Inside Recruiting: Who's left for Notre Dame to add to its 2022 class?

Eric Hansen
ND Insider
Southeast Polk's Xavier Nwankpa (5), a Notre Dame recruiting target, catches the game-winning touchdown on the final play of the game against Dowling Catholic at Southeast Polk (Iowa) High School on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021. The Rams beat the Maroons 13-7.

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.

Notre Dame heads into game week for its season opener at Florida State (next Sunday, 7:30 p.m. EDT) with 21 verbal commitments in its 2022 recruiting class and three in its 2023 class.

The Irish have been No. 1 in the Rivals team rankings for the 2022 cycle and No. 2 in 247Sports team standings since Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei wide receiver C.J. Williams verbally committed to the Irish three weeks ago.

While Notre Dame could possibly add to its board this fall, there are seven elite targets still in play: Defensive linemen Cyrus Moss, Hero Kanu and Anthony Lucas; offensive linemen Aamil Wagner, Billy Schrauth and Zach Rice; and safety Xavier Nwanpka.

How many of those seven would Notre Dame have to land to consider the 2022 class a cut above what the Irish have been doing in the Kelly Era? And how many of the seven do you envision the Irish signing in December?

Lemming: “I think it’s already a cut above, but you’ve got to keep improving. Everybody wants a top five class, but if you don’t keep landing guys at the end of the year, you fall behind the other ones. If they could land Rice or Lucas, to me those are guys that are impact-type ball players. 

“Again, I think the class is already an excellent one. But obviously if they don’t get anyone between now and signing day of those elite ones, fans will say, ‘What have you done for me lately.’ It’s that kind of business. So I think it’s important that they keep working toward landing some of these guys.

“As far as how many will they sign, I would say possibly four, but realistically just three. I think if they can get one or two of the defensive linemen, that would be great; one of the offensive linemen, possibly Wagner, and then a five-star guy at safety out of Iowa in Xavier, which would be a great catch for them. 

“They’re in on all of them, but if they get three, they’re doing their job.”

Chaparral's Anthony Lucas (5), a Notre Dame recruiting target, beats a Sandra Day O'Connor defender as he gets in the backfield during their 6A semifinal game in Phoenix, Friday, Dec, 4, 2020.

Wiltfong: “I think the question more: Can some of those guys help Notre Dame find the one or two more coveted wins that they’re trying to find right now to win a national championship? 

“I think Notre Dame has already got an excellent class recruited. They’re in the mix strongly for those guys you mentioned, and you look at a guy like Moss. You look at a guy like Anthony Lucas. You look at a guy like Xavier Nwankpa. I think those are guys that are going to be elite players in college on the defensive side of the football. 

“And so, certainly, as you’re trying to find one or two more wins, those are guys that maybe make that play in a game that help you win a playoff semifinal or win a championship game. I mean, I think those guys are very important, but Notre Dame also already has a class in the fold that I think keeps them living in the same space that they have been living in. 

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“The teams that are winning national championships are greedy on the recruiting trail. And Notre Dame should be too. 

“I don’t think they’re going to swing and miss on them all. They’re near the top for Nwankpa. They’re near the top for Wagner. They’re in the middle of it for Cyrus Moss. Zach Rice wants to get back for a game. 

“Lucas is a guy they’ve got to make up some ground for, but he’s coming for the USC game. Kanu had a great visit this summer — sounds like they’re in it. And Schrauth seems to be trending away, but he does have some people in his corner that would love to see him at Notre Dame.” 

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

Is Notre Dame on a trajectory to land a difference-maker at quarterback in the 2023 class?

Lemming: “I think it is a possibility. They lost Malachi Nelson to Oklahoma, because they weren’t in on him early enough. The rest of the five who they’ve offered are still in play.

“Arch Manning is the best one out there. But to battle Ole Miss, LSU and schools like that, it’s tough. Dante Moore is a terrific athlete. He’s got five-star ability and he’s a guy who could help win that elusive national title for them.

“I think Jackson Arnold from Texas is starting this year for the first time, so we’ll get a better idea of his potential as his season plays out. Avery Johnson is really good, and I’m getting a chance to meet him in person next Saturday. I’ll know more about him then, but from what I’ve seen, he’s outstanding. 

