Notre Dame's 2016 Recruiting Class: Takeaways

Although the Notre Dame coaching staff was unable to convince any undecided recruits to don a blue and gold hat on signing day, they still had a successful day. Not one of the 23 verbal commits the Irish entered the day with changed their minds on the big day, which is quite an accomplishment for a staff in today’s unpredictable world of recruiting.

Notre Dame’s 2016 Recruiting Class

Notre Dame didn’t make many headlines on signing day itself, but the Irish do have a chance to make news in the coming days with the pending announcement of five-star wide receiver Demetris Robertson. Adding Robertson would obviously help to replace some of the talent that left South Bend for the NFL last fall, but even without him, the Notre Dame coaching staff was able to fill a number of big holes with this class, most notably the safety position. With that, here are three takeaways from Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class, starting with the previously mentioned hole in the secondary.

Last Season’s Defensive Problems Were Addressed

Inconsistency at the safety and cornerback positions last season, along with a slow transition from a 3-4 alignment to a 4-3 under defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder prompted the staff to make defensive back a priority in this recruiting cycle. Take one look at Notre Dame’s list of commits, and this is easy to see. The Irish coaches signed seven defensive backs, many of which are capable of playing both corner and safety as soon as this fall.

Kelly pointed out early enrollees Spencer Perry and Devin Studstill when asked which defensive backs might see the field as freshman, but mentioned that all of the corners in this class have the ability to work their way into the two-deep depth chart – “The corners certainly can come in and compete, and we’ve got a number of guys that have a skill level at those positions or we wouldn’t have recruited them… I think the safeties are all capable of coming in and competing for playing time.” Kelly and his staff had better hope that they are right about the defensive backs in this class, because if Notre Dame’s final two games (and losses) last season against Stanford and Ohio State are any indication, there is much work to be done in the Irish secondary, and little time to do it.

Offensive Line Coach Harry Hiestand Does It Again

Another year, another group of top offensive linemen for Notre Dame. The Irish were able to secure three of the best linemen in this class in Tommy Kraemer, Liam Eichenberg, and Parker Boudreaux, the No. 3, No. 7, and No. 20 offensive linemen in the class respectively. Kraemer and Eichenberg, both of Ohio, became the top two offensive linemen on Notre Dame’s recruiting board long ago. “Those two kids are as good as you’re going to find in the country, and I couldn’t be more excited to have two kids from the state of Ohio, from two great Catholic schools,” Kelly said. Kelly also mentioned that any of these three freshmen could push their way into the two-deep by this fall.

Hiestand can now add these three highly touted recruits to the long list of elite linemen he has brought to South Bend, which includes current NFL players Chris Watt and Zach Martin along with projected first round pick Ronnie Stanley. The Irish are certainly lucky to have his services, and they will be fortunate to have him moving forward as the offensive line has already become the biggest need in Notre Dame’s 2017 class. “Probably our biggest need is to go back onto the offensive line… we’re going to have to fill that back up a little bit more and then look at all position groups,” said Kelly when asked about the team’s needs for the next recruiting cycle.

Irish Bring In Solid Receiver Group, but Will It Be Enough?

Notre Dame will enter 2016 without their top three receivers from last season in Will Fuller, Chris Brown, and Amir Carlisle. Georgia native and five-star receiver Demetris Robertson is the ideal replacement, as he would headline Notre Dame’s class along with five-star linebacker Daelin Hayes, but it doesn’t seem all that likely that he will end up in South Bend. Regardless, Kelly and company were still able to haul in three talented athletes at wide receiver in Kevin Stepherson (No. 66), who is already on campus as an early enrollee, as well as four-star Javon McKinley (No. 13), and the Canada native Chase Claypool (No. 33).

Losing their top three receivers from a year ago means that the coaching staff will be eager to find a new wave of playmakers at the position, which opens up a grand opportunity for these three incoming freshman – “Our expectation in the recruiting process is for the wide receiver group to come in and compete to get on the field and be a player for us immediately,” Kelly said of the chances that Irish fans might see these receivers on the field this fall.

As for the commitment of Robertson, the product of Savannah Christian School has not yet set a timetable for his announcement, but it shouldn’t be long before the wideout makes his decision. The aforementioned Fuller recently gave the recruit a social media shout out, and the Notre Dame equipment staff even drove their semi-truck all the way to Robertson’s high school. Only time will tell if these antics are enough to sway Robertson towards the Irish, or if he will choose to stay close to home and become a Georgia Bulldog.

At first glance, Brian Kelly’s sixth recruiting class at Notre Dame is the second best of his tenure at the school, behind only his 2013 recruiting class that followed Notre Dame’s trip to the national championship. Ranked in the top fifteen of all four major recruiting databases (247 Sports, Scout, Rivals, ESPN), Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class features one five-star and twelve four-star recruits and appears to have solved a number of possible issues heading into next season. Notre Dame fans certainly have a lot to look forward to as the Irish attempt to improve on their 2015 record of 10-3, something that it appears the incoming freshmen will have a large part in trying to do.