Why were many of the 2019 Irish signees rated differently?

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame’s 2019 class ranks among its most polarizing recruiting hauls in recent memory.

In terms of star ratings, 247Sports and Rivals differed on nine of the 22 Irish signees. The amount of four-star and five-star recruits on both sites are about the same, too. 247Sports has 32 five-star and 355 four-star players for 2019. Rivals possesses 30 and 361, respectively.

To understand why there were many differences, ND Insider spoke to Rivals’ regional analysts and Steve Wiltfong, 247Sports’ director of recruiting. While these analysts influenced ratings, their opinions are not fully representative of 247Sports and Rivals.

Below are eight of the nine players with whom 247Sports and Rivals disagreed. To read about the ninth recruit, Litchfield Ajavon, click here.

S Kyle Hamilton, 6-3, 190; Atlanta Marist: Both sites were high on Hamilton, but 247Sports ranked Hamilton among the top of the 2019 class. As a five-star recruit, Hamilton was 247Sports’ No. 1 safety and No. 15 overall player.

Hamilton was a nobody of sorts this time last year. When the Irish offered Hamilton in February of 2018, he was 247Sports’ No. 66 safety. Then, Hamilton shined at The Opening Finals and filled out his lengthy frame.

Once considered a basketball player in a football player’s body, Hamilton projects as a future first-round pick to 247Sports analysts.

“Seeing him in person at the Nike camp in Atlanta prior to his senior season, I saw an incredible specimen,” Wiltfong said. "Outstanding length, outstanding athleticism and still filling out his body. He has a long way to go physically. But athletically, off the charts. He had an amazing senior year. He’s a guy that really elevates Notre Dame’s personnel in the secondary athletically.”

Hamilton flashed his athleticism and ball-hawk abilities as a senior, recording 72 tackles, four interceptions, one forced fumble, eight pass breakups and two blocked kicks. He also impressed as a receiver and on special teams.

It took time for Chad Simmons, Rivals’ Southeast analyst, to buy Hamilton’s stock. Hamilton wasn’t active on the 7-on-7 circuit and wasn’t seen much, Simmons said. Rivals slates Hamilton as its No. 7 safety and No. 75 overall player.

“He’s still a lean, very thin kid that needs to add weight,” Simmons said. “He’s not the fastest testing kid, or off the charts. But he stays around the football and is a great player. Over time, the more I saw him, the more I liked him.”

DE NaNa Osafo-Mensah, 6-3, 235; Fort Worth (Texas) Nolan Catholic: Osafo-Mensah plunged in both final rankings, descending 109 spots on 247Sports and dropping from No. 174 overall to out of the top 250 on Rivals.

Rivals used an unorthodox approach to rate Osafo-Mensah. They juggled between regional analysts to rate Texas recruits. Mike Farrell, the site’s national recruiting director, valued Osafo-Mensah lower than most. Farrell’s influence showed through Osafo-Mensah’s three-star rating. He’s the site’s No. 23 weakside defensive end.

“Sometimes it’s not what they do, in terms of what they did wrong,” Farrell said. “It’s just that they are behind others. He’s not great in space. He’s not a natural quick-twitch kid.”

Farrell referred to Osafo-Mensah as a tweener, questioning if he fits at a certain position. With his size, Osafo-Mensah could develop at either defensive end or move to the second level as a linebacker.

Perhaps Osafo-Mensah’s biggest red flag was his mediocre performances against elite competition. No analyst raved about his time at The Opening or last month’s All-American Bowl. Granted, both were small sample sizes.

“Our last evaluation is always a controversial one, because people say, ‘How can you base anything on one week of practice?’ But, it is practice and a game against the best of the best,” Farrell said. “You could clearly see a difference between guys. He lost that fourth star because of the comparisons we had.”

As a senior, Osafo-Mensah amassed 65 tackles, 24 tackles for a loss, 23 quarterback hurries, 14 sacks, four pass breakups, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.

247Sports kept Osafo-Mensah as a four-star recruit, and some view his position uncertainty as versatility. He’s the site’s No. 14 weakside defensive end and No. 222 overall player.

“As we got to know him better, he does not have any elite traits,” Wiltfong said. “He’s still a pretty good football player and is a good athlete. Quick, can change direction and can bend, torque, do all those things. But for the competition he plays, he didn’t dominate as much as a Notre Dame commit should. He’s another guy where, if you told me he’s a three-star, I’d be like, ‘OK.’”

LB Jack Kiser, 6-1, 205; Royal Center (Ind.) Pioneer: Evaluating Kiser was no simple task. He played in Indiana’s lowest classification, Class 1A. Kiser served as quarterback and free safety for the Panthers. The Irish plan for him to begin at rover before transitioning to buck linebacker.

