Friday, February 13, 2009

Signed, Sealed, Delivered | by Pat

Alright, let's dig into the 2009 Recruiting Class. First up is the breakdown, followed by our annual recruiting roundtable where we discuss the class and I tab some unlucky player as the sleeper of the class. (Sorry Kevin Washington)

• The Official Notre Dame Signing Day Central
• Charlie Weis's Signing Day Press Conference (Transcript /Video)
• 2008 Recruit Bios and Highlight videos
• Offical Signing Day show video
• Behind the Scenes on Signing Day video
After you get through the transcript, make sure to watch the behind the scenes video if you haven't already. If you want to embrace your inner-Lemming, feel free to watch the highlight videos and offer your thoughts in the comment section.

Here's where the three major recruiting rankers slotted ND.
21st - Rivals
24th - Scout
14th - ESPN
As you can see, a little bit of disparity between the services, but the overall theme is that this is a Top 20-ish class. Given the way the sites do their rankings, size of the class does play a significant role. With only 18 players, and a few two-star special teamers to boot, ND is on the smaller side, which no doubt dropped the team a few spots. If you subscribe to the theory that "average star ranking" is a meaningful metric, ND finished 12th on Rivals and 9th on Scout.

Here is the breakdown of players who will be suiting up this fall, complete with links back to our original posts on them when they went public with their commitments.
QB - none
RB - Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick
WR - Shaquelle Evans, Roby Toma
TE - Jake Golic, Tyler Eifert
OL - Chris Watt, Alex Bullard, Zach Martin, Tom Freeman

DL - Tyler Stockton
LB - Manti Te'o, Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox, Zeke Motta
CB - E.J. Banks
S - none

Special Teams
K - Nicholas Tausch
P - Ben Turk
LS - Jordan Cowart
Tom Freeman?

You may notice an unfamiliar name in the offense lineman group. It appears that Notre Dame has picked up a preferred walk-on, much like Nate Montana last year, to add to the class. Tom Freeman, the 6'3" 275 pound son of former ND offensive lineman Tom Freeman, Sr., will head to South Bend as a preferred walk-on. Freeman sounds like a pretty decent addition for a walk-on. He had scholarship offers from Northwestern, South Florida, Ball State, Air Force, Army and a few Ivy League schools. Rivals lists him as a 3-star recruit and the #16 center. Scout has him unranked while ESPN gives him a 78 rating and tabs him as the 20th best OG recruit (much higher than Alex Bullard as it turns out...interpret that as you may) For now he is slotted as a center behind Wenger, Cave, and Golic.

Double Dip

I still like to use a 2-year windowing function to lump together the incoming class with the class from the previous year. This year the numbers are remarkably similar to last year's numbers as the 2009 class is similar to the 2007 class. What does jump out is the lone safety recruit in the past two classes. Some of the corners may wind up playing safety, not to mention 2008 linebacker Harrison Smith, but it is still a position that will need to be a focus in the coming recruiting class. The DL looks relatively ok with 6 players in the last two classes, but with only a lone tackle and no defensive ends in the incoming class, ND will need to repeat the DL successes of the 2008 class.
QB - 1
RB - 3
WR - 5
TE - 4
OL - 7
LS - 1
DL - 6
LB - 8
CB - 3
S - 1
K - 1
P - 1
Skipping Out

This year ND had two recruits pull the trigger for ND and later change their mind. As it turns out, both recruits, Marlon Pollard and Nyshier Oliver, committed to one school very early in the process, flipped to ND for some time, and then ultimately decided to go back to their original commitment.

Speaking to the larger issue of decommitting, with schools pushing for earlier and earlier public commits and many recruits obliging, the number of decommits will continue to skyrocket. ESPN did something unique and tracked decommitments during the year and, as you can see, there are well over 1000 of them. As this trend continues, the push for an early signing period will grow louder and louder. While I used to think football would stay away from it, I think it's only a matter of time now.

Moving Up, Moving Down

One thing we noted this year was where each recruit fell in the recruiting rankings when they announced for ND. Part of the reason was just to show how respected they were by recruitniks. The other reason was to see just how much their rankings shuffled between when they announced and when they faxed in their letter of intent. It's common for rankings to chance and evolve over the course of the year, especially for recruits that commit early in the process. Still, some claim ND recruits unfairly get a rankings boost by virtue of being an "ND recruit". Some ND fans on the other hand see an anti-ND bias at work whenver a recruit drops a few spots.

