Notre Dame boat raced the competition for Zaire when the Irish hosted him during a junior day in March and scored his commitment before the weekend was out. Ohio State felt like a threat early but never really was. Zaire enrolled with the Irish in January and will compete for reps during spring practice. He was an Elite 11 pick and the nation's No. 3 dual threat quarterback.
Athletic, heady leader with dynamic escapability and a live arm. Does a nice job on the high school level of working through his progressions. Throws a very catchable ball. Shows poise, patience and good decision-making from the pocket. Biggest concern with me is consistent accuracy and touch, which is never a given when making the transition from high school to college. Would appear to be an excellent fit for Brian Kelly's spread offense. A Michael Vick look-alike on the prep football field.
The Irish recruited Bryant in earnest for a week before scoring his commitment during the December awards show. He's the highest-ranked running back to sign with Notre Dame during the Rivals.com era. He committed to Oklahoma early and then looked at a few SEC programs before choosing the Irish, thanks mainly to the combination of the 12-0 regular season and Tony Alford.
A complete back in terms of burst, vision and cutting off a squared up wide base. A darting, shifty back with size. Maintains northern progress when making cuts. A combination power back with some elusiveness. Also shows the ability to catch the football out of the backfield, which is a key ingredient for a running back in the Kelly system. Soft hands. Receives the football effortlessly. The only apparent shortcoming is elite breakaway speed, but has more than enough assets to compensate.
Folston was a surprise commitment in his own right, picking the Irish at the Under Armour All-American Game in early January. He'd seen the Irish just once, making an official visit during the season. A late official to Auburn was a concern, but Tony Alford's persistence helped keep this versatile athlete on board and away from making other visits late.
A darting, elusive scatback-like runner who is difficult to corral in traffic, let alone in the open field. Has a great sense for where the pressure points of the defense will come from, and then finds an alternate route. Outstanding stop-and-start ability. A north-south runner by nature, but gains ground while running east-west. Get-up-the-field ability as a pass receiver, and a willing blocker. An elite catch for the Irish. Worth the wait and anxiety while he dabbled with Auburn.
When Notre Dame pushed for Fuller during spring practice he was still a Penn State commitment and a lightly-regarded recruit. But Fuller turned in a strong senior season, moved up to four-star status and impressed scouts at the Semper Fi Bowl. He could double as a cornerback, but the Irish see a receiver first with unique ability to make catches in traffic.
Can a four-star be a sleeper? I think Fuller can. He started out as a scrawny three-star receiver with some upside. This guy is long and goes up for the football like a gazelle. Now that's he's added some strength to his frame, I'd place Fuller near the top of the class in terms of future productivity with the Irish. Did I mention long? This is a guy that's going to go up and get the football. When people tell you that the Irish didn't land an elite receiver, tell them to just wait. Fuller will get there.
The Irish had a knockdown, drag-out fight with Ohio State for Heuerman, eventually beating out the Buckeyes for an April commitment. With a brother playing for Urban Meyer in Columbus, it took a coordinated effort from the coaching staff, a round of golf with Tyler Eifert and some quality time out with Troy Niklas to close the deal on this early enrollee.
Many thought my gushing analysis of his junior film was a bit over the top, but I stand by it. Part of the reason some think his upside is limited is because he didn't get much of a chance to catch the football in a run-based offense in 2012. Some think he's not as flexible as elite tight ends, and there is film evidence of that. But I think Heuerman's a gamer who will rise to the level of his competition. At the moment of truth, when it's time to make a play on the ball, Heuerman will make it. His attitude and determination will take him to the next level.
A broken femur ended Torii Hunter's senior season at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl practices, cutting short what had been a serious rise in profile. The MVP of The Opening committed to Notre Dame in September, choosing the Irish from an eclectic list of options. His return from injury is unclear in terms of the timetable with surgery a necessity to start rehab.
An instinctive, crafty football player whose feel for the game is logical considering his father's elite baseball ability. This is a young man who understands his assets and knows how to win one-on-one. Very good not great speed and not very big. But a weapon in the slot with the ability to make people miss. Has that I-wonder-how-the-heck-he-just-did-that athleticism. If the Irish are patient, they may have a real gem over the course of five years. At the very least, the baseball team should have a catalyst centerfielder.
Onwualu was the second commitment in the class, choosing the Irish on March 14, making a personal stop at Notre Dame to tell Brian Kelly in person. Onwualu went on to have a versatile senior season, showing explosion at receiver, running back and defensive back. Notre Dame beat out Stanford and Michigan as the main competition for this early enrollee.
If you had to compose a list of signees whose games are trending upward the most, Onwualu would be in the top three. Made significant strides in terms of strength and athleticism between his junior and senior seasons, and showed his versatility by honing his running back skills. Doesn't have elite speed, but offers size, versatility and untapped upside. Still not exactly sure what position he plays on the next level. But a very intriguing prospect who gives the Irish options and epitomizes Brian Kelly's RKG credo.
