Predicting the members of Notre Dame's 2021 recruiting class
Saturday marks a year since the biggest storyline for Notre Dame’s 2020 recruiting class came to fruition.
Speedy running back Chris Tyree verbally committed to the Irish that day, completing their offensive recruiting surge. Tyree joined three fellow recruits ranked among the top 70 nationally, per Rivals and 247Sports: offensive tackle Tosh Baker, wide receiver Jordan Johnson and tight end Michael Mayer.
Signing four offensive recruits in the Rivals 100 hadn’t been done at Notre Dame since 2008.
By the same point in this cycle, the narrative for the 2021 class has yet to be written.
The Irish are involved with a handful of recruitments that are not expected to conclude for several months. Notre Dame still has work to do before filling its biggest position needs: running back, cornerback and interior offensive line.
At 10 commitments this cycle, the Irish are expected to approximately double that number by National Signing Day in February. The coronavirus pandemic is expected to delay the recruiting pace Notre Dame and others take during normal circumstances.
In the trio of three-day early signing periods in December so far, the Irish have handled most of their business before August. From March through May last cycle, 23 members of the 2020 class received Notre Dame scholarship offers. Zero Irish offers were extended during their senior seasons.
Look for Notre Dame to deliver more offers in the coming months. The Irish also are likely to land multiple targets between the fall and February.
“We could see more recruiting blossoming off senior film,” Notre Dame recruiting coordinator Brian Polian told the Tribune last month. “... I think we could see a second wave of prospects being offered in the Power Five in the first month of their senior year. And frankly, that’s what it was like 10 years ago. I think senior film is going to be a little more important in this cycle.”
Forecasting how Notre Dame’s class will finish at this stage becomes more of an educated guess with the uncertainty, delayed timeline and ever-changing news cycle. Still, that will be attempted here. And in an effort to add transparency, a confidence rating between 0 and 5 will be provided for every recruit predicted to land at Notre Dame.
Here’s how the ratings were measured for each recruit in the position-by-position forecasts: 0 (not happening), 1 (gut feeling), 2 (educated guess), 3 (some confidence), 4 (very confident) and 5 (absolute confidence).
Predicted haul: Commits Blake Fisher (5) and Pat Coogan (5); Rocco Spindler (4) and Tristan Bounds (2).
Analysis: Of their uncommitted targets on offense, the Irish have the best chance with Spindler. The Clarkston (Mich.) High product told the Tribune last month he does not want to announce a commitment until taking all five official visits, even if that means delaying his timeline to the fall.
But don’t be surprised if Spindler still cuts his recruitment shorter than expected like others have. Michigan will challenge Notre Dame the hardest. If the Irish don’t land Spindler, they will be in a tough position for interior offensive line recruiting.
Notre Dame circled back on Bounds recently, offering him on May 1. Later that day, Bounds included the Irish in his top eight list. He values academics as his highest priority. The Wallingford (Conn.) Choate Rosemary Hall product even visited Notre Dame on Tuesday, legally circumventing the NCAA’s recruiting dead period rules. Michigan will battle Notre Dame for the three-star offensive tackle.
Predicted haul: Donovan Edwards (1).
Analysis: Top running back target Will Shipley committing to Clemson will be forgiven if Edwards pledges to Notre Dame. That the Irish cooled off on Edwards’ recruitment to focus on Shipley hardly deterred the four-star running back from West Bloomfield (Mich.) High. He still considers Notre Dame as a top school. Though he’s not expected to announce a commitment for at least a few months, Edwards seems to consider Michigan and Georgia as his current favorites. No on- and off-campus visits for recruits and coaches may give Notre Dame enough time to make Edwards feel like a priority again.
Predicted haul: Commit Lorenzo Styles Jr. (3); Jayden Thomas (2) and Christian Lewis (1).
Analysis: Thomas and Lewis took their first recruiting trip to South Bend for Notre Dame’s Nov. 2 home game against Virginia Tech. The Irish have since ranked among their favorite schools. But they likely need to host them again before securing their commitments.
Thomas told the Tribune last month that Notre Dame reminds him of the private school he attends in Atlanta, Pace Academy. Notre Dame running back Mick Assaf’s father, Fred, is Pace Academy’s headmaster. Thomas considers Tommy Assaf, Mick’s younger brother, to be his best friend.
