Notre Dame completed its spring session this weekend with the annual Blue-Gold Game. There were a number of important takeaways from the game, from both a positive standpoint and areas that must be improved upon between now and the spring.
Our recruiting mailbag will be back later this week, but with the spring game still fresh on our minds it is the perfect time to answer questions about the Notre Dame football team heading into the summer.
As always, Irish Breakdown has you covered for all of your recruiting needs! The questions come from Irish Breakdown subscribers on the message board.
Here we go!
@dmulligannd13: How would you rate the overall depth of the team compared to 3, 5, 10 years ago?
The further back you go the worse the depth was on the Notre Dame football team. Former head coach Brian Kelly inherited a team with a lot of top end talent … I mean, a lot of top end talent. He inherited a roster that would produce eight players that went onto to get drafted in the first three rounds.
The issue, however, was those teams had major holes at some positions and the team lacked depth. There was often a huge drop off between starters and back ups, which created a more narrow margin for error. The deeper Kelly got into his tenure at Notre Dame the better the depth became.
In recent seasons the issue hasn’t been depth but top-end talent, which hasn’t always been at the same level it was when Kelly arrived. In the first six draft’s of Kelly’s tenure the Irish produced six first round picks and six second round picks (a total of 12). If you look at the final six drafts, which includes a projection for the 2022 NFL Draft, Notre Dame will have produced just four first round picks and six second round picks.
I would contend that Notre Dame’s 2022 team could challenge the 2018 team for the deepest of the last 15 years. If not for the issues at wide receiver it would be a no brainer.
@dmulligannd13: Out of all the position groups on the team, how would you rank them in order from the most talented to the least talented?
Lists like this are tough because someone – or some position – has to be last, but that doesn’t mean there are “weaknesses”, per se.
Here’s my ranking of the positions heading into 2022 from a pure talent standpoint. So that means taking away experience and projecting who will help in 2022, just pure talent. Obviously depth of talent will play a huge role in the rankings.
1. Defensive Line – Defensive end Isaiah Foskey is a first round talent and DT Jayson Ademilola is one of the more talented players on the roster. I’m expecting big things from Rylie Mills this season because I believe he has a lot of talent. Justin Ademilola will get drafted next year and this might be the deepest position on the roster, at least for 2022. There are guys on the third team right now that would have been key rotation players in 2017.
Things get a bit thin after this season, so the 2022 class panning out and the Irish hitting big in 2023 is a must if this is going to continue. But for right now the defensive line is very, very talented.
2. Running Back – I had a tough time with numbers two through five, and you could make a case for each unit, but the addition of Gi’Bran Payne puts the running backs over the top. All four players on the roster earned four-star grades on my board and all have not only starter potential, but 1,000-yard rusher potential.
You have a unique blend of talent, with some home run hitters (Chris Tyree, Jadarian Price), elusive players (Logan Diggs, Payne) and a hammer (Audric Estime). This unit is inexperienced and still has much to prove, but from a raw talent standpoint this group is loaded.
3. Tight End – A case could be made that Michael Mayer is the best player on the roster, but there are enough questions behind him to cause the tight ends to fall down this list a bit. I initially had them ranked fourth, but I’m extremely high on the incoming freshmen, which combined with the presence of Mayer to have this group ranked third.
If Cane Berrong comes back healthy and Mitchell Evans is as good as my sources say he is this group could move up to No. 2 on the list.
4. Linebacker – This is a bit of a projection because a lot of this has to do with the younger players on the roster and two other players that so far are big question marks. Of course I”m referring to Marist Liufau and Jordan Botelho. Liufau is coming off an injury and his talent is greater than his proven production. Botelho is extremely gifted but has had trouble keeping his nose clean at Notre Dame.
If those two pan out this unit jumps way, way up. I’m quite high on Prince Kollie and veterans JD Bertrand, Bo Bauer and Jack Kiser are quality football players. Of course, the incoming freshmen are a big reason why the group is ranked as high. A case could be made they belong higher on this list, but the question marks have me dropping them down a spot.
5. Offensive Line – Notre Dame will have three starters on its 2022 roster that project as potential first round draft picks, and the incoming freshman class is quality and deep. I initially had the line much higher (No. 2 in fact), but the depth issues at offensive tackle are a cause for concern.
If Blake Fisher and Joe Alt are as good as advertised, and if one of the young guards emerge, this unit could easily move up the list …. way up the list.
6. Safety – Landing Brandon Joseph was huge for Notre Dame, and if he doesn’t arrive this winter the safety position would have fallen to the bottom. There is some athleticism at this group but I have too many questions about whether or not players like Ramon Henderson and Xavier Watts are natural safeties. They are clearly top-level athletes, but are they top-level safeties? That’s an important question, and if the answer is positive this group could shoot way up the list.
Safety has a chance to fall to the bottom after 2022 if Joseph leaves and the Irish aren’t able to keep the 2023 class together. If Notre Dame can keep that group together and possibly land one more top level safety in that class I’ll feel better about the future of the position.
7. Quarterback – From a pure talent standpoint I believe Tyler Buchner has a chance to be one of the team’s best players. If not in 2022 he’ll be that in 2023, assuming he can stay healthy. That’s part of the reason quarterback ranks as low as it does, my questions about Buchner’s health. I know this is a ranking about talent, but if his talent is on the sideline it really doesn’t do a whole lot.
Behind Buchner are two solid, quality quarterbacks in Drew Pyne and Steve Angeli. They are good players, but are they championship caliber quarterbacks? Right now I don’t believe they are, which drops this position group way down the list.
8. Cornerback – The presence of Cam Hart – one of the team’s best players – and the arrival of Jaden Mickey and Benjamin Morrison keeps this group of the basement. Notre Dame has a lot of solid players at cornerback, but unless Ryan Barnes turns out to be as good as I think he can be (perhaps hope he can be) the reality is the cornerback position lacks the top-end talent to be higher on this list, even with Hart.
9. Wide Receiver – This is about depth, or a lack thereof. Incoming freshman Tobias Merriweather is my No. 1 player in the 2022 class and sophomores Lorenzo Styles and Deion Colzie are talented. Veteran Avery Davis is steady and veteran Braden Lenzy has home run speed, but he has to prove he’s a talented wide receiver and not just a fast athlete.
The issue, however, is depth. Notre Dame is woefully short on numbers due to poor recruiting by the previous assistant and an inability to keep the roster in tact. Notre Dame won’t have a wide receiver on the roster from the 2019 or 2020 classes, and they signed just one wideout in the 2022 class.
@john-lacey: Bryan, now that spring ball is over, what new coach, other than Coach Hiestand and Coach Golden, would you say has been the most pleasant surprise for you? Maybe surprise isn’t the right wording, which has done the best job since arriving to make this team better?
Based on the spring game I’d have to go with Al Washington. The Irish defensive line is really deep and it’s been one of the best units on the team for years, but the unit showed improved technical play from previous seasons. I’m impressed with Washington’s ability to get the unit playing with their hands and showing better counter moves than we’ve seen from DL in the past.
Chansi Stuckey has also done a strong job, especially as a recruiter. He’s the one coach I knew the least about when he was hired, so it’s been a very pleasant surprise to see how quickly he’s shown himself as a strong coach and recruiter. I’m also extremely impressed with the job Deland McCullough is doing with the running backs.
@tattedxupxirishman: Coach, two questions. Assuming a good to great year is ahead for ND football, which assistant coaches do you think are potentially ready for the next step in…