The data collected here is an extremely limited sample size so keep your jump to conclusions mat tucked away for now. Still, it was interesting that Zeke Motta is the only member of the class who saw his stock rise on Rivals from when he committed (unranked #10OLB) to now (#54 overall, #5 OLB). Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, Shaq Evans, Tyler Eifert, Chris Watt, Alex Bullard, Zach Martin, Tyler Stockton, and E.J. Banks all saw their ranking fall from when their commitment broke until now. Wood, Riddick, and Evans were the biggest changes, dropping 74, 100, and 106 spots in the overall rankings respectively.

Scout was slightly more balanced with Christ Watt, Zach Martin, and Zeke Motta moving up a bit while Wood, Evans, Eifert, and Calabrese were dinged.

Now then, with the facts and formalities out of the way, time to turn things over to the worn, but comfortable BGS Lounge and talk recruiting. If you want to chime in with your answers, feel free to do so in the comments.

Biggest Get:

Jay: Manti Te'o. He matters the most both for football reasons (being able to immediately fill a hole) and for perceived momentum. Without Te'o, signing day would have been a total bust, and the story would have been how N.D. couldn't close on any of their final targets. Instead, we were the big story of the day.

Mike: The answer is self-evident. Biggest Mainland Get was Tyler Stockton. Any prospect that draws frequent Trevor Laws comparisons is a major get in my book.

Brian: You mean besides Te'o? I'll go with Tyler Stockton. Defensive line was a major need in this recruiting season, and we got a good one in Stockton. Unfortunately, we otherwise struck out on defensive line recruits, so we can only hope that Stockton plays with the ferocious intensity and intense ferocity of two men.

Mark: In the category of Biggest Get (non-Hawaiian), I think it's a tie between Tyler Stockton and Zeke Motta.

Pete: I've got nothing really to add here. Manti Te'o is arguably a bigger commit than Clausen, simply because he was far from a sure thing. Not a whole lot of suspense with Clausen's South Bend announcement. Getting Te'o garners a lot of headlines and likely will lead a lot of upcoming recruits to linger a bit longer on Notre Dame.

Pat: I agree with everyone else that the answer is pretty obvious this year. While guys like Cierre Wood and Chris Watt are tremendous talents at positions of need, the impact of landing Manti Te'o was a shot in the arm of the program when one was desperately needed.

Biggest Miss?

Mike: Xavier Nixon. Our top earlier target at left tackle. It was frustrating to watch his interest in Notre Dame dwindle as his name made its way up the rankings.

Jay: Definitely Nixon.

Mark: Jawanza (Agent) Starling is my pick this year.

Michael: Nixon, we needed a LT. Were there any DTs or DEs that we ever legitimately had a shot at? I can't think of guys for whom we finished 2nd, and the only one (Lalotta) that I can remember was slotted for OT by many who saw him play.

Brian: Ryan Kelly (Wrong sport, I know, but it still stings.) For football, I'm gonna say Eric Shrive. You can never have too many top-notch offensive tackles, but what makes this hurt more is that conventional wisdom said that Shrive was Notre Dame's to lose, until Joepa Terno swooped in (to the extent that Coach Terno is physically capable of "swooping" at this point of his life) and convinced Shrive to ply his trade in Happy Valley.

Pete: Again, hard to find anybody more substantial than Nixon. I don't really like the idea of either having to play guys not naturally suited for the position there, nor the idea of starting a youngster at the spot.

Pat: Notre Dame really needed to get a safety in this class and Byron Moore and Jawanza Starling were two top notch players that just slipped away. Still, Xavier Nixon is probably the more logical choice. While I'm not quite as sold on the "sure thing" LT recruit idea, Nixon certainly does appear to have a very bright future as a left tackle and Notre Dame was definitely in the market for one this year.

Class Sleeper?