Rivals rated Kiser as a high-end three-star recruit, ranking him as its No. 37 outside linebacker. Being unproven at the position and facing weak competition was too much for Rivals to overlook.

“If you have a guy who has the same skill set, same talent, same upside and same everything else, except he has played that position, has film on that position and has shown you what he can do more extensively, obviously with that guy, the risk is going to be lower,” said Josh Helmholdt, Rivals’ Midwest analyst. “Because you know. You’ve seen it.

“It’s not necessarily a knock. He just carries more risk, because we don’t have the same level of evidence that we would with other guys who have played that position consistently.”

Division I athletes are scattered along Kiser’s family tree, and he’s excelled on the 7-on-7 circuit. Following his second consecutive state title win, Kiser became the first 1A player to be Indiana’s Mr. Football for 2018. He tallied 159 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, seven interceptions, nine pass breakups, six forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns as a senior.

247Sports recognized Kiser’s endless accomplishments, listing him as its No. 13 outside linebacker and No. 191 overall player. He ascended 481 spots in the final rankings, elevating him to a four-star rating.

“He is a very fluid, athletic, smooth football player that is explosive,” Wiltfong said. “First-step explosiveness, short-area burst and a lot of upside there. He walks in as one of the best athletes on Notre Dame’s team.

“He came down in the box in high school, and I’ve seen him in camps. You are banking on his quick-twitch, short-area ability, quickness and speed. We don’t think he lacks toughness, so we think there’s a high ceiling there.”

LB JD Bertrand, 6-1, 223; Roswell (Ga.) Blessed Trinity Catholic: A three-star rating for Bertrand on Rivals comes down to one question. Can he stay healthy? That was the biggest concern for Simmons.

Bertrand has played in more than seven games in a season just once since his sophomore year. A hairline fracture in Bertrand’s foot sidelined him for half of the 2017 season. An MCL sprain prevented Bertrand from finishing his 2018 season in the state title game.

Simmons said Bertrand missed one of Georgia’s biggest 7-on-7 tournaments, the Corky Kell Classic, in back-to-back summers due to injuries. Simmons worries that Bertrand would struggle in coverage, especially against spread offenses. Rivals dropped Bertrand to a three-star recruit, ranking him as its No. 27 inside linebacker.

“That has always played in my mind, can he stay healthy? He’s been banged up, whether it’s his ankle, knee, foot or shoulder," Simmons said. "... He doesn’t have the elite size, he doesn’t have the elite speed. He’s a super smart football player and a great leader. He does a lot of things well and is a winner.”

Wiltfong said he could see Bertrand as a three-star recruit. However, Bertrand’s production against elite competition was enough for 247Sports to keep him as a four-star linebacker. He's slated as the No. 18 outside linebacker and No. 261 overall player.

“He’s a two-time state champion, very instinctual, smart,” Wiltfong said. “He’s around the football a lot because he knows where the ball is going to be. He just does all the things you want to see from a linebacker. Fundamentally sound. Just the way he positions himself to tackle in space. He’s just a heady player and a hard-nosed guy.”

RB Kyren Williams, 5-9, 200; Kirkwood (Mo.) St. John Vianney: Although Notre Dame had a need at the position, it added just one running back in 2019: Kyren Williams. Former running backs coach Autry Denson believed Williams could develop into an every-down back, which Rivals doubts.

“He’s a solidly built kid, but he’s just not very big,” Helmholdt said. “To be an every-down back, he’s going to have a tough time topping out at 200 pounds. At that size, you have to be elusive and not take a lot of hits. He’s an elusive guy, don’t get me wrong. But there’s a way to not take hits like the Emmitt Smiths and the Barry Sanderses — guys that had long careers and were able to do it at high levels. We don’t know about Kyren in that respect.”

Williams might be short, but he’s not scrawny. He’s already 200 pounds and could add to that weight as an early enrollee. Williams earned a three-star rating from Rivals, ranking as its No. 34 running back. 247Sports offered Williams a four-star rating, slating him as its No. 13 running back and No. 262 overall player.

As a senior, Williams rushed for 2,035 yards and 26 touchdowns on 179 carries and turned 55 catches into 725 yards and 10 touchdowns. Despite the four-star rating from 247Sports, Wiltfong personally evaluates Williams as a three-star recruit, questioning if he possesses top-end, breakaway speed.

“But man, his film is awesome,” Wiltfong said. He’s a guy that is really shifty and shows that he can be an every-down guy. Big time special teams player in high school, too. Extremely productive. I think we ranked him as a four-star because of his ability to make people miss, his balance and after contact ability.”

