Analysis: The Opening Finals shows gap between Notre Dame defensive and offensive recruiting

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

FRISCO, Texas — A close look at the roster for The Opening Finals offers a stark reality for Notre Dame football recruiting.

There’s a decent chance that none of the offensive players attending this year’s annual gathering of the top recruits in the country will end up signing with the Irish in the 2019 class.

How can that be true for an Irish class that currently ranks among the top 10 nationally?

Simply put, Notre Dame’s defensive recruiting is outpacing its offensive recruiting. The Opening Finals is just providing more evidence for that argument.

If not for Notre Dame’s four commitments on the offensive line, there wouldn’t even be a debate. The Irish have only one skill position player committed on offense: three-star running back Kyren Williams.

The Irish likely would have some offensive representation at The Opening Finals had all four linemen — Quinn Carroll, Zeke Correll, John Olmstead and Andrew Kristofic — not chosen to pass on participating at any of The Opening Regional events this year.

Instead, the only two Irish commits at the event are defensive end NaNa Osafo-Mensah and safety Kyle Hamilton. Defensive end Aeneas DiCosmo, linebacker Tristan Sinclair and cornerbacks Isaiah Rutherford and Max Williams could add to that number if they choose to commit to Notre Dame.

Even if the Irish were to sign all four of those 2019 targets, they wouldn’t match last year’s defensive output at The Opening Finals. Seven members of Notre Dame’s 2018 class took part in the event: safeties Houston Griffith and Derrik Allen, linebackers Shayne Simon, Jack Lamb and Ovie Oghoufo and defensive tackles Jayson Ademilola and Ja’mion Franklin.

Last year marked a significant reversal of Notre Dame’s trend with recruits at The Opening Finals. In the previous four years, 24 finalists ended up signing with the Irish. Nineteen of them were offensive prospects at the recruiting showcase. That list includes quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Brandon Wimbush, wide receivers Equanimeous St. Brown and Chase Claypool and offensive linemen Quenton Nelson, Tommy Kraemer and Robert Hainsey.

Notre Dame needs to find a better balance to maximize its recruiting classes. Signing top-tier talent on both sides of the ball consistently is always the goal. The Irish are off to a good start on the offense in the 2020 class with quarterback Drew Pyne and tight ends Michael Mayer and Kevin Bauman all rated as four-star recruits. Mayer joined the class on Sunday.

Of course, The Opening Finals isn’t the only measurement that can gauge that success. The 247Sports Composite, which combines the rankings of 247Sports, Rivals and ESPN, shows that the Irish signed lower-end targets at multiple offensive positions in the 2018 class.

Only one of the 15 running backs reporting Notre Dame offers in the 2018 class finished ranked lower in the 247Sports Composite than signee C’Bo Flemister. None of the eight tight ends reporting Notre Dame offers finished with a lower ranking than signee Tommy Tremble. and only two of the 13 offensive tackles reporting Notre Dame offers finished ranked lower than signee Cole Mabry.

Two of Notre Dame’s latest offensive targets in the 2019 class have similar low-ranking distinctions. Three-star quarterback Brendon Clark is the lowest-ranked of Notre Dame’s nine quarterback targets in the 2019 class. Three-star wide receiver Cam Hart is the lowest-ranked of Notre Dame’s 24 wide receiver targets.

Unless the Irish can convince four-star wide receiver Cornelius Johnson or three-star wide receiver Genson Hooper-Price to join their class, Notre Dame will likely fail to sign any of the 82 offensive players in the 2019 class at The Opening Finals.

If the Irish don’t find more talent on offense, the defense will continue to be the strength of the class.

McNamara on Michigan

Notre Dame would have been represented on offense at The Opening Finals if Cade McNamara stuck with his verbal commitment to the Irish. McNamara is one of 12 quarterbacks competing at the event.

On Saturday, McNamara declined to get into specifics of his decision to ditch the Irish in March. Instead, he wanted to focus on Michigan. The 6-foot-1, 202-pound rising senior at Reno (Nev.) Damonte Ranch eventually committed to the Wolverines two weeks later.

“First off, I felt like it wasn’t really a switch,” McNamara said of his commitment flip. “It was more of I felt like Notre Dame wasn’t the best fit for me anymore.

“After I visited Michigan, I just felt like it was the spot for me. The cohesiveness of the whole entire staff. The facilities are off the charts, but I wasn’t really looking for the facilities. I was looking for my relationship with the head coach. When the first person I saw was coach (Jim) Harbaugh, that meant a lot to me.

“He really cares about me and our relationship. He shows that to his players. That meant a lot to me. Just the way the offense runs in the pro-style system, I feel like I can fit in well.”

Both Rivals and 247Sports peg McNamara as a four-star recruit and the No. 10 pro-style quarterback in the 2019 class.

Team Overdrive

Both Notre Dame commits, NaNa Osafo-Mensah and Kyle Hamilton, are on the same team at The Opening Finals: Team Overdrive.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll be on the field at the same time. Osafo-Mensah, a defensive end, will be competing against offensive linemen while Hamilton, a safety, will participate in the seven-on-seven tournament.

Osafo-Mensah will look to earn a spot in the Final 5, a recognition of the top five linemen on each side of the ball. Last year, Notre Dame defensive tackle commit Jayson Ademilola received a spot in the Final 5. Irish linebacker commit Jack Lamb was on the winning team, Mach Speed, of last year’s seven-on-seven tournament.

Both competitions will wrap up Tuesday.

Four-star defensive end NaNa Osafo-Mensah, a 2019 recruit, will announce his college commitment on Saturday.