April 18, 2010

2007 Recruiting Review

With the Blue-Gold game looming next weekend, its time to take a look back at the class of 2007, now entering its senior year at ND.

Charlie Weis’ 2nd recruiting class drew rave reviews for its offensive star power. The defining moment, of course, was Jimmy Clausen’s verbal commitment at the College Football Hall of Fame, complete with spiky hair, HS championship rings and a Hummer limo. What followed was an interesting assortment of skill players and continued disappointment in the front seven on defense.

Apart from the Clausen show, perhaps the biggest stories surrounding this class were the last-minute disappointments and defections. Signing Day has rarely been kind to the Irish, but when three of the more talented verbal commits in the class pulled a fast one at the 11th hour, the class dropped a notch from elite to very good (#11 – Scout, #8 Rivals).


Jimmy Clausen

Scout: 5-star, #1 QB
Rivals: 5-star, #1 QB (Pro Style)
#1 in Rivals 100, #1 Player in CA

Offers: USC, Oklahoma, Michigan, South Carolina

62.6 Comp. %, 8,148 yards, 60 TDs, 27 INTs, 137.2 Career Passer Rating, 5 rushing TDs

Without a doubt, the jewel of the 2007 recruiting class. Enrolled early and was anointed as the heir apparent as early as spring practice (the majority of which he missed due to a bum elbow). Starting much of his freshman year, Clausen took his knocks throughout the awful 2007 season and became one of the greatest QBs ever to play under the Dome (statistically, at least). Made the leap during his transcendent junior year – 68.0 Comp. %, 3,722 yards, 28 TDs, 4 INTs, 161.4 rating. And most of this on a bum wheel – the torn tendons in the right foot suffered during the MSU game limited his mobility for almost the entire season. With a completely healthy foot and half a defense, Clausen would have undoubtedly landed an invite to the Downtown Athletic Club.

Clausen’s amazing 2009, coupled with the firing of Charlie Weis, made Jimmy’s decision to take his talents to the NFL an easy one. Clausen’s legacy at ND will be an interesting one to follow – the enormous recruiting hype made it almost impossible for him to meet the expectations, but his 2009 season certainly showed that the talent is there. Had he decided to stay, the Irish almost definitely would have been a darkhorse national title contender in 2010. And Clausen likely would have graduated after his senior season with every relevant passing record. Alas, once again with Jimmy, we’re left wondering “what could have been…”

Running Backs

Armando Allen

Scout: 4-star, #21 RB
Rivals: 4-star, #2 RB (All Purpose)
#52 in Rivals 100, #10 Player in FL

Offers: Florida, Georgia, Miami, Tennessee

Rushing: 362 attempts, 1,630 yards, 4.5 YPC, 6 TDs
Receiving: 102 catches, 695 yards, 3 TDs

He arrived on campus with some serious fanfare – an ultra-quick, ultra-talented back from FL with serious home run potential. The lingering effects of a significant leg injury during his senior year of HS may have sapped some of the speed early in his career, and chronic injuries over the years have limited his carries, but he’s clearly become one of the more productive backs in recent Irish history, particularly in the passing game.

The pass-happy Brian Kelly offense should play right into Allen’s strengths, as he’s become a great receiver, and an outstanding pass blocker. Amazing that Allen has been the feature back for most of his 3 seasons at ND and only has 9 offensive TDs to show for it.

Robert Hughes

Scout: 4-star, #9 RB
Rivals: 4-star, #7 RB
#77 in Rivals 100, #3 Player in IL

Offers: Ohio St., Michigan, Penn St., Miami

Rushing: 253 carries, 1,092 yards, 4.3 YPC, 13 TDs
Receiving: 36 catches, 303 yards

ND’s recruitment of Robert Hughes signaled Weis’ desire to dominate recruiting in the greater Chicagoland area – Hughes was the 1st player from the Chicago Public League to enroll at ND in quite some time. The jumbo back from Chicago had a big 2nd half to his freshman year, but injury issues slowed him during his sophomore year (only 3.4 YPC). Answered the bell in a big way during the 2009 Purdue game and showed flashes at other times as well. His bruising style and pass-catching ability should allow him to remain a key cog in the Brian Kelly offense.

