With the 2018 class finally completed, Notre Dame can now devote its full attention to the 2019 class. The fast start in the 2018 group allowed Notre Dame to get in early on the rising seniors, but now the staff gets to really turn up the heat.
Heading into that transition, the Blue & Gold Illustrated staff is beginning its own full transition to the 2019 class. We already broke down Notre Dame’s needs in 2019 and threw out some early names to know, but now the staff breaks down the top 20 players on the board for Notre Dame, at least in the opinion of our staff.
Recruiting reporters David McKinney and Corey Bodden were joined by football analyst Bryan Driskell to put this list together. Each staff member provided his own independent top 20, and those votes were tallied to come up with this list.
Over the next several days BGI will release five players at a time as it works down to the five most important recruits on the staff. Rankings were a combination of need, fit and talent. The number one player on the board isn’t necessarily the most talented player on the board, and there are plenty of very talented players who won’t be ranked.
Of course, Notre Dame’s board will continue to expand and new names will be added, but this list will give you a good early start on 2019 recruiting. Of course, Notre Dame already has three committed players in the class: Bowling Green (Ky.) South Warren four-star defensive tackle Jacob Lacey, Reno (Nev.) Damonte Ranch four-star quarterback Cade McNamara and Atlanta (Ga.) Lovett cornerback K.J. Wallace.
Here is the list, beginning with No.’s 20-16:
20. RODAS JOHNSON, DT
McKinney Rank: 19
Bodden Rank: 19
Driskell Rank: 15
The Skinny: Notre Dame must bring in another strong defensive tackle haul, whether its two more players or three. Lacey was a strong start, but the Irish must land another potential impact player inside, and Johnson is that kind of player. Listed as an offensive lineman, Notre Dame is recruiting Johnson as a defensive tackle, where his size and power fits perfectly into the nose position.
Johnson visited Notre Dame last June, and if he makes it back to campus again in the near future it will help determine whether or not his interest in Notre Dame is legitimate. Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin are schools heavily linked to Johnson. Ohio State would be tough to beat should the Buckeyes eventually decide to offer the Columbus native.
19. NICK CROSS, S
McKinney Rank: 16
Bodden Rank: 17
Driskell Rank: 20
The Skinny: Cross has seen his recruiting profile take off in recent weeks, with top programs from all over the country offering him a scholarship. It doesn’t take long to see on film why so many schools are making Cross a priority. He is a quality athlete, a hard hitter and a player that makes a lot of plays on the football. For Notre Dame, safety recruiting has been quite strong the last three years, so the focus is on impact talent over depth, and Cross has that kind of ability.
Cross is still very wide open, but Notre Dame is a school he has often mentioned as a school he is interested in learning more about and also visiting in the very near future. Him making his way to campus during the spring would not be the least bit surprising.
18. LEWIS CINE, S
McKinney Rank: 17
Bodden Rank: 16
Driskell Rank: 17
The Skinny: Like Cross, the Massachusetts native fits the “impact” profile that Notre Dame needs at safety in this class. Listed at just 6-1 and 166 pounds, Cine looks bigger than that on film. He certainly doesn’t hit like someone who weighs just 166 pounds. Cine loves to fly down into the box and deliver punishment, and his shots on wide receivers are cringe worthy for anyone with an offensive background. He’s a rangy athlete that covers a lot of ground, making him a fit for Notre Dame’s field safety position (Stud).
Also like Cross, Cine has seen his recruitment blow up this winter. Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech and Tennessee are just some of the schools to make a run at Cine. If Notre Dame wants to have a legitimate chance with him it will have to quickly turn up the heat or risk falling behind other premier programs.
17. JOSEPH NGATA, WR
McKinney Rank: 15
Bodden Rank: NR
Driskell Rank: 12
The Skinny: Ngata is a truly dominant wide receiver, one whose production matches the talent, athleticism and playmaking ability he shows on film. He hauled in 81 passes for 1,777 yards and 26 touchdowns, leading Folsom to a 16-0 record and a state championship. He is long, he is physically imposing and his overall game reminds me a great deal of former Notre Dame star Michael Floyd. He’s a legit No. 1 receiver, and one that could make a push from day one at whatever school he signs with.
Instead of waiting a couple of months for Notre Dame to be able to pay for him to visit, Ngata instead chose to visit in January for Junior Day on his own dime. That alone speaks to his interest level in Notre Dame, but pulling him from the West Coast will still be quite challenging. If he ends his recruitment over the next few months it likely won’t bode well for Notre Dame, but if it drags out the Irish will be able to continue moving up his list. Clemson is another East Coast school to watch.
16. WESLEY WALKER, CB/S
McKinney Rank: 13
Bodden Rank: 14
Driskell Rank: NR
The Skinny: Walker is a unique player in that he will bring secondary versatility to whatever school he signs with. He has very good size for a cornerback, and that size would allow him to handle playing safety as well. Walker runs well enough to play cornerback and he hits well enough to play safety. His technique is all over the place in both areas and that will need work, but the raw tools are certainly there.
Notre Dame has been linked to Walker for about a year, and he made his first trip to campus last June during the program’s camp season. He would have visited again during the season had he not suffered an in-season injury. Walker tripped back to Notre Dame Jan. 27 for its first Junior Day, and the staff continued to make its pitch to him. Walker was able to meet cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght and Terry Joseph. Walker's interest in Notre Dame is high, but a number of SEC schools continue to push hard for him.
NOTE: We will release the next batch of five tomorrow, the next five on Friday and the final five on Saturday. Be sure to check back each day for those releases!!