Has Rivals or 247Sports been more accurate rating Notre Dame recruits?

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

At the top of the recruiting rankings landscape sit two behemoths: Rivals and 247Sports.

Here at ND Insider, we rely on both organizations for star ratings and position rankings on Notre Dame recruits.

Each recruiting cycle, analysts from each site take their shot at evaluating the incoming crop of college football players. It seemed only fair that we put those ratings under a microscope.

For this exercise, I’ve isolated the conversation to the five recruiting classes from 2011 to 2015. Prior to the 2011 class, 247Sports didn’t offer complete star ratings. And by cutting off the conversation at the 2015 class, we can fairly judge how the careers have played out for those recruits.

Of the 111 recruits to sign with Notre Dame in that timeframe, Rivals and 247Sports have disagreed on the star rating for a recruit 27 times, excluding specialists. Those are the recruits this story will examine to identify which site has been more accurate with Irish recruits.

Determining which rating was more accurate is a subjective exercise in itself. First, I used the definitions provided by Rivals and 247Sports (seen on the left) to try to draw a distinction. When the decision seemed close, I tended to lean toward the lower star rating. I sided with the higher ranking in only seven of the 27 disagreements.

I also used the NFL Combine and NFL Draft as a measuring stick. If a player both attended the combine and was drafted, that guaranteed at least a four-star rating.

It should be noted that a recruit not living up to his star rating doesn’t necessarily mean he was projected incorrectly. Injuries and off-the-field issues have derailed several careers and prevented those recruits from reaching their potential.

For the sake of this conversation, I simply focused on the results.

Starting with the 2011 class, here’s a brief look at how each polarizing recruit fared at Notre Dame.

2011 class

Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace wasn't able to match a four-star rating during his Irish career after breaking his right leg as a junior. 

• LB Jarrett Grace

Rivals: Three stars, No. 24 ILB. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 14 ILB.

A broken right leg shattered the career trajectory for Grace in 2013. Six games into his junior season, Grace led the Irish with 40 tackles. He started three consecutive games with the last coming against Arizona State, when his injury occurred.

Grace would never start another game in his Irish career. He missed all of 2014 recovering from the injury and spent his final season playing 13 games as a reserve linebacker.

Rating winner:Rivals.

• QB Everett Golson      

Rivals: Three stars, No. 16 DUAL. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 7 PRO.

Golson appeared to be on his way to living up to a four-star rating when he led the Irish to 10 wins in his first 10 starts as a sophomore in 2012. As soon as the calendar shifted to 2013, things went sideways for Golson. The Irish lost in the national championship game to Alabama. Five months later, Golson was suspended from school for academic violations.

Golson started all 12 regular season games when he returned for his senior season in 2014, but he split time with Malik Zaire in a Music City Bowl win over LSU. Golson then pursued a graduate transfer to Florida State where he failed to finish the 2015 season as the starter.

Golson completed 443 of his 745 passes (59.5 percent) for 5,850 yards and 41 touchdowns with 20 interceptions in his Notre Dame career.

Rating winner: Rivals.

• DE Aaron Lynch

Rivals: Four stars, No. 3 SDE. | 247Sports: Five stars, No. 1 SDE.

Lynch didn’t waste time in making an impact at Notre Dame. He led the team with 5.5 sacks in a freshman season that included six starts, 33 tackles and seven tackles for a loss. That would also be his last with the Irish. He transferred to South Florida in April 2012 and finished his career with the Bulls.

He spent one season at South Florida wasn’t much more productive (30 tackles, 12.5 tackles for a loss, 6 sacks) than his freshman season at Notre Dame.

Lynch was picked in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. He played the 2018 season for the Chicago Bears.

Rating winner: Rivals.

• DE Anthony Rabasa

Rivals: Three stars, No. 11 WDE. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 14 OLB.

Rabasa’s career never found traction as an outside linebacker or defensive end at Notre Dame. He appeared in just 10 games in four years with the program and recorded seven tackles.

Rating winner: Rivals.

• DE Stephon Tuitt

Rivals: Five stars, No. 2 SDE. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 3 SDE.

