Inside Recruiting: How Notre Dame will finish at WR and CB, and looking ahead to 2023

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 Tom Lemming, recruiting analyst for CBS Sports, and Steve Wiltfong, director of recruiting for 247Sports.

It seems like wide receiver and defensive back are the two position groups in which Notre Dame has the most work ahead of it in the 2022 recruiting cycle. What’s your read on how well each of those spots will end up?

Lemming: "The easiest position to recruit is wide receiver. I say that every year. There’s a ton of them out there, and this year that’s the case again.

"Everything’s changed this year with Notre Dame. They’re going after a lot of big names early, staying on them. When you do that, you’re going to lose a lot, but you’re also going to get some. I like the fact that they’re working for them.

"(Head coach Brian) Kelly must have done something to get these guys to go the way they are in recruiting. I don’t think it’s just Marcus Freeman.

"What it looks to me is that this could be Notre Dame’s big wide receiver year if they play it right. They could land three supers, and the one who has already committed, Amorion Walker, runs a 10.5 in the 100 meters.

"He’s a real skinny kid. But I think on potential, he might have the most of all of them once he hits the weight room with Notre Dame’s strength coach.

"The receivers are pretty good coming in this year — Lorenzo Styles Jr. and Deion Colzie in particular. It looks like Notre Dame’s staff has gotten the message and they’re starting to go after the legit big-time guys. They went after a lot of average players in the past.

"With defensive backs, they’re doing OK, better than they have been. They’ve already got (cornerback) Jaden Mickey, who I think is outstanding. If they could get Devin Moore out of Florida — he’s a tall corner too — he could play corner or safety, but he’s very athletic.

"Benjamin Morrison, I really liked him. He’s a great kid and a Notre Dame type of kid. He’s one of the best players in Arizona. I think they’re doing very well with corners. With safeties, we’ve got to wait and see.

"Xavier Nwankpa out of Iowa, he’s the best of the bunch that they’re recruiting.

"So yes, I think this will be sort of a Renaissance year for Notre Dame. I’ve seen complete changes in their recruiting, and I see they’ve offered guys much earlier, which is making them so good so far. That’s the big difference. They’re offering four- and five-star guys early.

"And I’ve said this in the past, Notre Dame would lose about a third of the top guys nationally by slow offering. Even if they offered, the kid would have already developed relationships with other schools, because the kid will not develop a relationship until you offer him.

"You can talk to him until you’re blue in the face. Until that kid has an offer and knows that you’re serious, that’s when he starts loving the coaches. You tell him how great he is and you haven’t offered, he’s not going to trust you."

Wiltfong: "I thought Notre Dame recruited receiver pretty well in the 2021 class. And I think they’re in good shape in 2022. A kid to keep an eye on that may not be getting the hype of some of the others is Nicholas Anderson, a promising prospect from Texas that seems to have a keen eye on Notre Dame.

"He’s got a chance to be a really good player in college and a guy that could develop into a big-time player at Notre Dame. He’s a guy who can be a championship-level player.

"With defensive backs, they have a great shot to add Ben Morrison. I know Notre Dame’s in on a lot of others with a good chance to sign a strong class."

Detroit King quarterback Dante Moore is a top 10 prospect in the 2023 recruiting cycle who the Notre Dame coaches have their eyes on.

There haven’t been many 2023 commitments nationally, but with unofficial visits cranking up for that class in June, can we tell how ND’s fortunes in the 2023 cycle are setting up?

Lemming: "Notre Dame is going to have a good 2023 class, because they’re in on almost all the top players. They’ve offered these guys much earlier, and you’ve never seen them offer this many guys a year and a half ahead like they have now.

"It’s a new philosophy, and it’s working like a charm for Notre Dame. I think always the key is if they can get a Heisman-caliber quarterback, they’ll win a national title.

"There’s always four or five of those guys every year. Tyler Buchner could turn out to be one of those guys. The 2023 class has Arch Manning, Malachi Nelson and Dante Moore.

"The key is to land a quarterback first, and have that quarterback start working on all the offensive players. Sort of like how (offensive tackle) Blake Fisher did this past year."

Wiltfong: "When you look at who Notre Dame has offered in the 2023 class, most of them are guys that are highly touted already, so they’re in early on a lot of coveted guys from coast to coast.

"I think if you look at the way Notre Dame has recruited in the last couple of cycles — a top 10 class last year and they’re sitting in the top five this year — I would think you’re going to feel good about what they’re going to do in 2023, particularly because I think they’re going to have another good year on the field this fall, and I think they’re setting up to have an incredible year on the field in two years.

"Producing on Saturdays and having people have their names called in the NFL Draft is a good formula, and that’s what Notre Dame is doing right now as well as anybody not named Alabama."

What is a silent commitment? Why do they exist? And who does it benefit?

Lemming: "The player a lot of times wants to make a silent commitment so he can keep visiting, having fun at other schools. A lot of times the kid likes to party. There’s no reason to extend it if you know where you want to go. You’ve already committed.

