Analyzing the storylines, performances of Notre Dame's 2019 recruiting class in year one

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton recorded one more touchdown and three fewer receptions than the players he covered in the regular season.

No, that’s not a misprint.

Hamilton allowed just seven receptions for 74 yards and zero touchdowns on 22 targets defended, per Pro Football Focus. He tallied 39 tackles, six pass breakups and four interceptions, including a pick-six.

A fifth interception in the bowl game would give Hamilton the lead among freshmen nationally. He’s tied with Oregon’s Jevon Holland and LSU's Derek Stingley Jr.. That opportunity for Hamilton and AP No. 14/CFP No. 15 Notre Dame (10-2) will likely come at the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Fla. The selections for that Dec. 28 bowl game are expected to be announced around 3:30 p.m. EST Sunday on ESPN.

According to PFF, Hamilton’s 3.0 passer rating when targeted ranks No. 1 nationally among all collegiate defenders. Hamilton’s coverage skills and production made him an easy choice for PFF’s All-Freshman first team, released Friday.

Mike Farrell, the national recruiting director for Rivals, wishes his recruiting site ranked Hamilton higher than the No. 7 safety and No. 75 overall player in the 2019 recruiting class. He now expects him to be a three-years-and-out first-round NFL Draft pick.

“It’s how physical he is,” said Farrell on what surprised him about the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Hamilton. “That was definitely the question mark and the thing that held us back a little bit. In high school, he wasn’t a guy who was known as a thumper. He didn’t come up, smack you and have those highlights hits.”

Though his expectations were lofty despite those initial questions, Hamilton still surprised in certain respects. Like falling two tackles short of starter Jalen Elliott’s total despite playing less than half the snaps in a rotational role.

The Irish also nearly used Hamilton as a cornerback in red zone situations against Stanford, head coach Brian Kelly said.

“When you have a talent like him, you could ask a lot of him in the college game and he can produce,” said Steve Wiltfong, 247Sports’ director of recruiting partly responsible for ranking Hamilton as the No. 1 safety and No. 15 overall player in his class. “Notre Dame hasn’t had a talent like this on defense since (linebacker) Jaylon Smith, and they didn’t ask him to do enough.

“Clark Lea is going to use Kyle Hamilton in any way possible to make sure that they are in the best look for him to make plays and keep points off the board.”

Hamilton, nose guard Jacob Lacey and punter Jay Bramblett are Notre Dame’s only 2019 signees that played more than four games this season. The other 19 qualify for a redshirt if those who have played four games don’t see the field in the bowl game.

Farrell and Wiltfong sounded off on a few other topics regarding Notre Dame’s 2019 recruiting class.

NG Jacob Lacey: That Lacey became the second-most productive freshman behind Hamilton didn’t surprise Wiltfong.

“I just remember that he was very quick and had terrific hands,” Wiltfong said. “He was very fundamentally sound at a young age as a high school recruit with the way he used his hands, the way he attacked offensive linemen and kept them off-balance with his combination of quickness, strength and technique.”

Lacey’s refined technique relative to his experience earned him a prominent role in the rotation behind starter Kurt Hinish. He recorded 14 tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss in 11 contests, missing only the Virginia Tech game with an injury.

The 6-foot-2, 293-pound Lacey gained constant praise from Kelly and even garnered starter reps against Boston College. Hinish slid to defensive tackle when Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa went down with a leg injury. Lacey projects as a two-year starter after Hinish finishes his eligibility next season.

CB Cam Hart: Among the lowest-rated signees in Notre Dame’s last class, Hart surprised many when being named the second-team cornerback prior to USC. He had made the transition from wide receiver just a week before.

Injuries prompted Hart’s move, though the position switch looks to be permanent. Cornerbacks Troy Pride Jr., Donte Vaughn and potentially Shaun Crawford — if he does not request a sixth year of eligibility — are in their final seasons. That would leave sophomore TaRiq Bracy as Notre Dame’s only corner with experience and a vacant starting role at boundary corner.

High school football powerhouse Good Counsel in Olney, Md., featured Hart as a two-way player. Farrell projected Hart as a safety with his 6-3, 208-pound frame and still has his doubts about him as a corner.

“One of the things I’ve found is that some of the guys that come from these bigger programs that aren’t as highly ranked hit the ground running more,” Farrell said. “So I see Cam Hart as a guy that was physically ready to fill a need, but I think in a couple years, you are going to see a couple other guys bypass him on the depth chart as they start to get more comfortable.”

DE Isaiah Foskey: The deep talent on the Irish defensive line may have been the only thing that kept Foskey from securing a meaningful role. Season-ending injuries to defensive ends Julian Okwara and Daelin Hayes offered Notre Dame the chance to give Foskey a longer look, however.

Foskey flashed his potential and prowess at Stanford, his fourth game of the season. He blocked a punt in the second quarter that shifted the momentum toward the Irish after their slow start. Though Foskey recorded only two tackles, he seemed to find himself near the football and pressuring the quarterback often as a reserve.

With defensive ends Khalid Kareem, Jamir Jones and Okwara gone after this season, Foskey should see the field more behind projected starters Adetokunbo Ogundeji and Hayes.

“Both Okwaras (Romeo and Julian) took development before they became real difference makers,” Wiltfong said. “I think Foskey is a guy that could be on a similar trajectory.”

OL Quinn Carroll: Two of Notre Dame’s four offensive line signees last cycle were ranked among the top 185 overall players on both 247Sports and Rivals: center Zeke Correll and Carroll. Both endured challenges not long after coming to campus as early enrollees.

Correll’s projection as a three-year starter ended once sophomore Jarrett Patterson moved to center from offensive tackle in the spring. Carroll suffered a season-ending right knee injury in early August.

The Irish will likely return all five starters on the offensive line for 2020. How Carroll bounces back from the injury may not become clear until further down the road.

“But as long as he stays patient and can come back from that injury without losing his flexibility, footwork and all that, he will be fine down the stretch,” Farrell said. “The transfer portal is the new wrinkle in all of this, so I can’t really say where his head is going to be at in a year or two.”

Don't miss any of our Notre Dame football coverage. Sign up for our ND football newsletter for twice-weekly updates on the Irish sent straight to your email inbox.

Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton (14) runs back an interception for a touchdown against New Mexico on Sept. 14.