Spring scuttlebutt has Hughes actually putting weight back on this offseason, perhaps signaling that Kelly will embrace Hughes’ pounding style, encouraging him to punish the opposition between the tackles. Look for Hughes to see some time in a fullback/H-back role as well.

Wide Receivers

Duval Kamara

Scout: 4-star, #8 WR
Rivals: 4-star, #6 WR
#34 in Rivals 100, #1 Player in NJ

Offers: USC, Miami, Penn St.

75 catches, 781 yards, 6 TDs

The extremely large, raw wideout from NJ was Charlie Weis’ second big recruiting victory over his arch-nemesis Pete Carroll. Kamara burst onto the scene in a big way his freshman year, setting many freshman WR records at ND. He was eventually passed by Golden Tate and Michael Floyd on the depth chart, and although Kamara has flashed his solid downfield blocking skills, he continues to be MIA in the passing game.

With Golden Tate’s early departure, Kamara now has the chance to reclaim a headlining slot in the WR corps. The parallels between Kamara and Maurice Stovall are eerie – big, raw WRs coming out of HS who had impressive debuts in their respective freshman years, followed by bouts of inconsistency, and a new coaching regime heading into their senior seasons. If Kamara can find a way to become Stovall Redux, I think Brian Kelly will be a very happy man.

Golden Tate

Scout: 4-star, #37 WR
Rivals: 4-star, #7 ATH
Rivals 250, #2 Player in TN

Offers: Alabama, South Carolina, Vanderbilt

157 catches, 2,707 yards, 17.2 YPC, 26 TDs
31 rushes, 227 yards, 7.3 YPC, 3 TDs

The man with the name built for Notre Dame, Tate had to wait until relatively late in the game to get his offer from the Irish. Thankfully, Weis finally did offer and Tate committed almost immediately. A smashing debut against Purdue was the highlight of his freshman year. He followed that up with a great sophomore year full of highlight reel catches, including an incredible performance in the Hawaii Bowl. But no one could have seen his 2009 season coming – 93 catches, 1496 yards, 15 TDs, 2 more rushing TDs out of the Wildcat, and that unbelievable punt return TD against Pitt. The ceremony for the Biletnikoff was a mere formality – Tate was hands-down the best WR in the country last year and probably should have received some Heisman consideration as well. Just a sublime performance that will probably never be recreated and never properly appreciated by Irish fans.

His decision to leave early for the NFL was probably easier than Clausen’s – next year’s WR draft class is unbelievably deep and Tate would have again had to compete with Michael Floyd for touches. But there can be no doubt that Tate cemented his legacy as the most exciting Irish player since Rocket during his abbreviated time on campus.

Tight Ends

Mike Ragone

Scout: 4-star, #2 TE
Rivals: 4-star, #3 TE
#83 in Rivals 100, #3 Player in NJ

Offers: USC, Florida St., Clemson, BC

7 catches, 67 yards

Various knee injuries derailed an incredibly promising career. Passed by Kyle Rudolph on the depth chart, Ragone became a key blocker, particularly in the run game. The TE is not exactly a prominent part of the Kelly offense, so hopefully Ragone doesn’t get lost in the mix.

Amazing to think that Ragone was only a small step below Aaron Hernandez in the recruiting rankings coming out of HS. Hernandez is likely going to be a first-day selection this year after 3 incredibly productive seasons in Gainesville. Ragone just can’t seem to buy a break

Offensive Linemen

Matt Romine

Scout: 4-star, #12 OG
Rivals: 4-star, #3 OT
#55 in Rivals 100, #2 Player in OK

Offers: Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan, Miami

Romine arrived in South Bend with some big buzz after committing at the Army Game, choosing the Irish over his home state Sooners. Finally found his way into the rotation in 2009, but Paul Duncan was able to wrestle away the majority of the playing time at LT. Now the job is Romine’s to lose.

