Brian Kelly brought home a top-10 recruiting class for Notre Dame earlier this week. By the time the dust settled, Notre Dame had locked up 23 top recruits.
The class includes 14 new defensive players, which should help the Irish defense reload over the next couple of years. Notre Dame has lost many strong defensive performers since their national title run 2 seasons ago. After this year’s class exits, Notre Dame will have only two remaining starters from their 2012 defense.
While it’s unlikely that any defensive players from this recruiting class will earn a starting spot this year, several entering freshmen have the potential to get there soon.
Jay Hayes is one of the nation’s top defensive tackle recruits and he steps in to a defensive line developing a reputation for tough stopping power. Throughout his high school career, Hayes has shown the ability to shed blocks and break up plays in the backfield. He’ll be a strong contributor one day. But he’ll have to pack on some size first.1
Notre Dame will also welcome cornerback Nick Watkins, a four-star recruit from Dallas, Texas. Watkins is fast and has a real nose for the ball. In high school he had great hands, allowing him to turn plenty of tips into interceptions. Like Hayes, though, Watkins will need to add some size before contributing on the field, but his pure athleticism and hands are solid enough excite Notre Dame fans already.
Watkins is unlikely to see much of the field next year, as Notre Dame will return KeiVarae Russell and Bennett Jackson who both performed very well on the corners this year. Irish fans should also watch closely the development of Max Redfield, one of the top safety recruits in the nation.
Perhaps the area where the Irish most needed reinforcement is at linebacker. The team saw strong signs of growth in this unit over the course of last season. Unfortunately, three top contributors will be gone next year. Dan Fox, Prince Shembo and Carlo Calabrese are all departing.
Nyles Morgan will be one player vying for time at linebacker this season. He is a strong prospect from Crete, Illinois. Morgan has already drawn comparisons to Manti Te’o before setting foot on campus. The comparison isn’t without reason. Morgan is a hard-hitting middle linebacker who can rush, stop the run, and break up pass plays. If Morgan can continue to grow and develop his potential, he has everything it takes to be another strong leader for Notre Dame’s defense.
While this class is strong, this recruiting season was not without it’s disappointments for Notre Dame’s defense. Terrence Alexander is a three-star cornerback who seemed to be considering Notre Dame right up until national signing day, but ultimately decided to join with Stanford University. Courtney Garnett would have added another strong defensive lineman to this class, but signed a letter of intent with Oklahoma on Wednesday.
Overall this recruiting class should help return Notre Dame to the strong defensive play that helped them reach the NCG two seasons ago. Irish fans hope that Nyles Morgan will soon reach his potential and offer the kind of strong middle linebacker play that made their success possible.
1) Hayes is currently listed at 265, so it’ll take another 30-40 lbs before he matches the size of current Irish starters. His height, 6’5”, is definitely a big plus, though.