Like most programs in America, Notre Dame locked up the bulk of its 2018 recruiting class during the early signing period in December. The Irish did have a good National Signing Day on Wednesday, grabbing five more prospects at positions of need.
Now that it’s over and we know which players will be donning the blue and gold for the first time next fall, here’s a look at five things we learned about Notre Dame's 2018 recruiting class.
1. Landing a top quarterback was huge
Early in this recruiting process, getting a highly regarded quarterback was prioritized. Head coach Brian Kelly and his staff targeted Pennsylvania star Phil Jurkovec and they secured his commitment in May, making him one of the cornerstones of the class. As the 2017 season developed and the Notre Dame quarterback situation became more and more unsettled, the importance of Jurkovec’s decision became magnified. He may not have shown well in the camp and all-star game settings and he may not be on the level of five-stars Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, but Jurkovec is the right prospect for Notre Dame and the quarterback of the future in South Bend.
2. Harry Hiestand’s departure had little effect on this recruiting class
The Irish's former offensive line coach wasn’t really piling up the frequent flier miles recruiting for Notre Dame. But when he did get in front of prospective blockers, Hiestand was effective in articulating how that recruit would fit into his system. When he took the job with the Bears, Notre Dame still needed to snag another lineman or two to fortify an area that at the time was one of the soft spots in the class. After taking the position, new line coach Jeff Quinn hit the road, helping the Irish retain the commitment of Arkansas product Luke Jones and putting them in position to sign California native Jarrett Patterson on Wednesday. Whether Quinn can actually coach the offensive line as well as Hiestand remains to be seen, but he did yeoman’s work in the final days of this recruiting cycle.
3. Strength up the middle on defense
In baseball, they talk about defense up the middle being very important. If that is true in football, Notre Dame did very well with this recruiting class. Up front, ND picked up tackles Ja’Mion Franklin and Jayson Ademilola. Ademilola — who will come to ND with his brother Justin, a linebacker — is the real prize, as he spurned offers from Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson in choosing to sign with the Irish. At linebacker, Notre Dame brought in two coveted prospects that can play inside in Jack Lamb and Bo Bauer. While both were consensus four-star prospects, Lamb is an overall top 100 guy that could have chosen Penn State, Oklahoma or Washington. At safety there is Derrik Allen, who had offers from Clemson, Georgia and Alabama. Houston Griffith, another of ND’s highest-rated prospects, is listed by most of the services as a corner, but many expect him to wind up joining Allen at safety. Throw in rover prospect Shayne Simon and his Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State offers, and the middle of the Irish defense is seemingly well stocked for the future.
4. Notre Dame filled the biggest holes on the roster
After whiffing on cornerbacks last year, the Irish needed a bunch in 2018. They signed four, perhaps five if Griffith doesn’t switch over to safety. In Tariq Bracy, Joe Wilkins, D.J. Brown and Noah Boykin, Notre Dame got athletic cover guys which allow for position flexibility. The Irish also needed to re-load at linebacker and safety, and they did quite well in those areas, as mentioned earlier. Notre Dame suffered some personnel losses at running back, including the de-commitment of Markese Stepp. But they added two guys to the backfield in Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister, the latter coming in on Signing Day. Equanimeous St. Brown leaving for the NFL and Kevin Stepherson’s dismissal from the team meant wide receivers were needed and the Irish signed four players with considerable potential.
5. Where are the five-stars?
Notre Dame’s overall recruiting class is in line to finish in the top 10 of most outlets' rankings. Fourteen of the 27 recruits are four-stars, according to 247Sports with five among the top 100 overall. But once again, the truly elite prospects chose to go somewhere else. In the past five years, Notre Dame has signed just one player that was considered a five-star prospect per 247Sports. This year alone, Georgia signed seven five-star recruits and Clemson inked five. Many will point to Notre Dame’s academic standards being a major hurdle. But during the same time period, Stanford has signed four five-star players. By signing just one five-star in five years, Notre Dame has the same number as California, Iowa, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Houston, Missouri, Maryland, and have one less than Virginia. The Irish may never get to the point of signing Alabama-like classes, but they do need more true difference-makers and fewer under-the-radar projects.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.