Inside Recruiting: Assessing transfers, billboards, June visit bonanza and a big QB offer

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Editor’s Note: Inside Recruiting is a feature that addresses key topics involving Notre Dame football recruiting and recruiting in general. It has become a regular staple of our Irish football coverage.

The story is presented in a roundtable format. Today’s contributors are Steve Wiltfong, director of recruiting for 247Sports, and Tom Lemming, recruiting analyst for CBS Sports.

How will wide receiver Jordan Johnson’s decision to transfer from Notre Dame affect — if at all — how recruits from that position group view the program and its player development model?

Wiltfong: “I don’t think it will have any impact when you’re sitting in front of a receiver prospect and saying, ‘Chase Claypool, Will Fuller, Golden Tate, Miles Boykin, Equanimeous St. Brown.’ I mean, Notre Dame’s got their fair share of receivers in the league, and they’re built differently.

“It just is what it is sometimes, and I think kids understand that also. “

Lemming: “It’ll affect Notre Dame in a positive way. It’ll leave another opening for somebody really good that wants to come in.

“I’ve been traveling for three weeks now around the country. I’ve been seeing wide receivers everywhere. Great ones. Guys that run 4.3s, 4.4s. There are so many good ones, it comes down to coaching, really, when you’re bringing in those kinds of talented ballplayers.

“I think it will be a positive. I think it gives them another opening to offer more wide receivers. Notre Dame should bring in a couple of great ones every year, because there are so many out there. What they really need is speed.“

Just what are the Irish losing in Johnson? From a pure talent standpoint, how does he compare to the rest of the wide receivers on their roster?

Wiltfong: “He wasn’t better than the guys playing over him. That’s part of the deal, right? Even if he’s more talented, he wasn’t doing as much as the other guys. I think Notre Dame’s trying to win championships, and they’re trying to put players on the field who can help them do that.

“The guys that aren’t playing aren’t playing for one reason or another.”

Lemming: “He’s a big, physical kid. I liked his physicality when I went down to see him at De Smet (High School), but he’s not a blazer. He doesn’t have great speed. He’s just a good, physical kid. I had him as a four-star player. I liked him.

“I’m surprised he didn’t play much at Notre Dame. But wide receiver is the easiest position to recruit. Every year there’s a ton of wide receivers. He was one of the good ones that came in, but he wasn’t a great one.

“He played against great competition in St. Louis and was coached by a great coach, but I don’t think he’s as good as two that they brought in this year, in Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles Jr.”

Notre Dame recently added a recruiting wrinkle of putting up billboards of current players in key cities. What’s your take on how effective that might be?

Wiltfong: “Love it. It’s a program that shows they love their players, and they’re putting them on that platform in their hometowns, which is cool. These kids all love home, and it gives them a great sense of pride of home.

“Notre Dame recruits nationally kids from those footprints. I’m sure they’re telling prospects in those areas about that billboard that they could go by and see someone they probably know or at least know of, having a great experience at Notre Dame.

“Kids are sharing it on social media. I just saw Lorenzo Styles sharing his. I mean, these kids are excited about it. It’s got their Instagram and Twitter handles on there. It’s helping with their name, image and likeness. Recruiting is a game of inches, and here’s another inch going Notre Dame’s way.”

Lemming: “I think it’s brilliant. However, if it’s too brilliant, the NCAA will put an end to it within a year or two, like they do with everything else.

“I think that’s a brilliant idea that will likely be copied by other schools pretty soon. But it’s a great idea. What do you have to lose?”

With the sheer volume of recruits taking official visits to Notre Dame in June, is it possible they’ll have most of their 2022 class assembled by July 4?

Wiltfong: “Yes, and I think that’s always the plan, even when there’s no pandemic. Normally, some of those visits would have taken place in the spring. Now you’re cramming them all into June, because of the extended dead period. I still think that most schools want to have their classes in the boat by the time they lock in on fall camp preparation.”

Lemming: “Yes, not only possibly, but probably. I think that’s a good thing, as long as they leave a couple of spots open to wait on the great players who want to take this to the end of the cycle.”

Notre Dame recently offered 2023 five-star QB prospect Malachi Nelson from Los Alamitos, Calif. How does he stack up against the other two five-stars they’ve offered scholarships to in that class — Arch Manning and Dante Moore? And is this a realistic target for ND?

Wiltfong: “Malachi is arguably the top quarterback in the country. Notre Dame is late here. He’s not going to Notre Dame. It’s the one area where Notre Dame is still kind of slow, building relationships with quarterbacks.

“(Oklahoma head coach) Lincoln Riley has been recruiting this kid personally for six months. He’ll end up at Oklahoma. I’m not saying that would have changed if Notre Dame was recruiting earlier, but I know they have no chance now.”

Lemming: “I saw him over a week ago, and I may go with him as my overall No. 1 player in the country. This is a legit great player. Talent-wise he reminds me of Deshaun Watson. He’s big, at least 6-4. He’s got a great arm, a great head on his shoulders and obviously he’s at least a 4.6 runner.

“My No. 1 player in the country is either going to be him or Arch Manning for 2023. And then Dante Moore is also super talented, but not as far along as these two as passers. All three are five-stars.

“Malachi Nelson is the kind of guy Notre Dame hasn’t had at quarterback maybe ever. They fell way behind timewise just by offering this week. Other schools offered him a year ago. When I talked to him, I also noted his dad’s a minister, so it’s a religious family. They could like the non-football part of Notre Dame.

“The goal for (Irish offensive coordinator) Tommy Rees has to be to get him and his parents on campus. Oklahoma’s the leaders for sure, with Oregon and USC behind them. Notre Dame’s got some catching up to do, because they were so far behind in offering this kid. I think they can catch up, but it’s an uphill battle. If anybody can do it, it’d be Notre Dame.”

Hilton Head Island (S.C.) High School standout linebacker Jaylen Sneed (3) is one of roughly 30 uncommitted Notre Dame football recruiting targets in the 2022 class who have scheduled an official visit to ND in June.