WR Kendall Abdur-Rahman, 6-0, 185; Edwardsville High: Like Kiser, Abdur-Rahman enters college unproven at his projected position. The multi-year starter at quarterback never played slot receiver, which he figures to be for the Irish.

“What is Kendall Abdur-Rahman as a pass-catcher? We don’t know,” Helmholdt said. “In terms of hands, how consistently he catches the football, we just don’t know. Obviously as a route runner and some of the finer points of the game, he’s going to have a significant learning curve.

"He didn’t play it week in and week out at the high school level, whereas other high school prospects were working on those aspects of the game.”

247Sports rated Abdur-Rahman as a four-star recruit, tabbing him as the No. 14 athlete and No. 276 overall player. Abdur-Rahman was given three-star status on Rivals as the No. 59 athlete. Wiltfong disagreed with 247Sports’ evaluation, saying he views Abdur-Rahman as a three-star recruit. His concerns matched up with that of Rivals.

Abdur-Rahman impressed as a playmaker, rushing for 1,135 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior. Edwardsville head coach Matt Martin told ND Insider that he took practice reps at scout team receiver in the 2018 season.

“He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands,” Wiltfong said. "He plays against good competition and had some great performances in some big games. Good speed, 11.2 in the 100-meter dash as a junior. He’s a guy you would think could break 11 seconds, which is really good.

"He does have ability to run, and he does have some shake and bake in the open field. But yeah, there’s a question mark on catching the football for sure.”

LB Marist Liufau, 6-2, 205; Honolulu Punahou: Liufau could be the most difficult evaluation among ND’s 2019 signees. The Hawaii native rarely competed against top recruits on the mainland in camps and games.

Liufau, though, did shine at last month’s Polynesian Bowl, which featured 100 Division I bound players. 247Sports raved about Liufau’s week. He intercepted a pass in the game and logged multiple pass breakups throughout practices, which led to 247Sports bumping him to a four-star rating.

247Sports ranks Liufau as its No. 26 outside linebacker and No. 386 overall player.

“Marist is good, man,” Wiltfong said. “He’s a guy that I really feel good about. Length, physical upside untapped. Another guy that has that tight quarter quickness. He can change direction, tackle and has ability to cover. He’s really developed physically and is starting to blossom with length and size. I don’t think he’s anywhere near to maxed out. You see how fluid, athletic, tough and physical he is.”

The contingency condition in place for Liufau, however, suggests he might not be ready yet. With the addition of 22 signees, Notre Dame's 2019 roster currently projects at 89 scholarship players. If roster attrition doesn't get the Irish below the NCAA limit of 85 scholarship players, Liufau’s enrollment could be deferred.

Rivals slates Liufau one spot ahead of Kiser on its outside linebacker rankings at No. 36. Rivals felt Liufau had too much mystique as a Hawaiian player to rate him higher than a three-star recruit. As a senior, Liufau registered 40 tackles, nine tackles for a loss and eight sacks.

“You look at him on film, he looks skinny,” Farrell said. “He needs to add a lot of strength. But he is quick. Quickness is relative in Hawaii compared to Florida. The Hawaii kids are always a tough evaluation, unless you get eyeballs on them in person.”

CB K.J. Wallace, 5-11, 190; Atlanta Lovett: Simmons differed with 247Sports in that he felt Bertrand could be better utilized as an H-back or fullback. Similarly, he said Wallace might be a better fit at nickelback.

“He is what he is,” said Simmons of Wallace. “He does not have the elite size at corner, he’s not the fastest player. He definitely has the short-space quickness. He can turn. He can run. He’s pretty physical.

"He struggles when he plays bigger receivers, so that’s why I’ve always envisioned him on the inside-outside slot guy. Could he play corner? For sure. But projecting NFL and long-term, I like him as that nickelback or star-role guy.”

Wallace showcased his speed and agility as a two-way player. As a senior defensive back, Wallace recorded 34 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions and six pass breakups. He turned 69 carries into 511 yards and eight touchdowns while hauling in 50 passes for 441 yards and two touchdowns.

Considering Wallace’s smaller frame, Rivals slated him as a three-star recruit and No. 57 cornerback. 247Sports offered Wallace a four-star rating, ranking him as its No. 38 cornerback and No. 382 overall player.

Wiltfong said he was “not on the table for him being four stars.” Wallace’s quickness stood out to him, though.

“He is a guy that could stick on those shifty route runners,” Wiltfong said. “But he also can tackle. He’s up to snuff physically. He will come out and make plays in the flats and run down jet sweeps. He played safety (at times) in high school and jumped routes. He’s just an instinctive player.”

Notre Dame linebacker Jack Kiser, a 2019 signee and early enrollee, garnered a different star rating on Rivals and 247Sports.

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.