Another year and in comes another recruiting class for the Irish in 2014. After graduating the most winning senior class since 1995 with 37 victories, the Irish have supplemented their roster with 23 players hoping to make an impact on the field as early as next season. The class features 15 four-star recruits and 10 in ESPN’s top 300 players. The 2014 recruits were rated just outside the top ten by ESPN at eleventh, but this class has serious depth on the offensive and defensive fronts. The future for these players is bright, according to national pundits who believe the foundation of a team lies on the offensive and defensive trenches.
It is difficult to judge how high school players will transition to the NCAA game, but certain indicators can give hints on the subject. The key for any coach is to develop the talent coming in and enhance the players’ abilities to help them produce on the field. Here are some of the Irish prospects to take note of as the offseason continues.
Most ready to contribute immediately:
1. Nyles Morgan—Morgan is the pride of the class. He is rated as fifth-best inside linebacker in the country, and will almost certainly earn playing time on Brian VanGorder’s defense in his first year. Since Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese both have graduated, the Irish are in need of a run stopper in the middle of the linebacking corps. Morgan fits the bill with his 6’2 frame and sub-4.8 40-yard dash. He hails from Crete, Illinois and chose Notre Dame over national powerhouses such as Ohio State, Oregon, Oklahoma and Alabama.
2. Tyler Luatua—This may be out of necessity more than anything. Luatua will be expected to contribute immediately because of the surprising news that Troy Niklas delivered following the season that he would be turning pro. Niklas was a key blocker and emerged as a pass-catcher this past season for the Irish. Luatua is the third-best tight end in the nation and can play the H-back role that has become so popular in the NFL with teams that employ multiple tight end sets. Luatua is quick off the line and although he is not a fully polished player, he may be shifty enough to crack the starting lineup. Ben Koyack and Luatua would be a more-than-serviceable tight end group.
3. Nick Watkins—He might be my favorite prospect in the entire class. Watkins is from Dallas and is part of a state recruiting system in Texas that knows how to produce major talent. Watkins has the size that you look for in a model corner. At 6’1 and 180 pounds, he will be able to deliver the requisite physicality to compete with taller receivers on the outside. The Irish lose senior captain Bennett Jackson to the NFL, but return KeiVarae Russell, who enjoyed a breakout 2013 season, especially in the Pinstripe Bowl. Pairing Watkins with Russell on the outside will present teams with a young and hungry duo to face. Both are sound coverage players who may develop into playmakers who can create turnovers.
Next in line:
1. Corey Holmes—Holmes played in another elite recruiting state in Florida at a school that faces top competition, St. Thomas Aquinas. Although Holmes is slight and will need to gain some weight, he won’t be too far behind last year’s wide receiver commits who were able to earn playing time, Corey Robinson and William Fuller. Holmes runs a 4.48 40-yard dash and has the ability to stretch the field and make contested catches against defensive backs. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Holmes sit for a year with Torii Hunter Jr. back following his injury redshirt season, but Holmes will certainly be expected to contribute beginning in 2015.
2. Alex Bars—The second-most-heralded prospect that Notre Dame was able to land is a 6’6, 285-pound tackle, who had offers from the likes of Florida, Georgia, LSU and Ohio State. Bars is in a similar camp as Holmes, and will almost certainly need to gain weight to be on one of the bookends on the offensive line. Until he gets up over 300 pounds though, it will be difficult for Bars to deliver the punishment to college linemen that he was able to deliver in high school based on his raw talent and technique. He will be a multi-year starter eventually for the program.
Dark Horse Prospects:
1. Daniel Cage—Cage didn’t get the attention that many of his peers in this class did, but he may carve out a niche early in his career as a dependable defensive tackle. Cage didn’t play top competition at Winton Woods in Cincinnati, which may have contributed to his rating outside of the top 300, but he may be on the field relatively quickly. His 6’3, 290-pound frame leaves room to grow and the opportunity to make an impact up the middle while lining up on the inside.
2. Jhonathon Williams—A former Missouri commit who will play on the outside of the 3-4 system at the rush linebacker spot, Williams can exceed the potential given to him nationally in a few years if he shows an ability to get to the passer. His length at 6’5 is reminiscent of Ishaq Williams, so if Ishaq Williams and the coaching staff can help the freshman develop, Jhonathon Williams might end up playing some major snaps.
Rich Hidy is a sophomore Marketing major and journalism minor. Contact him with article suggestions or to become a staff writer at email@example.com.