him,” Wiltfong said. “He has a ton of upside as a DB. He's a fluid athlete, changes direction and runs well and has ball skills."

The uncertainty of Bracy’s future position contributed to Rivals rating him as a three-star recruit and the No. 39 athlete.

"He's an interesting prospect,” said Adam Gorney, national recruiting analyst for Rivals. “I hope I'm not wrong on him, but I hope he proves me wrong at the same time. He's an incredibly athletic kid, very versatile.

“He can play multiple positions, but the question I have is what position does he really play at the college level? Is he a running back? Does he have the size to take the pounding? Is he going to be a slot receiver? Is he going to be a defensive back? Where does he really fit as a position player long term?"

Gorney also questioned the level of competition Bracy played against. Milpitas doesn’t play against the powerhouse programs in northern California that are loaded with Division I talent. That led Gorney to lean more on what he saw in other settings.

"I'm probably a little conservative on his ranking,” Gorney said. “I saw him during seven-on-seven play, and he was OK from time to time, but he didn't exactly completely blow me away like some other four and five stars have."

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Cathedral Prep's Matthew Bauer (27) attempts to tackle Imhotep Charter's Tykee Smith (2) during the first quarter of the PIAA Class 4A football championship at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey on Dec. 7, 2017. (Photo courtesy of the Erie Times-News/MATTHEW O'HAREN)