With spring reports indicating Kelly’s willingness to bounce guys all over the OL, its tough to determine whether Romine will be the guy in September. Here’s hoping the big guy can finally live up to the hype and anchor one of the tackle spots for the 2010 Irish.

Taylor Dever

Scout: 4-star, #29 OT
Rivals: 3-star, #39 OT
#60 Player in CA

Offers: Oregon, Miami, Nebraska, Washington

Dever was a late bloomer as far as recruiting stories go. With only an offer from Fresno St. to his name before Charlie came calling, Dever’s stock went up like the rocket by the end of his senior year, garnering some pretty hefty offers.

Originally thought to be the heir apparent to Sam Young at the RT spot, Dever was expected to battle with Zach Martin and perhaps Trevor Robinson for the majority of the PT on that end. However, recent spring reports have Brian Kelly moving Dever to the crowded interior, perhaps suggesting his development is not as far along as the new coaching staff might like.

Andrew Nuss

Scout: 3-star, #52 OT
Rivals: 4-star, #22 OT
# 9 Player in VA

Offers: Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, BC

The services varied wildly in their evaluations of Nuss, but he received some high praise from the previous staff, and Verducci in particular seemed to take a real liking to him. Will likely be fighting with various people on the interior, including Chris Stewart (5th year) and Trevor Robinson

Early spring news has the Kelly regime moving guys around on the line at will, and Nuss could perhaps be pushed out to a tackle spot throughout the spring evaluation period as well.

Emeka Nwankwo

Scout: 4-star, #22 OT
Rivals: 3-star, #24 OG
#52 Player in FL

Offers: Georgia, Florida St., Virginia

Moved to the DL early in his career, Nwankwo hasn’t been able to crack the rotation. This may be his last shot to grab some playing time. Look for Nwankwo to battle guys like Hafis Williams and Tyler Stockton for spots in the DE rotation.

There’s been some positive news concerning Nwankwo this spring as the new staff, and Mike Elston in particular, have singled him out for good effort throughout most of the spring.

Defensive Line

Ian Williams

Scout: 3-star, #36 DT
Rivals: 3-star, #26 DT
#44 Player in FL

Offers: Florida, Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina

124 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU

Williams was one of Weis’ first conquests at the troublesome DT spot. A big boy from FL, Williams received some late interest from Urban Meyer but signed with ND and made some positive impressions his freshman year.

Williams hasn’t become the anchor on the DL that many expected, but will be starting his 3rd straight season at DT, this time in the NT role of Diaco’s 3-4 scheme. With some promising big boys pushing for playing time behind him, Williams will need to become more consistent to maintain his starting role.

Kerry Neal

Scout: 4-star, #31 DE
Rivals: 4-star, #18 WDE
#9 Player in NC

Offers: Alabama, Miami, Nebraska

70 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 5 PBU, 1 fumble recovery

The first verbal in the class, Weis snagged Neal before his stock blew up, and Neal stayed the course throughout. There weren’t many positives from the disastrous 2007 season, but Neal’s performance from an OLB spot seemed to indicate his potential as a rising star. But his sophomore and junior years can most kindly be described as disappointing.

Irish fans are hoping that Tenuta’s move to the 4-3 (and Neal’s awkward transition to a DE spot) was the primary culprit in Neal’s decreased productivity. With Diaco switching the Irish back to a 3-4 (and Neal back to his natural OLB position), Neal could once again wreak havoc from the outside.


Brian Smith

Scout: 3-star, #30 MLB
Rivals: 4-star, #13 ILB
#2 Player in KS

Offers: Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska

150 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 3 INTs, 2 forced fumbles, 2 PBU

Smith received a late offer from Charlie Weis and flipped his commitment from Iowa to follow his family’s legacy at ND. Much like Neal, Smith was one of the rate bright spots from the 2007 season. Forced into a MLB spot during the 2008 season, Smith seemed out of position for much of that year, and again in 2009.