Notre Dame’s peak as a program under Brian Kelly coincided with Tuitt’s rise. When the Irish went to the national championship game following the 2012 season, Tuitt was named a First Team All-American by ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports and Athlon Sports.

Tuitt spent only three years with the Irish before leaving early for the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him with the 14th pick in the second round in 2015. He finished his Notre Dame career with 122 tackles, 25 tackles for a loss and 21.5 sacks.

Rating winner: Rivals.

• DE Ishaq Williams

Rivals: Five stars, No. 2 WDE. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 4 OLB.

The intrigue around Williams far surpassed his production at Notre Dame. He totaled 45 tackles, six tackles for a loss and one sack in his first three seasons with the Irish. His career eventually stalled with an academic suspension in 2014. He attempted a return in 2015, but his eligibility was denied by the NCAA.

Williams signed with the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2016, but he never found his way onto the playing field. The Giants waived Williams in February 2018 with a failed physical designation. He spent the 2017 season on the injured reserve following knee surgery.

Rating winner: 247Sports.

2012 class

An ugly incident with police in 2014 ended Will Mahone's career at Notre Dame.

• RB Will Mahone

Rivals: Four stars, No. 18 RB. | 247Sports: Three stars, No. 28 RB.

Mahone ran into trouble off the field and couldn’t stay healthy on the field during his two-year career at Notre Dame. A 2014 offseason incident in Ohio resulted in Mahone pleading guilty to four misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, assault and aggravated menacing and led to an indefinite suspension and Mahone leaving the Irish program.

But before that, Mahone had only seen action in two games in his first two seasons at Notre Dame. He sprained his shoulder in preseason camp of his freshman season and didn’t see the field. Mahone moved to receiver as a sophomore, sprained his MCL in the preseason and broke his left foot six games into the season. He didn’t record a stat in his two appearances against Purdue and Michigan State.

Mahone was unable to successfully resurrect his career elsewhere after Notre Dame, though he did walk on at Youngstown State in 2016.

Rating winner: 247Sports.

• DE Romeo Okwara

Rivals: Three stars, No. 35 WDE. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 22 WDE.

A redshirt season probably would have done a lot for Okwara, who enrolled at Notre Dame at 17 years old. But his value on special teams led to him playing in all 13 games in Notre Dame’s run to the BCS National Championship game following the 2012 season.

That early playing time didn’t translate into faster development. Okwara didn’t start to tap into his potential as a defensive end until his senior season when he tallied 48 tackles, 12.5 tackles for a loss and eight sacks. Unfortunately for the Irish, he ran out of eligibility by the time he was close to living up to a four-star ranking.

Okwara went undrafted in 2016, but he played in all 16 games for the New York Giants that season including four starts. He joined the Detroit Lions in 2018 and recorded 37 tackles and 7.5 sacks in 15 games.

Rating winner: Rivals.

2013 class

Former Notre Dame running back Greg Bryant was tragically shot and killed in 2016.

• RB Greg Bryant

Rivals: Five stars, No. 3 RB. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 10 RB.

Even though his career didn’t work out at Notre Dame, Bryant had a chance to reach his potential as a transfer at UAB. But he was tragically shot and killed in 2016 while home for Mother’s Day. He never played a game for the Blazers.

Bryant rushed for 303 yards and three touchdowns in two seasons at Notre Dame. He left the school after being given an academic suspension for the fall semester of 2015. He enrolled at ASA College of Miami before transferring to UAB.

Rating winner: 247Sports.

• CB Devin Butler

Rivals: Three stars, No. 62 CB. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 17 CB.

Butler’s Notre Dame career unofficially ended in August 2016 when he was arrested following an altercation with police outside of a South Bend bar. He was indefinitely suspended by Irish head coach Brian Kelly, and Butler later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of resisting law enforcement.

Butler still graduated from Notre Dame and finished his college career with a graduate transfer to Syracuse.

With the Irish, Butler was never able to become a full-time starter. He totaled 39 tackles in his first three seasons, but ended the 2015 season with a broken foot, which he reinjured before the 2016 season. At Syracuse, Butler recorded 20 tackles as a nickelback. Butler played in four games for the Ottawa Redblacks of the Canadian Football League in 2018.