The Irish landed the son of NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson during spring practice after Notre Dame got ahead of the game with a February offer. Robinson blossomed into a four-star prospect as a senior. He could use some extra strength but appears to have high upside considering his genes and frame. He never wavered in his commitment and enrolled early in South Bend.
Talk about a player who is evolving. There's no way of knowing just how high he will go as the son of basketball great David Robinson. Listed at 6-foot-4, it would seem pretty clear that there's at least another three or four inches to be added. He's come a long way in a short period of time as he's played a difficult position to master. If he maintains his agility and can tighten up his route-running ability, we're looking at a very difficult match-up. Look for the fade to the corner of the end zone. Irish fans also can expect an RKG with character entering the program.
The final piece of Notre Dame's offensive skill position puzzle committed on Jan. 27 as the Irish liked Smythe more with every evaluation. Notre Dame sees a detached tight end in the former Texas commitment, who opened his recruitment after a coaching change in Austin. Smythe is also a Notre Dame fan, putting the Irish over Stanford and Michigan in the end.
Don't think the next Tyler Eifert, who was a receiver by trade growing up and developed a tight end's body. Smythe is all tight end with room to grow into his 6-foot-6 body. He is not as much of a go-up-and-get-it tight end as he is a possession receiver with vice-like hands and some power after the catch. He isn't athletic in the sense of leaving the ground to make a catch. But he is athletic when it comes to making twisting and turning catches. With his frame and hands, that should be more than good enough.
Part of Notre Dame's massive junior day haul in March, Bivin looked like a surefire tackle when he committed but played center at the Under Armour All-American Game. Ohio State showed some interest after the Notre Dame commitment but Bivin never seriously entertained it. Bivin's senior season boosted him in the Rivals.com rankings and his offer list was elite.
From my perspective, a run blocker first with excellent finishing skills. Works from a wide base as a pass blocker, which is good, but might have trouble with a speed rush. That's why he's probably pegged for an interior line spot with classmates Steve Elmer and Mike McGlinchey the likely tackles of the future. There is a ton of upside here for a young man who is learning how to be 6-foot-7, 290 pounds. Put him on a five-year plan and there's no telling how good me might be by 2016-17.
Notre Dame believes Elmer is the best offensive lineman in its class with the Michigan prospect also the first commitment on board, going Irish in September of his junior year. The early enrollee has tackle athleticism with guard power. Notre Dame beat out Michigan and Michigan State for this U.S. Army All-American's commitment. He could contribute early.
Liked him before he put in tons of additional work to be an even better tackle prospect. Not satisfied just to be a good offensive tackle, he put himself on the national circuit and raised his profile. Elmer has an "all day long" attitude when it comes to worth ethic. His love for the game is apparent and will serve him well. Needs to keep working on getting underneath his blocks as he continues to "athleticize" himself against pass rushers. But he seems to get better in this area on a consistent basis. I'd put Elmer on the same level as highly-touted Sam Young coming out of the prep ranks.
McGlinchey committed to Notre Dame after the March junior day when he was scheduled to visit Wisconsin. Instead, he turned around on the highway and headed back to South Bend to make it official. Probably a long-term project at left tackle considering his height and weight. Nasty streak is there as McGlinchey likes to mix it up in the trenches.
I'm really excited about this young man because at 6-foot-8, 280 pounds, this is a very athletic lineman with balance in space. Love his body control, his center of gravity, and the "concentrated dispersal of physicality" this kid shows. (In other words, he gathers his weight and explodes.) As impressive as Steve Elmer is, if someone said today, "McGlinchey will be the best offensive lineman of this group," I wouldn't be surprised at all. This kid has a rare combination of length/size/athleticism.
Notre Dame's staff targeted McGovern early and landed him during the March junior day when he became the program's fourth commitment. Other offers came in from Alabama, Michigan and Ohio State, an impressive list for the swing linemen who could develop at guard or tackle. The Irish should be able to stock McGovern away until needed in 2014.
This is one big, athletic kid who blocks with a wide base and never stops bringing his legs. He's been marked down because of a tendency to push and not block, and concerns about maintaining feet and blocking with balance in the open field. But at 6-foot-7, 280 pounds this is a very athletic player. He's still growing into his body and learning body control. Once he dials in and learns how to play with his weight underneath him and with a concentrated center of gravity, he has a chance to be an excellent college lineman.
The top guard on Notre Dame's board, Montelus committed during the Blue-Gold Game weekend to close out the offensive line haul. The Irish won a head-to-head battle with the Gators for this elite interior lineman who played offensive tackle in high school. Montelus battled a shoulder injury during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl but impressed during summer camps.
Loads of potential for this interior offensive lineman who does a great job of leaning on a defender and bringing his feet while maintaining his balance. Uses a power punch to his advantage. Sets a wide pass-blocking base and uses his hands equally well in the passing game as he does the running game. A prototype offensive guard. Lumbers and is a bit stiff-legged in the open field. But has as-good-as-he-wants-to-be ability if he can get himself in great physical condition.