Jay: I'll go with Nick Tausch. Although Brandon Walker finished the season in fine form, Tausch has a chance to compete right away for starting kicker, a specialty that has been a trouble spot for the Irish special teams for a couple of years now. If Tausch is as good as advertised, he could end up being a 3-4 year starter for us at a key position.

Mike: E.J. Banks. If he can fully recover from his knee injury, I think people will look back and wonder how he was only a 3-star prospect.

Mark: Zach Martin. From what I've heard Ferentz and the staff at Iowa thought Martin had as much potential as any OL in the midwest.

Michael: Dan Fox. He has great size and good speed. My prediction is that he and Motta are going to make the SAM 'backer spot a strength.

Brian: WR Roby Toma will prove to be more than just "the other guy" from Punahou School. It would be nice if kicker Nick Tausch could become a stabilizing force on special teams.

Pete: Tyler Eifert. Say what you will about the man, but Weis knows how to get production out of his tight ends.

Pat: The sleeper predictions are all over the map this year and I'm not about to break the tie, so I'll pick Theo Riddick. He was overshadowed by Cierre Wood early in the recruiting year and is definitely under the radar as far as expectations. A tough runner and solid receiver out of the backfield, I think Riddick is going to be a Weis favorite when it comes time for running screens.

Favorite Recruiting Moment?

Pete: I'd go with Shaquelle Evans switching from USC to ND. While we all sit here and lick our wounds over the last season, we could all take a modicum of satisfaction from taking a guy right out of Carroll's fist.

Jay: Te'o's signing is obviously the freshest in our minds, but I'll go with when Cierre Wood committed, way back in April. Recall at the time that he was five stars, considered the #1 running back in the country and was the #3 offensive player overall (per Rivals). Coming off of the stellar haul last February, Wood's signing that early in the next recruiting season was an indication that the Irish recruiting train was still powerfully chugging along. Although his ranking has slipped since then, I'm still very excited to see him in action, and he is the offensive counterpart to Te'o in this class.

Michael: When it was all over. Not because we landed Te'o, but because recruiting brings out the worst in people. the whole process needs to be reviewed. recruiting websites have turned it into a circus.

Brian: When Jake Golic ended months of speculation by giving a verbal commitment to Notre Dame. That was really hit or miss for a while. The entire staff deserves tremendous credit for convincing Golic that Notre Dame was somewhere he wanted to be.

Mike: Probably when Pat described Te'o's commitment as "Charlie Brown finally kicked the football." Based on our pre-Signing Day emails, it looked like we were all expecting crushing disappointment when Te'o announced. You could sense the attempts to manage expectations, even though we all were sucked back in as the announcement approached.

Pat: What Mike said. Not getting "Bookered" (Leaked?) on Signing Day, along with ending the bowl losing streak, made for a nice wrap-up to a very uneven 2008 season.

Parting Thoughts?

Michael: Polian!

Mike: This class is strong on headliners (Te'o, Wood, Watt, Evans, Stockton), but short on depth. There's not much of a margin for error if there are significant injuries or a number of the headliners don't pan out. Fortunately, the preceding class was strong and deep. I would expect a 10 or more win season in 2009 to produce another strong and deep class. If it ends up being sandwiched between two classes like that, we'll look back at this class and remember it for the stars. But if the Irish struggle on the field in 2009 and land another class lacking in depth, when we look back at this class the superstars will be overshadowed by the limited numbers.

Brian: With Chris Martin committing to the Irish for next year's recruiting class on signing day, joining the previously committed Christian Lombard and Daniel Smith, things are well ahead of schedule for a class to rival 2008's both in quality and, as lacking this year with only 18 commitments, in quantity. Also, Martin was funny as hell on "Extras".

Pete: This was a very tough year for Notre Dame, both on the field and recruiting-wise. There weren't a ton of players that had Notre Dame high on their list, and unlike in 2007, it was much tougher to sell the whole "See how bad we're playing? That's why we NEED you" card. However, Weis and staff deserve serious kudos for making a relatively tasty lemonade out of a big pile of lemons. How they managed to convince Te'o to come to Notre Dame when his visit was that putrid Syracuse game, I'll never know. I nearly decommitted from Notre Dame at the end of that one. Nonetheless, great job keeping struggles on the field from seriously slowing momentum on the recruiting trail.