Rating winner: Rivals.

• ATH Rashad Kinlaw

Rivals: Three stars, No. 38 ATH. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 7 ATH.

Kinlaw didn’t make it through a full year in Notre Dame’s football program. In the spring following his freshman season, Kinlaw was dismissed from the Irish team. He served as a scout team quarterback while redshirting as a freshman.

Kinlaw transferred to ASA College of Brooklyn, but he never played for the Avengers and there’s no trace of a football career for him after that.

Rating winner: Rivals.

• OL Colin McGovern

Rivals: Three stars, No. 37 OT. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 24 OT.

There were no easy paths to playing time on the offensive line during McGovern’s career. Even though 247Sports rated him as a four-star recruit, he had plenty of competition with other talented offensive linemen in his class and the classes ahead and behind him.

McGovern was relegated to a reserve role in his first three seasons and redshirted as a freshman. He finally broke the starting lineup as a senior in 2016 when he started eight games at right guard.

McGovern had announced plans for a graduate transfer to Virginia, but he never enrolled at the school.

Rating winner: Rivals.

• WR James Onwualu

Rivals: Four stars, No. 21 ATH. | 247Sports: Three stars, No. 58 WR.

Onwualu didn’t have to wait long to play at Notre Dame. He started four games as a wide receiver in his freshman year and played in all 12 regular season games. Then as a sophomore, Onwualu moved to linebacker where his career began to blossom.

By the time Onwualu finished at Notre Dame, he served as a captain, started 33 games and totaled 143 tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks. Despite the production, Onwualu did not receive an invite to the NFL Combine and he went undrafted. He was a serviceable linebacker for the Irish but never considered the most talented linebacker on his defenses.

Onwualu played in nine games with the San Francisco 49ers in 2017 and five games with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2018.

Rating winner: 247Sports.

• S Max Redfield

Rivals: Five stars, No. 3 S. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 5 S.

Even though the star rating differed, no one was doubting the talent of Redfield as a recruit. 247Sports slated him only 11 spots lower than Rivals in the overall rankings at No. 41. The promise of that talented was never fulfilled in South Bend.

Redfield became a serviceable safety with flaws while starting 11 games each in his sophomore and junior seasons. Then Redfield’s senior season was scratched when he was dismissed from the team in August 2016. Redfield was arrested and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of carrying a handgun without a license and marijuana possession.

Redfield finished his career as a Division II All-American at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he compiled 78 tackles and four interceptions. He was invited to the NFL Combine, but he never made a roster. He’s currently on the Birmingham Iron roster for the inaugural season of the Alliance of American Football.

Rating winner: 247Sports.

• WR Corey Robinson

Rivals: Four stars, No. 44 WR. | 247Sports: Three stars, No. 105 WR.

Following his sophomore season at Notre Dame, a four-star rating seemed fitting for Robinson. He caught 40 passes for 539 yards and five touchdowns in his second season with the Irish. But Robinson’s production dipped significantly as a junior with only 16 catches for 200 yards and one touchdown.

The following June, Robinson decided to end his playing career. He cited multiple concussions as a concern for continuing a path with football. If health wasn’t an issue, Robinson may have had a shot at the NFL.

Rating winner: 247Sports.

• TE Durham Smythe     

Rivals: Three stars, No. 15 TE. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 6 TE.

The numbers from Smythe’s Notre Dame career don’t scream four-star talent. In five seasons in South Bend, Smythe caught just 28 passes for 381 yards and six touchdowns. But his workmanlike approach to the tight end position and the blocking it requires landed Smythe as a fourth-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins in 2018. In his rookie season, Smythe played in 15 games, started two and caught six passes for 50 yards with three of those catches coming in the season finale at Buffalo.

Rating winner: 247Sports.

2014 class

Offensive lineman Jimmy Byrne (67) didn't live up to a four-star rating during his Notre Dame career.  