The Irish are looking to sign three receivers this cycle. Predicting Lewis to be the third had more to do with probabilities and process of elimination. As a three-star receiver from Pleasant Grove (Ala.) High, Lewis will be easier to attract to Notre Dame than highly-coveted targets in Athens (Ga.) Academy’s Deion Colzie and Baltimore Mount Saint Joseph’s Dont’e Thornton Jr. Colzie decommitted from Notre Dame in March and looks headed to Georgia. Penn State, Oregon and Tennessee will make Thornton a tough pull.
Styles earned a three because he's been receptive to communication from other schools, particularly Michigan’s coaching staff. Styles taking visits elsewhere this fall wouldn’t be surprising, but the Irish are still the favorite for now.
Predicted haul: Commit Cane Berrong (5).
Analysis: The Irish may look to pair Berrong with another tight end but would need to expand their recruiting board. Council Bluffs (Iowa) Lewis Central’s Thomas Fidone and Napa (Calif.) High’s Brock Bowers are Notre Dame’s only two uncommitted targets. Nebraska and Georgia are the heavy favorites to land them, respectively.
Predicted haul: Quarterback Tyler Buchner (5).
Analysis: Even if Notre Dame’s class plunges in the national rankings, adding Buchner will pay dividends. Not only is he the gem of this class, but he also brings the highest ceiling among Irish commits.
Predicted haul: Commits Gabriel Rubio (5), Jason Onye (5) and David Abiara (0); newly offered prospect instead of a current target (3).
Analysis: Abiara's situation made this predicted haul fuzzy. He's expected to decommit from Notre Dame in the coming days and eventually pledge to Oklahoma, his favorite before the Irish started courting him in January.
So what happened?
The Mansfield (Texas) Legacy product still had reservations when pledging to Notre Dame on March 27. Abiara had only been to campus once, in February. Before committing, Abiara wanted to meet Irish players and fellow commits on a second visit scheduled for March 20-22. The pandemic canceling that recruiting weekend prompted Abiara to go ahead and commit, a decision he may now feel was premature.
Notre Dame will likely have to extend more offers if Abiara decommits. The Irish cooled off on key defensive end targets, like Blairstown (N.J.) Blair Academy's Aaron Armitage and Suffield (Conn.) Academy's Kechaun Bennett, once the Notre Dame coaches knew a couple months ago that Onye and Abiara would commit.
Predicted haul: Prince Kollie (1).
Analysis: Like Lewis, forecasting Kollie had more to do with a process of elimination. There are no other realistic options at linebacker unless Notre Dame offers more prospects. Defensive coordinator Clark Lea recruits Tennessee hard and will now prioritize Kollie, a Jonesborough (Tenn.) David Crockett product who garnered an Irish offer on Sunday and already considers them as a favorite.
With Kollie’s interest in academics, Notre Dame will continue to be a top contender if Lea pushes for him. After not taking a player at the position last cycle, Lea needs to land a linebacker of Kollie’s caliber. He’s a four-star outside linebacker on 247Sports, ranking No. 16 at the position and No. 230 overall in the class. Rivals pegs Kollie as a three-star athlete, slating him No. 57 at the position.
Predicted haul: Commits Justin Walters (5) and Philip Riley (5); Ryan Barnes (4), Kaleb Edwards (2) and Ceyair Wright (1).
Analysis: Cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens identified Riley and Barnes as his top targets after offering them two months ago. Riley pledged to the Irish earlier this month. Barnes could be next. His bond with Mickens seems different than the other relationships he’s forged during the recruiting process. Michigan will contend for Barnes, but expect the Gaithersburg (Md.) Quince Orchard product to commit to Notre Dame no later than the next time he’s on campus.
Edwards, a three-star safety from Dacula (Ga.) High, sees Notre Dame as a top school after accruing an offer on Sunday. If the Irish make Edwards feel like a priority, they should land him. Notre Dame seems like a dream school to Edwards, who covets a university with highly regarded academics.
The Irish are likely to sign at least five defensive backs, but whether they would add three safeties and two corners or three corners and two safeties remains to be seen. Wright looks like the most promising option remaining after Walters, Riley, Barnes and Edwards, but a safety could reemerge. Mickens will need to prioritize Wright, a four-star corner at Los Angeles Loyola. He appears far from a commitment but seemed to consider Notre Dame as a top school after his first visit to campus in December.
Elk Grove (Calif.) Monterey Trail athlete Prophet Brown and Ewa Beach (Hawaii) James Campbell athlete Titus Mokaio-Atimalala are wild cards. Don’t be surprised if the Irish continue to expand their defensive back board like they did last year.