With the transition back to the 3-4, Smith finds himself back out on the outside (as he was during much of the 2007 season). Smith won’t be guaranteed a starting spot, as he’s got some serious competition for playing time (Neal, Fleming, Filer). But look for ND’s vocal leader on defense to increase his productivity from the OLB position.

Aaron Nagel

Scout: 3-star, #14 WLB
Rivals: 3-star, #41 OLB
#11 Player in IL

Offers: MSU, Purdue, BC, Illinois

Nagel represented Weis’ first attempt to flip a skilled HS offensive player to the defensive side. The switch to a 3-4 defense under Corwin Brown likely sealed Nagel’s fate as he was too small to play an ILB role and not quick enough to crack the deep OLB rotation. Nagel was the first and only transfer from the 2007 class.

Steve Paskorz

Scout: 3-star, #36 SLB
Rivals: 4-star, #29 ATH
#10 Player in PA

Offers: Michigan, Pitt, Virginia, WVU

See: Nagel above. After an early move to the defense, Paskorz was moved to FB to fill a gaping hole in the Weis offense. He’s now transitioned back to ILB, the position to which he was initially recruited. One last chance for significant playing time…

Defensive Backfield

Gary Gray

Scout: 4-star, #6 CB
Rivals: 4-star, #9 CB
#78 in Rivals 100, #3 Player in SC

Offers: Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, Florida St.

43 tackles, 3 INTs, 3 PBU

Initially a verbal to Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks, Gray switched his commitment and signed with the Irish. Gray’s had an interesting career thus far, including some injuries and a suspension. But when he’s been on the field, he’s been one of the best cover corners on the team.

With the CB suddenly looking frighteningly thin, the Irish will need Gray to remain healthy and productive in 2010. Kelly has singled Gray out as one of the best tacklers on the team, and look for Gary to spend much of this coming year at the boundary CB position.

Harrison Smith

Scout: 4-star, #25 S
Rivals: 4-star, #25 ATH
Rivals 250, # 7 Player in TN

Offers: Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, Va. Tech

126 tackles, 15 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 12 PBU

Moved to OLB for part of the 2008 season and led the team in TFL. Moved back to S in 2009 and was disappointing to say the least. Spent some more time at OLB at the end of the year.

Brian Kelly has famously said that if Smith can’t stick as a S, he’s not going to see the field for the Irish. While this line is certainly good for some laughs (and hopefully some motivation), the thin depth chart in the secondary might not support Kelly’s brash assertion. The bottom line is that Kelly desperately needs Smith to find his way as a S, with only the green former CB Jamoris Slaughter and the incredibly green Dan McCarthy listed as fellow scholarship safeties. Smith’s performance may make or break the defense this year.

Special Teams

Brandon Walker

Scout: 3-star, #5 P
Rivals: 2-star, #16 K

Offers: Pitt, Cincinnati, Louisville

61 XP, 20 FG

Late add-on to fill the hole Ryan Burkhart couldn’t fill himself, Walker played immediately and struggled in ’07 and ’08. Nick Tausch came in and grabbed his job. Walker missed all of 2009 with a back injury, but is apparently healthy this spring and will provide Tausch with some competition in practice.

Other Significant Names

Justin Trattou

The former 5-star recruit from NJ has become a stalwart on the Florida defensive line. Last minute defection to the Gators and the first successful Urban Poach.

Arrelious Benn (IL)

Long thought to be a heavy ND lean, Benn shockingly spurned the Irish for the Fightin’ Zookers. Injury prone for much of his career and criminally underused in the Illini offense. Would have been amazing to watch him operate with Clausen for a few years. Expected to be a first-day pick later this month at the NFL draft.

Martez Wilson (IL)

Another supposed heavy ND lean, Wilson landed in Champaign-Urbana with some heavy hype. Alas, Ron Zook has been unable to figure out where Wilson should be playing, and just when he appeared to be getting comfortable, an injury ended his 2009 campaign. He enters his senior year at Illinois with some big expectations.