"Notre Dame has had some big names in the past do the silent commitment. When Notre Dame had a No. 1 class in 1995, Randy Moss was a silent commitment and had been committed for a while. And then they had gotten a silent commitment from Jevon Kearse, (assistant coach) Dave Roberts did.

"They only had two scholarships left. They knew Moss was already silently committed and they gave the other one to a kid from Baltimore named Alex Mueller, because (assistant coach) Joe Moore pushed him harder than Dave Roberts pushed Kearse. Kearse had committed the night before.

Florida All-American and three-time NFL Pro Bowler Jevon Kearse was once a Notre Dame silent commitment who got bumped out of the 1995 Irish recruiting class.

"There was a big fight over it, which Joe Moore won, so they ended up taking Mueller over Kearse, who went on to be an All-American at Florida. That was a No. 1 class put together by recruiting coordinator Bob Chmiel. They ended up losing Moss, because he got in trouble and Notre Dame wouldn’t admit him.

"These days, kids silently commit sometimes to one school. Then if they find something they like more, they're going to bounce. That’s why some schools, like Northwestern, will not take a silent commitment. Kid’s got to announce it."

Wiltfong: "A silent commitment is one where a young man tells the coaching staff behind that scenes that he’s coming, but he has not gone public with his decision yet for various reasons.

"Sometimes it’s because he wants to save it and announce it on his birthday or his parent’s birthday or his parents’ anniversary and make that day part of the occasion. Sometimes a kid will tell a school he’s coming, but it’s not as solid.

"He’s still talking to other schools. He may have told two other schools he’s a silent commitment for them also and he’s coming there.

"Look, I’ve covered thousands of recruitments. The college coaches have recruited thousands of players. You just have to remind yourselves these prospects are going through it typically for the first time unless they have an older sibling."

When concocting a numerical ranking for a particular recruit, is it more about the prospect’s current snapshot or a projection of what their college ceiling is supposed to be?

Lemming: "I can only speak for myself, and it’s both. That’s why I like to see everyone in person and in their hometown, so I could talk to other people about them — coaches, parents, other players, principals.

"My big thing is, obviously, you’ve got to have the size and the speed that fits that position. That’s important. Then production is super important to me — a kid that looks great on film. I’ve seen guys who, as they say, 'looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane.'

"There are players like that. You meet them in person, and they look so good that you say, ‘Oh my God, they look like an NFL player.’ Then you watch them on film and there’s no highlights. Nothing.

"The main reason why I like to see them in person is I look the kid in the eye and say, ‘How important is football to you?’ Then let them go on.

"With some kids, it’s their life. They can’t sleep at night without football. Some kids will say, ‘That’s how I get to college. It’s a means to an end.'

"If it’s not important to them, you probably know the kid’s not going to make it. Because once they get against guys who are as big and as strong as they are in college, it comes down to who wants it the most."

Wiltfong: "For us it’s a projection of where we think they’re going to go in the NFL Draft. I know that some readers might roll their eyes at that, but we’re getting better at predicting these high school players and their NFL fortunes.

"That doesn’t mean that the two-star or the low three-star recruit can’t develop in college and gain 20-30 pounds or get faster. And we just miss on some.

"But we are getting better at gauging that. For us, we have the NFL GMs checking our work on the back end and seeing how we ranked these kids. I know people will say, ‘Well, I want to know how they’re going to do in college, not how they’re going to do in the NFL Draft.’

"Typically, though, that goes hand in hand. If you’ve got the team with the most (future) pros, you’re probably going to win a lot of games on Saturday."

As Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State have largely dominated recruiting in the Playoff Era, a lot of media and some administrators believe expanding the College Football Playoff will create a trickle-down effect of more parity in recruiting. Do you think recruits will see it that way?

Lemming: "Possibly, the key for kids — not all, but most — is how many guys are you putting into the NFL? That really helped Notre Dame this year, having nine drafted. They look at that much more than the playoff picture.

"They do look at the playoff and who gets in, to a lesser extent. So if you expand, you’re not going to hurt the big three, but it may help a little the next five."

Alabama head coach Nick Saban and offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood (70) celebrate with the CFP National Championship trophy after beating Ohio State for the title on Jan. 11.

Wiltfong: "No. I think it’ll still come down to who has the best chance to hoist the Crystal Ball, but I think player development and NFL Draft is an incredible part of the process as well. I think kids want to play for programs on big stages, so the schools that have the best fan bases and best atmosphere, that helps as well.

"I think that expanded the College Football Playoff isn’t a great idea. For teams in a conference, why even play the conference championship games anymore and beat each other up if you’re going to expand the field? I think having the four teams, as it is now, is great."

Jaden Mickey, a four-star cornerback from Corona, Calif., on Sunday became the 10th verbal commitment in Notre Dame’s 2022 recruiting class.Jaden Mickey