Which recruits might be next for Notre Dame?
In Notre Dame’s case, a trio is a trend.
In each of the last four recruiting cycles, three players signed with Notre Dame that waited to commit until January or February. There have been five-star recruits, like Gunner Kiel and Max Redfield, and soon-to-be standouts like Elijah Shumate and Tarean Folston. There have been Signing Day deciders, like Equanimeous St. Brown, Dexter Williams and Daniel Cage.
But who will be next?
With 20 verbal commits and mere weeks until the calendar flips, Notre Dame again will enter the New Year with the majority of its class cemented. The Irish likely have three to five remaining vacancies and several evident areas of need.
Let’s examine Notre Dame’s best bet — and some other options — at each of those three areas: wide receiver, linebacker and defensive back.
Best Bet: Javon McKinley, 6-2, 204; Corona (Calif.) Centennial.
Even if junior wide receiver Will Fuller bolts to the NFL, reinforcements may be coming.
McKinley, a consensus four-star recruit who plans to announce his commitment at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 9, has the skill set to become a favorite target of DeShone Kizer or Malik Zaire.
“He’s a prolific receiver,” CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. “He’s got the height, the speed. He’s got all the tools to be an impact player. If Will Fuller decides to leave, I think he should be a good replacement.”
While Notre Dame would certainly make room in its class for stud Georgia wide receiver Demetris Robertson, McKinley seems to be a much more realistic option.
And McKinley — who is ranked by Rivals as the No. 12 wide receiver nationally and the No. 59 overall recruit in the 2016 class — would fit nicely alongside fellow California natives Equanimeous St. Brown and C.J. Sanders on the Irish line.
“He’s very much an impact-type guy,” Lemming said. “He’s got just terrific ability, and he plays in a terrific league out there in the eastern part of the LA suburbs. He might be the best receiver in California, and there’s a ton of them.”
In the Mix: Damian Alloway, Demetris Robertson, Velus Jones
Best Bet: Caleb Kelly, 6-3, 219; Fresno (Calif.) Clovis West.
A few other labels that would fit Kelly:
Best case scenario.
Kelly is ranked as a five-star prospect by Rivals and a four-star recruit by 247Sports. The Fresno, Calif., native took an official visit to Notre Dame last weekend for the team’s Echoes 15 awards banquet, and is likely to choose between the Irish and Oklahoma on signing day.
If he ended up Irish, Kelly wouldn’t just be joining Notre Dame linebacker commits Daelin Hayes and Jamir Jones in the 2016 class.
He might be the best of the bunch.
“He’s an impact player,” Lemming said. “Caleb is more along the lines of a Jaylon Smith. He can make an impact as a true freshman if they can get him. Notre Dame definitely needs help on defense for next year. That’s why he’s so important for them. It’s them and Oklahoma. He’s a legit five-star guy.”
Should Kelly opt for Oklahoma, however, consensus four-star Houston native Jeffrey McCulloch could hardly be considered a consolation prize.
“He’s outstanding. He’s a four-plus (star) guy,” Lemming said. “You watch him and he can really run. He’s a big sleeper but a guy I think could become a big star in college, because he’s 230 (pounds) and can run people down from behind.
“He’s got really good skill. He’d be another important guy.”
In the Mix: Jeffrey McCulloch, Jonathan Jones, Ben Davis, Brendan Ferns, Jonah Morris
Best Bet: Troy Pride Jr., 6-0, 165; Greer (S.C.) High.
Notre Dame has six defensive back commits in its 2016 class, and the Irish may not be done.
Pride decommitted from Virginia Tech in November and is currently considering the aforementioned Hokies alongside North Carolina, N.C. State, South Carolina and, of course, Notre Dame.
But though Pride, a four-star prospect according to 247Sports and a three-star recruit via Rivals, may be the most likely Irish commit, he wouldn’t be the most celebrated one.
That race would be won by either Jordan Fuller or Damar Hamlin, both consensus four-star recruits.
Hamlin — a 6-1, 179-pound defensive back — will choose between Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Penn State and Ohio State. He’s ranked as the No. 6 safety nationally by Rivals and the No. 18 cornerback by 247Sports.
Fuller, who also visited Notre Dame last weekend, is a little rangier, filling out at 6-2 and 190-pounds. And with great size, Lemming says, comes great versatility.
“Fuller is the best athlete overall in New Jersey,” he said. “He can play wide receiver, safety, returns kicks, plays quarterback. He does everything. They’d love to get their hands on him.”
In the Mix: Jordan Fuller, Damar Hamlin, David Long Jr.
The following players signed with Notre Dame in the last four recruiting cycles after committing within the final month or so before Signing Day.
2012: S Elijah Shumate (Jan. 9), QB Gunner Kiel (Jan. 17), WR Davonte Neal (Feb. 21)
2013: RB Tarean Folston (Jan. 2), S Max Redfield (Jan. 4), TE Durham Smythe (Jan. 27)
2014: LB Nyles Morgan (Jan. 4), DT Pete Mokwuah (Jan. 24), NT Daniel Cage (Feb. 5)
2015: TE Alize Jones (Jan. 15), Equanimeous St. Brown (Feb. 4), Dexter Williams (Feb. 4)