• OL Jimmy Byrne           

Rivals: Four stars, No. 30 OT. | 247Sports: Three stars, No. 24 OG.

Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand recruited quite the haul at his position group in the 2014 class with Byrne, Quenton Nelson, Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars. But Byrne ended up being the only in the class to not turn into a multi-year starter. Come late April, Byrne might become the only one to not end up being drafted.

Byrne only played in three games in his four seasons in South Bend. All three came in his senior year.

Rating winner: 247Sports.

• TE Tyler Luatua

Rivals: Three stars, No. 12 TE. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 7 TE.

Luatua nearly left Notre Dame in 2016. He sat out spring practice that year with BYU expecting him as a transfer. But Luatua stuck with the Irish program for the 2016 season. A year later, Luatua retired from football with a medical hardship ahead of his senior season.

Luatua played in 32 games in his first three seasons on special teams and as a blocking tight end. He started four games but never recorded a catch.         

Rating winner: Rivals.

• LB Greer Martini

Rivals: Three stars, not in top 30 ILB. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 18 ILB.

If the triple option were more prevalent in college football, Martini would have lived up to his billing as a four-star recruit. He made 44 tackles in four games against Navy alone during his Notre Dame career. Martini found his way to the ball plenty regardless of the offense. In four seasons, Martini totaled 191 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks.

Martini was a solid contributor for the Irish, but he did not receive an invite to the NFL Combine. He spent some time on the practice squad for the Green Bay Packers early in the 2018 season.

Rating winner: Rivals.

• OL Sam Mustipher

Rivals: Four stars, No. 12 OG, No. 203. | 247Sports: Three stars, No. 22 OG.

Mustipher manned the center of Notre Dame’s offensive line as a starter for the final 38 games of his career. As a graduate student in 2018, Mustipher was named as one of three finalists for the Rimington Trophy given to the top center in college football. Mustipher never played center before joining the Irish and he had a rocky debut season as a starter in 2016. But he developed into a consistent and reliable force in the middle.

Mustipher doesn’t have physical traits that blow defenders away, but he should find his way onto an NFL roster in 2019.

Rating winner: Rivals.

• OL Quenton Nelson

Rivals: Five stars, No. 3 OT. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 6 OT.

Rivals rated Nelson as a five-star prospect, but it still failed to rank him high enough at No. 29 overall. In the 2018 draft, the Indianapolis Colts selected him with the sixth pick of the first round. He was named to the Pro Bowl following his rookie season.

Nelson’s success at Notre Dame wasn’t quite as immediate as his pro career. He spent his freshman season on the scout team before starting 11 games as a sophomore. He started all 25 games in his final two seasons, helped the Irish win the Joe Moore Award for the nation’s best offensive line in 2017 and was named a unanimous All-American for his play at left guard.

Rating winner: Rivals.

• S Drue Tranquill

Rivals: Three stars, No. 32 S. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 24 S.

Tranquill didn’t let injuries prevent him from meeting his potential. Torn ACLs ended his freshman and sophomore seasons, but Tranquill continued his transformation from safety to rover to linebacker in the final three years of his Notre Dame career. He finished a memorable run with the Irish as a two-time captain and a Wuerffel Trophy winner for his work in community service and excellence as a student-athlete.

Tranquill compiled 292 tackles, 25 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, five fumble recoveries and three interceptions in his Irish career. With his background as a safety, Tranquill has become an attractive linebacker option for the NFL.

Rating winner: 247Sports.

• DE Andrew Trumbetti

Rivals: Three stars, No. 17 WDE. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 5 SDE.

The opportunities for production were readily available for Trumbetti at Notre Dame. He just never found momentum to take another step forward. Trumbetti played in 49 games in four seasons with the Irish and never recorded fewer than 16 tackles in a season but never more than 28 tackles in a season. He finished with only 2.5 sacks during his career.

Trumbetti went undrafted, signed with the Chicago Bears and spent the 2018 season on their injured reserve list after being waived and unclaimed in August.

Rating winner: Rivals.

2015 class

Running back Josh Adams produced at a high level during his three seasons at Notre Dame.

