Five Notre Dame recruiting storylines to watch this fall

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

A top 10 recruiting class is not likely for Notre Dame football in 2020.

The Irish surrendered that distinction recently, dropping to No. 11 nationally on both Rivals and 247Sports. A smaller recruiting class comes with the risk of ranking lower than teams with more commits.

Notre Dame holds 17 commits with little space remaining.

“There’s a couple (more commits) in play,” Irish special teams and recruiting coordinator Brian Polian told reporters in mid-August. “There’s not going to be a hard number. Those things are always a little fluid.”

Head coach Brian Kelly signed an average of 22.4 players in his prior 10 Irish recruiting classes. Kelly’s only class to hold fewer than 21 commits came in 2012 with 16. That class is his lowest-rated haul, ranking No. 19 on 247Sports and No. 20 on Rivals.

By the time other programs surpass 17 commits, the Irish may dip into the teens rankings-wise. A smaller class and less than formidable ranking doesn’t mean Kelly and his coaching staff aren’t pleased with their talent harvest.

Arguably ND’s top target at each offensive position pledged to the Irish — quarterback Drew Pyne, tight ends Michael Mayer and Kevin Bauman, running back Chris Tyree, wide receiver Jordan Johnson and offensive tackle Tosh Baker. Four-star defensive line commits Jordan Botelho and Rylie Mills are ranked among the top 165 overall players on 247Sports.

Concerns regarding speed at the skill positions were addressed. Receivers Xavier Watts and Johnson can stretch a defense. Tyree clocked a competition-best 4.37 40-yard at The Opening Finals in July.

“We feel good because there are guys that — I can’t mention names, obviously — we feel very good over the last couple years recruiting fit-guys,” Polian said. “People we believe will succeed at Notre Dame within our program and have the traits.”

The Irish felt they needed to crunch their numbers this class after signing a combined 49 players over the past two cycles. With 10 of its 13 linebackers holding freshman or sophomore eligibility, the Irish passed on the position for 2020. ND will likely sign its fewest amount of offensive linemen under Kelly with two (Michael Carmody and Baker).

Defensive back recruiting remains the focus for ND’s 2020 class. The Irish plan to host cornerback targets Collin Gamble and Ramon Henderson on official visits for their Sept. 28 home game against Virginia. ND may look to host Highland Springs (Va.) High safety Malcolm Greene at a later date.

How ND’s batch of three-star commits develop may be what separates this class from good to great.

“Within the recruiting world with stars and rankings and all that stuff, as long as we believe in them, that’s all we are worried about,” Polian said. “Those rankings and things, they fluctuate. They go up and down.

“Everybody says, ‘Well, you don’t miss on too many five-stars.’ Yeah, I know that. But we have to find the right three- and four-stars that fit us. I think the last couple years, our staff has done an incredible job of finding the right guys.”

How this class finishes up is just one of five Irish recruiting storylines to watch this fall.

Any surprises?: So far, so good for this Irish recruiting class. No 2020 recruit has backed out of his Notre Dame commitment. The same can’t be said for the past three cycles. The Irish received 12 decommits over that span. At least two recruits have reneged on their ND pledges in each cycle since 2017.

All indications point to Notre Dame reaching the early signing period in December without losing a 2020 pledge. The Irish may have a 2021 pledge wavering on his commitment, though. Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy offensive lineman Greg Crippen visited Michigan for its Aug. 31 home opener against Middle Tennessee State.

Any surprises for ND’s current class would likely come in a different fashion. There are no indications that the Irish will poach from another team’s class or circle back on an uncommitted recruit, but neither possibility can be counted out.

Cornerback prowess: Last season’s College Football Playoff appearance did not pay immediate dividends with defensive back recruiting — at least on paper. A safety has yet to pledge to the Irish. Cornerback commits Landen Bartleson, Caleb Offord and Clarence Lewis are each rated as three-star recruits.

Those three could quiet doubters with strong senior seasons. They are each capable of eventually moving to safety in college as well. Offord in particular, at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, has been told a position switch is a possibility depending on how his body develops.

This fall should reveal more about Offord and Co.

Ratings changes: Camps and senior seasons can drastically alter the player evaluations from recruiting sites. Just ask Irish freshman linebacker Jack Kiser.

247Sports pegged Kiser as its No. 672 overall player in the 2019 recruiting class during Kiser’s senior season. By the end of the cycle, he ranked No. 191 overall. 247Sports also once pegged freshman safety Kyle Hamilton as a three-star recruit before eventually declaring him as the top safety in the 2019 class.

The following Irish commits are in contention for five-star status on either 247Sports or Rivals: Botelho, Tyree, Baker, Johnson and Mayer. Johnson stands as ND’s lone five-star commit (Rivals).

2021 recruiting: Don’t expect many uncommitted 2020 targets to visit South Bend this fall. The 2021 recruiting class will enter the fold more.

Division I coaches are prohibited from initiating off-campus communications with recruits until Sept. 1 of their junior year. With that date now in the past for 2021 recruits, the Irish coaching staff will work to host dozens of juniors this fall.

Taking fewer numbers in 2020 also made sense because of ND’s 2021 recruiting success. The Irish class of five commits ranks No. 3 nationally on both 247Sports and Rivals.

Mutual interest appears to be strong between the Irish and the following elite uncommitted recruits: wide receivers Lorenzo Styles Jr., Cristian Dixon and Deion Colzie; offensive linemen Garrett Dellinger, Rocco Spindler, Nolan Rucci and Landon Tengwall; defensive backs Derrick Davis Jr. and Jakailin Johnson.

Bakersfield (Calif.) Liberty’s Ramon Henderson, a 2020 cornerback, will take an official visit for Notre Dame’s Sept. 28 home game against Virginia.