Inside Recruiting: Beyond the dead period, selling the NFL dream, a CFP bump for Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Editor’s Note: Inside Recruiting addresses key topics involving Notre Dame football recruiting and recruiting in general. We plan to make it a regular staple of our Irish football coverage.

The story will be presented in a roundtable format. Today’s contributors are Josh Helmholdt, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, and Tom Lemming, recruiting analyst for CBS Sports.

Assuming the protracted NCAA recruiting dead period — a year and counting — is lifted on June 1, does this present any particular advantages or disadvantages for Notre Dame in relation to other schools?

Lemming: “I think for Notre Dame, it’s going to help them. And starting in June, they’re going to have to have a good number of prospect days. Getting kids on campus is key, because they’ve done everything well during the pandemic with the virtual exposure.

“The good weather will play in their favor. And Notre Dame’s got one of the better-looking campuses in the country. I see them all — I visit them all every year. And Notre Dame’s campus in the summertime is fantastic, and it’s a big sell. That especially helps with kids from the Sun Belt, where a lot of the top players are.”

Helmholdt: “The prolonged dead period has certainly been a disadvantage for Notre Dame, because they are a national recruiting school as compared to a Florida or a Georgia, teams that recruit in their backyards.

“A lot of the players Notre Dame recruits are not within a comfortable drive from South Bend. So when the dead period ends, it’ll be advantageous for Notre Dame — even more than most schools — because of that ability to welcome kids back on campus, especially kids who have never seen South Bend because the last 12 months have been limited.

“A kid who grew up in Atlanta, Ga., has probably been to Athens, Ga., and he probably has some familiarity with what Georgia’s campus looks like. But a kid in San Diego, Calif., most likely has never been to South Bend and so the dead period ending is definitely to Notre Dame’s advantage.”

We all know about ND’s 4-for-40 mantra in pitching the school’s long-term advantages beyond football, but how well do they sell the NFL dream?

Lemming: “Notre Dame is an academic school, so they usually push the academics, the 4-for-40 first. The kid who just committed to Notre Dame — Amorion Walker, from Ponchatoula, La. — he and his parents met me last weekend. I went up to him and said, ‘I hear you committed to Notre Dame. And the dad right away goes, ‘You know, 4-for-40.’

Former Notre Dame offensive guard Quenton Nelson (center) was a first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in the 2018 NFL Draft.

“He brought that up right away, so it does strike home a lot. But also knowing kids, the three things the majority of the kids look for beyond academics are facilities, social life and the NFL, Alabama, when you look at their brochures, it’s always about how many guys they put into the NFL. That works. That’s super important.

“Notre Dame tries to be a little bit more subtle than Ohio State and Alabama, who hit you over the head with it. But Notre Dame makes sure that you know that and know they have the most NFL Draft picks historically or close to it.”

Helmholdt: “What sells the NFL dream is having players go on and have success in the NFL. I think particularly I hear it most with offensive linemen, especially what’s happened recently with Quenton Nelson and guys like that — the success Notre Dame has had putting offensive linemen into the NFL.

“I don’t know that the coaches can sell it any better than what the evidence suggests. It’s tough to say, ‘We’re putting a lot of guys in the NFL’ if you’re not. I don’t think you have to do much more than just shine a light on your production if you are getting players up to the next level on a regular basis.

“So these kids are smart. They know who’s developing talent, and they know where Notre Dame has had success recently.”

How closely are prospects keeping an eye on NFL Combine invitee numbers this month and numbers of draftees next month of the schools that are recruiting them?

Lemming: “The Notre Dame coaches will remind them of how many kids they have in the Combine, so they will be tuned in. I’m sure kids don’t go looking for that right away, but the coaches will point out the big number — 11 guys this year. That’s a selling point.”

Helmholdt: “Most players do not get that in the weeds in terms of breaking down statistics until a coach really does it for them. And then that only resonates with a handful of guys. What really more resonates are a Jaylon Smith or a Quenton Nelson.

Running back Dexter Williams runs the 40-yard dash during Notre Dame Pro Day on March 20, 2019, inside the Loftus Center at Notre Dame.

“Some of these individual, big-name success stories play a bigger role in speaking to kids in terms of what their opportunity is in advancing from Notre Dame to the next level.”

Are we seeing a positive bump from ND’s College Football Playoff appearance on the recruiting trail?

Lemming: “Yes. Definitely. And Brian Kelly was right. He may have lost to Alabama, but so did Ohio State and everyone else. Notre Dame is on equal footing with almost everybody but Alabama right now.

Notre Dame’s Jan. 1 College Football Playoff appearance is becoming a positive factor on the recruiting trail for the Irish.

“You combine that with more early offers, and kids are mentioning Notre Dame more in my travels this year than I can remember for a long, long time. The future looks very bright.”

Helmholdt: “It’s tough to attribute it to just one thing, but there’s no doubt that Notre Dame is recruiting very well right now, all things considered. They have a top five class in the 2022 (cycle), which is very difficult because of the limitations they have in getting prospects on campus.

“So there is definitely an element of recent success playing into that ability to recruit now, because top players want to play for championships, and Notre Dame has one of the schools that can sell recency of the College Football Playoff.”

What are your early impressions of the inroads Notre Dame is making in the 2023 class?

Lemming: “Outstanding. I’ve seen over 200 of the top 300 2023 guys already over the last three months. And Notre Dame’s name is popping up all over the place early. These early offers make a difference. I’ve been pushing that for years.

“We’ll see later on how many they’ll be able to get to commit, but right now they’re in the ballgame like they haven’t been in a long time, especially with defensive players. When Kelly said they’re going to get serious about getting into the Top 5, it looks like they’re doing it now.

New Orleans area high school standout QB Arch Manning was among the roughly 30 top prospects in the 2023 recruiting class extended offers from the Notre Dame football program on Wednesday.

“What they did with all those offers on St. Patrick’s Day to top players shows the hard work they’re putting in. And if they could keep this going, Notre Dame is back in recruiting.”

Helmholdt: “Notre Dame under Brian Kelly has always done a good job of building strong relationships. They’re not too narrow. Stanford puts up very few offers. Notre Dame is a little bit more liberal in terms of their number of offers, but they get an early feel on the guys that they’re going to have that Notre Dame is going to resonate with, and they really bring strong relationships.

“They’ve always done that well. When I look at their list of offers right now, it is a national offer list. While they’ve gotten off to a good start, they will need visits to advance this 2023 recruiting class. Hearing from coaches and seeing the campus in person are two different things.”

Camps and on-campus recruiting visits figure to be huge recruiting advantages for Notre Dame once the long NCAA dead period comes to an end, presumably this summer.