Ben Martin (TN) and Chris Donald (TN)

Rumor had Martin and Donald seriously considering the Irish until the debacle in the Sugar Bowl against LSU. Both have been pretty quiet since signing with the Vols, but would certainly be able to provide some much-needed depth in the Irish defense.

Greg Little
(UNC) and Chris Little (UGA)

Both of the Littles (not related) gave their verbal commitments to Charlie Weis and the Irish, but few thought they would end up with ND once Signing Day rolled around. Sure enough, both 4-star prospects chose their home-state teams over ND at the last minute, further decimating what was once an extremely promising recruiting class.


Taking away the production of Clausen and Tate, the class looks like a disappointment, at least compared to the fairly hefty rankings from the gurus. On the offensive side, the skill players have been very up-and-down – Allen has been great when healthy, but quite a bit will be expected from him this offseason. Kamara looked like a star his freshman year, but hasn’t been able to contribute much since then. Ragone came to campus with a ton of hype, but balky knees and the ascension of Rudolph have kept him from reaching his full potential.

The offensive line hasn’t done much thus far, which is difficult to interpret in a positive fashion. Sure, there were bodies in front of them, but the fact that the guys from the class of ’07 couldn’t displace any their predecessors, who were anything but consistently great, is a bit disheartening. Still, with Young, Olsen and Duncan graduating, there’s definitely going to be PT available, and at this point, Dever and Romine have to be considered the presumptive starters at the tackle positions. Its now or never…

Production on the DL has been disappointing, but will only one significant recruit at that position, its tough to be too critical. Much is expected of Ian Williams this year, and it sounds like Nwankwo might be able to provide some valuable depth as well. At linebacker, Brian Smith and Kerry Neal started off with a bang, but haven’t been able to replicate their early effectiveness. One last chance to turn it around…

Pretty much the same story in the secondary – there’s no denying the talent that Harrison Smith and Gary Gray bring to the table. By the end of last year, Gray was probably the best corner on the team. Harrison has shown flashes of his athleticism, but nothing particularly special in the safety position. If he can’t lock down a spot in the secondary, it could be a very long year.

Final Verdict – I’ll call them a bit overrated now, with the caveat that many of these guys have a great opportunity to change that this year.

1 comment:

Doug said...

Great stuff. This recruiting class was sort of a microcosm of the entire Charlie Weis era. Two superstars who carried the team, thin and soft on the lines, lots of guys who didn't get any better after their freshman years, and a slew of busts and guys who played out of position.

Just looking at some of these names is depressing. I remember being so excited about the Brian Smith and Kerry Neal eras after watching them rush the passer like crazy as freshmen in 2007. Same with Robert Hughes and Kamara. I thought both those guys were going to be studs. It looked like we had discovered our core skill guys in this class, but it's been a bumpy ride with all these guys since 2007.

Weis' downfall was player development. We could see the talent in a lot of these guys when they got to ND, but they got off track and never got better. I don't know if it was work ethic or playing out of position or disenchantment with the coaching staff, but it's amazing how little production we have gotten out of Neal and Hughes and others in this recruiting class.

Just goes to show that player development is the true lifeblood of your program. Bringing in talent is important, but the key is that you make them better when they get on campus. Kelly's specialty seems to be in player development. I like that he's already moving guys around to new positions. He has a feel for personnel, and it's clear that a lot of guys have been mismanaged the last few years.

I think a few of these guys could revive their careers this year under Kelly. I think Neal could have a breakout year at OLB. Great to see him back at his natural position. Also really think Gary Gray could have a great year, and maybe even Kamara and some of the defensive guys.

Kelly has given new energy to this program. We saw it back in 2005 with Weis and some of the guys who broke out that year (Stovall, etc), and I expect to see that again this year.

I enjoy the recruiting recaps. Hopefully you are looking back very favorably on the 2008 class at this time next year.