“Dante’s the key guy. Dante Moore is a five-star now. Avery has that kind of potential, but he’s not there yet. Dante is what Notre Dame needs. They need an impact guy at quarterback, and I mean Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State — they’ve been winning with impact quarterbacks. LSU won with an impact quarterback. 

“Notre Dame has had good ones, but not an impact guy. Johnson is a guy I think Tommy Rees could coach into a five-star. Dante would come ready-made.” 

Wiltfong: “I like the way they’ve started the cycle. You look at some of the guys they’ve offered — Dante Moore, Avery Johnson. They’ve had them on campus. I saw Dante Moore play on Friday and talked to two of his coaches, and both said Notre Dame is doing a good job of recruiting him. 

Avery Johnson obviously had a great visit. I talked to him after his visit. Talked to Dante Moore after his visit — they both loved it. For Notre Dame to land a guy like that — the elite quarterbacks always seem to have a great relationship with the head coach.  

“When you look at some of these guys coming off the board ranked high — Ty Simpson, good rapport with Nick Saban and Bill O’Brien. With Caleb Williams and the other guys Oklahoma has landed, it’s Lincoln Riley leading the charge. Quinn Ewers, Ryan Day was in the middle of that recruitment. 

“It’ll be interesting to see. Right now a lot of these quarterbacks are still in the middle of the getting-to-know stage, but when they’re recruitment gets real, look for the head coaches to emerge and make the difference in landing that elite quarterback.”

Bergen (N.J.) Catholic quarterback Steve Angeli, a Notre Dame verbal commitment, gets away from Akron Archbishop Hoban linebacker Jermaine James on Friday, August 27, 2021 in Akron, Ohio, at Dowd Field.

Notre Dame 2022 QB commitment Steve Angeli and Bergen (N.J.) Catholic mauled Ohio power Akron Archbishop Hoban Friday night, 42-7. Is there a chance Angeli’s sample size was too small to get a firm evaluation and that he may be better than advertised?

Lemming: “I’ve always said he’s better than advertised. I’ve seen him since his freshman year. He’s got a great personality. He’s a good athlete. He’s a smart kid. He certainly has the ability to become a five-star in college. I’ve had him as a four-plus. He’s close. 

“Hoban has been a state champion for years (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020). That’s a really good sign right there. What you want to see at Notre Dame is progression. I think he certainly has that kind of ability. 

“As an athlete, he’s not like Dante Moore, but as a quarterback, he’s just as good.” 

Wiltfong: “Or he may have just gotten better, right?

“He played a shortened season as a junior and then we saw him in a camp setting — Under Armour Future 50. But maybe he’s more comfortable as a senior, which he should be. They beat a really good opponent, and it’ll be exciting to see how he plays moving forward. 

“But that’s certainly a heck of a start to his senior year, and he’s a guy that Notre Dame identified early and they offered some other guys later — Drew Allar, Ty Simpson, guys like that. They were on Angeli early and believed in his traits. Maybe those traits are coming together as his senior season plays out.”  

Of these three evaluative tools — camps, actual high school games and all-star games — which is the most useful and which is the least useful?

Lemming: “High school games are the most useful. That’s where they play the competition. That’s where you can see their progress from week to week.

“The most useless is the All-American games. I’ve been involved with them for 20 years, but most of the time there’s just no consistency in them. They practice. They have fun at the practices. But the game is almost a tool for college decision announcements, not for helping the kids along. 

“It would definitely be high school film first, maybe the combine second — going against great competition in that head to head — and then the All-American game is really just for exposure.”

Wiltfong: “High school games are the most useful, because you’re getting to evaluate him over a whole season. And if you’re watching full game films or cut-ups of full games, you’re able to watch every play.

“Sometimes the tape can lie in the sense that the caliber of competition is not that strong. So that’s when you like to supplement that with live eval.  

“I would say the all-star games are the next best, because they’re in full pads. So you’re getting a chance to see guys banging into each other or compete in full pads. And then camps would be third, but they’re all valuable parts of the process. 

“In a camp, you may be able to get a kid to test, get some verified athleticism. You can see a top receiver from Ohio compete against a top defensive back from California. So you’re getting to see how the athleticism stacks up, just the movement, the natural athleticism and things of that nature. 

“But it always starts with the game film. Then you supplement it with the other things.” 

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