Brian Kelly’s Top-Recruited Offenses At Notre Dame: No. 2
For the first time since 2013, Notre Dame recruited a full offense (and then some) that featured 14 players to represent each position.
Since the turn into the 21st century, this is only the third time Notre Dame recruited an entire offense (and then some) in one cycle, with 2013 and 2006 the other two.
That 2013 class was ranked No. 3 in the country, easily the highest in the 12 recruiting campaigns under head coach Brian Kelly, and second only to the No. 2 ranking in 2008, under head coach Charlie Weis, since the turn of the century.
That 2013 haul received the bronze medal, or No. 3 in our countdown of Kelly’s best overall classes recruited on offense so far.
At No. 2 is the 2016 group .
Silver Medal: The 2016 Class
Quarterback: Ian Book
Because he wasn’t Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow or even Mac Jones or Justin Fields — all first-round signal-callers, if not No. 1 overall picks the past three years — who could transcend and elevate Notre Dame to Tier 1-level, Book often is a popular target of why the Fighting Irish remain “only” a top-10 level program.
But make no mistake, Book's leadership, moxie, durability and mobility were highly valuable while winning the most starts (30) ever by a Notre Dame quarterback, not including rallying the troops off the bench in a 21-17 win over LSU in the 2018 Citrus Bowl that helped set the table for a 33-5 run the past three years.
His 8,948 yards passing with 72 touchdown tosses are second all-time at Notre Dame to Brady Quinn, and his 1,517 yards rushing trail only Tony Rice among quarterback who suited up for the Irish. With 10,465 total yards, Book provided nearly a 10K (5.94 miles) in offense while helping direct two playoff berths. That will be difficult to match by any future quarterback.
Running Backs: Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh
This Florida three-star duo didn’t move the recruiting needle when they signed and were perceived more as complementary figures than impact performers. Jones eventually achieved a little more than anticipated.
Both redshirted as freshmen, and McIntosh broke in earlier with 368 yards, 5.7 yards per carry and five touchdowns in 2017 before transferring to Washington State, where he rushed for 323 yards this past season as a fifth-year senior.
Jones quietly became impactful during the playoff run in 2018, accounting for 174 yards in a hard-fought 22-17 win over Vanderbilt and catching the game-clinching 51-yard TD to beat USC, 24-17. As a senior in 2019 he rushed for a team high 857 yards to finish his career with 1,481 at 5.5 yards per carry.
Receivers: Chase Claypool, Javon McKinley and Kevin Stepherson
Four-star recruits McKinley and Claypool ranked No. 59 and 109, respectively, as national prospects coming into Notre Dame, but combined for five catches as freshmen (all by Claypool).
It was three-star Stepherson who made the instant impact with the best season under head coach Brian Kelly by a freshman wideout, nabbing 25 passes for 462 yards and five scores. After serving an early suspension to start the 2017 season, he became impactful again with five more touchdowns and a career average of 18.7 yards on his 44 catches before getting dismissed by the university and transferring to Jacksonville State.
Claypool demonstrated improvement each season and developed into a second-round pick by finishing his senior year with 66 catches for 1,037 yards and 13 scores. He then had the greatest NFL rookie season ever by a Notre Dame wideout with 62 catches for 873 yards and nine scores, plus two more rushing TDs. The previous Notre Dame rookie record for touchdowns scored was seven by Jerome “The Bus” Bettis in 1993.
McKinley was the ultimate late bloomer, virtually a non-factor his first four seasons with numerous setbacks before tying for the team lead in receptions this past year with 42 and showcasing excellent blocking skills along the perimeter.
Tight End: None
It’s not often that Tight End U. doesn’t sign someone at the position, and more often than not of late it has even signed two per season.
However, because two of the earliest commitments already were in place for the next class — top-100 prospects Brock Wright and Cole Kmet — and a top-100 figure was signed the previous year with Alize Mack, there was no acute need.
Offensive Line: Liam Eichenberg and Tommy Kraemer
Similar to last year when the Irish signed only two offensive linemen (Tosh Baker and Michael Carmody), this harvest was small but proved fruitful.
Kraemer actually made the earlier impact as a sophomore in 2017 when he co-started with freshman Robert Hainsey at right tackle on a unit that won the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s best offensive line. Kraemer slid inside to right guard the next season and, despite a few injuries and setbacks along the way, is a bona fide NFL prospect.
Meanwhile, Eichenberg started all 38 games at left tackle from 2018-20, earned consensus All-America notice in 2020, was one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy, and won the ACC’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy. He conceivably could become the fourth consecutive Notre Dame left tackle since 2014 drafted in the first round.
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