• RB Josh Adams

Rivals: Three stars, No. 47 RB. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 17 RB.

Everyone had Adams pegged as the second-best running back in Notre Dame’s 2015 recruiting class behind Dexter Williams. It turned out the other way around while Adams was in South Bend. Adams accomplished so much in his first three years with the Irish, he left school early to enter the NFL. In 38 games, Adams turned 481 carries into 3,198 yards and 20 touchdowns.

A bit surprisingly, Adams went undrafted. But he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and saw action in 14 regular season games as a rookie. He rushed for 511 yards and three touchdowns on 120 carries.

Rating winner: 247Sports.

• WR Equanimeous St. Brown

Rivals: Four stars, No. 15 WR. | 247Sports: Three stars, No. 51 WR.

The end of St. Brown’s three-year Notre Dame career might overshadow the talent he displayed with the Irish. After a significant decrease in production as a junior in 2017 — due in part to poor quarterback play — St. Brown chose to leave school early. As a result, St. Brown was drafted by the Packers in the sixth round. He caught 21 passes for 328 yards in his professional debut.

St. Brown’s breakout season with the Irish came as a sophomore. He led Notre Dame with 58 receptions for 961 yards and nine touchdowns. The decline in 2018 resulted in only 33 catches for 515 yards and four touchdowns. St. Brown didn’t maximize his Irish career, but he still did enough to merit a four-star rating.

Rating winner: Rivals.

• DT Elijah Taylor

Rivals: Three stars, No. 39 DT. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 19 DT.

Taylor’s Notre Dame career came to an unofficial end with a Lisfranc fracture in his junior season. Taylor saw his first action in four games as a sophomore with three tackles and one tackle for a loss. But his foot injury capsized any momentum for more playing time.

Taylor transferred to FCS-level Eastern Kentucky and started eight games in 2018. He ended the year with 24 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss and a half sack.

Rating winner: Rivals.

• S Mykelti Williams

Rivals: Four stars, No. 16 S. | 247Sports: Three stars, No. 21 S.

Williams never played a game in a Notre Dame uniform. After redshirting as a freshman, Williams ended up at JUCO-level Iowa Western for his sophomore season where he totaled 106 tackles. Williams then transferred to Northern Illinois after initially planning to join Syracuse’s program.

At Northern Illinois, Williams has started all 26 games in the last two seasons and finishing third on the team in tackles each year. He was named to the All-Mid-American Conference second team in 2018.

Rating winner: 247Sports. 

Final tally

In the end, I sided with the Rivals rating 16 times and the 247Sports rating 11 times. There were a number of close calls including Durham Smythe, James Onwualu and Romeo Okwara.

Rivals has been established in the recruiting industry longer, so it shouldn’t be surprising that its ratings were more accurate earlier in the Brian Kelly tenure. It will be interesting to track how the most recent recruiting ratings shake out in the coming years.

There will be plenty more disagreements to settle. In the last four classes, Rivals and 247Sports have given different ratings to 26 Irish signees with nine disagreements in the 2019 class alone. Verdicts on the 2016 class, which included eight disagreements, should start to become clear in the coming year.

Former Notre Dame running back Josh Adams made 247Sports look smart for giving him a four-star rating as a recruit in the 2015 class. 

Here's how Rivals and 247Sports define their star ratings.

Rivals Rating System

Five stars: Considered one of the elite prospects in the country, generally among the nation's top 30-35 players overall, a potential first-team All American candidate and a player deemed to have first round NFL potential.

Four stars: Considered one of the next-tier elite prospects in the country, generally among the nation’s top 300-325 prospects overall, a national All American candidate and a player deemed to have first to third round NFL potential

Three stars: Considered among the region’s top prospects and generally among the nation’s top 800-850 prospects overall, a potential All-Conference candidate and a player deemed to have mid to low-end pro potential and ability to impact at the college level.

247Sports Rating System

Five stars: One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career. There will be 32 prospects ranked in this range in every football class to mirror the first round of the NFL Draft.

Four stars: One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who is projected to play professionally.

Three stars: One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country. Many three-stars have significant pro potential.