Inside Recruiting: Notre Dame's must-get prospects, incoming freshmen to watch
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.
A week after coaxing its recruiting efforts into overdrive primarily with prospects in the 2023 and 2024 classes, Notre Dame hones in on more immediate matters this weekend.
For the first time since September of 2019, the Irish will have uofficial visitors on campus. Nine from the 2022 class are confirmed, with a 10th — top 50 linebacker Jaylen Sneed of South Carolina — scheduled for a midweek visit next week.
Two top 20 prospects from the 2023 class are scheduled for unofficial visits — offensive guard Alex Birchmeier from Ashburn, Va., and safety/linebacker Sonny Styles from Pickerington, Ohio.
The latter is the younger (but bigger) brother of ND freshman wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr. Also coming from the 2023 class is top 247 defensive end Keon Keeley from Tampa, Fla.
The Irish head into the weekend ranked third nationally in the team recruiting rankings for the 2022 cycle by both Rivals and 247Sports.
Notre Dame resurrected its Irish Invasion Camp on Sunday. In any already jam-packed month of recruiting, what are the potential benefits for the Irish in staging such an event?
Lemming: “It has to be done this way, because the NCAA pigeon-holed things where everything has to be done this month. But Notre Dame has the right people behind the scenes to pull all of this off. It looks like they’re exceptionally well organized.
“For Notre Dame, it’s an evaluation time, to get a feel for who else they want to offer scholarships to. They invite all the guys who have intrigued them from around the country. Now they get to see them up front, which is the ultimate goal.
“When you see kids in person, you see the exact size they are. You see their athletic ability, their intensity, their personality. You get to see everything in a short period of time. Doing it properly, it benefits them immensely.”
Wiltfong: “First and foremost, it’s the opportunity to evaluate some guys that you’re interested in. You get a chance to work them out on your field. Obviously, within that, those prospects get to come to Notre Dame and see your facilities and get to work with your coaches and see how they vibe with them.
“So it’s a win all the way around. You want to have your own camps, and Irish Invasion has built a reputation as being one of the more talented camps in the country. It seemed like there was a lot of excitement coming out of there and a lot of good football players on campus.”
Who is an elite 2022 prospect visiting this month and not an ND lean whose Notre Dame visit could flip his ultimate decision to the Irish?
Lemming: “Zach Rice (6-6, 305; Lynchburg, Va.) would be the one. He’s the best tackle in the country and expected to sign elsewhere. If he actually visits, he’s an academic kid. He’s a Notre Dame-type kid. If he comes up and spends time with (offensive line coach) Jeff Quinn, he’s the guy who could actually turn. He’s a five-star tackle.”
Wiltfong: “They’ve got some pretty exciting prospects visiting who they’re in a good spot for. In fact, I think Notre Dame’s in a good spot for nearly everybody that’s visiting. One guy I think they need to make up a little ground for and maybe can is Jake Taylor (6-6, 290; Las Vegas, Nev).
“They’re battling Alabama and Oklahoma there, and I think the visits could be really pivotal in a tight battle for him.
“But these visits aren’t Hail Marys. These aren’t guys who are taking a visit just to take a visit. I think Notre Dame has positioned themselves well for nearly all of their official visitors. I don’t think they’re running fifth for any of these guys.”
Who are the absolute must-gets — one on offense, one on defense — of the remaining prospects on Notre Dame’s 2022 recruiting board?
Lemming: “For offense, one of the wide receivers. I’d say Tobias Merriweather (6-4, 180; Vancouver, Wash.), CJ Williams (6-2, 190; Santa Ana, Calif.) or Nicholas Anderson (6-4, 196; Katy, Texas). They’re all three pretty good, but Merriweather, with his size and speed, would be my first choice.
“On defense, I’d say any cornerback, because they struggle to recruit corners for some reason. I like Benjamin Morrison (6-0, 172: Phoenix) and Devin Moore (6-2, 180; Naples, Fla.), and I think the Irish might end up with both. But if I had to pick one, it’d be Moore, because of his size. They definitely need help at that position, because they’re super-weak at corner.”
Wiltfong: “For defense, I’ll give you two. I think Anthony Lucas (6-5, 285; Scottsdale, Ariz.) and Cyrus Moss (6-6, 220; Las Vegas, Nev.) are two guys who are championship-level, front-seven prospects with amazing upside. Notre Dame’s near the top of both of their lists, and they’re both elite-type players at their respective positions.
“On offense, you would like to see them get another dynamic receiver. He’s visiting later in the year (October), but I would say Andre Greene Jr. (6-3, 180; Richmond, Va.). He could make an impact on offense for years to come. All the guys they have visiting in June are good and would help, but I’m extremely intrigued by Greene.”
Is there a potential downside to adding players from the transfer portal that Notre Dame or other teams need to guard against, such as disrupting locker room chemistry or delayed development of a displaced potential starter?
Lemming: “Yes. I would only take a kid who’s a sure-fire star. If you take too many, it’s going to affect the high school kids coming in — their psyches — especially if you just take someone for depth. Grad transfers with only one year left don’t affect that balance. But when you’re talking about someone with multiple years, yes, that can affect the young players on your roster.”
Wiltfong: “If you’re a school like Notre Dame and you’re going into the portal, you’re looking for a guy that’s going to help you win an extra game, and that extra game is going to be a playoff game or a game that gets you into the playoff.
“For Notre Dame, the portal is great, because their foundation is built through high school recruiting and player development. But if there’s a position group that’s weakened — because a guy might leave early for the NFL Draft, or maybe on the rare occasion where some guys didn’t pan out — they could go to the portal and really tighten up a position of need on their roster. And it keeps them in the championship hunt.
“For other teams that are going to the portal and making a living there, you could certainly get a bunch of bad apples there and really wreck the program.”
Which of Notre Dame’s 13 June-arriving freshmen might surprise in summer workouts and fall camp?
Lemming: “I would say either wide receiver Deion Colzie or running back Audric Estime. Colzie could be the star they’re looking for at wide receiver. And Estime is a lot better than people think he is.”
Wiltfong: “Linebacker Prince Kollie is a guy who I think is eventually going to be a star. He’s the best defensive player in the class, and I think he’s going to come in and really push somebody.”
To order or for more information about Lemming’s summer recruiting magazine, visit tomlemmingprepfootball.com.
Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @ehansenNDI
The following nine football prospects in the 2022 class are scheduled to take official recruiting visits to Notre Dame this weekend, as are three 2023 recruits on unofficial visits:
RB Dallan Hayden
DT Anthony Lucas
WR Tobias Merriweather
CB/S Devin Moore
CB Benjamin Morrison
S Jake Pope
OL Billy Schrauth
OL Jake Taylor
LB Niuafe Tuihalamaka
OL Alex Birchmeier (2023)
LB/S Sonny Styles (2023)
DE Keon Keeley (2023)