Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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80 PRESEASON 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED FOOTBALL RECRUITING BY BRYAN DRISKELL A strong summer has Notre Dame on the cusp of landing one the best classes of head coach Brian Kelly's tenure. The Fighting Irish added seven players in the months of June and July, putting the 2017 class at 17 total commitments. Heading into the final weeks of August, both ESPN and Scout have the Irish commits ranked fifth in the land, while Rivals rated the group No. 8 nationally. Each of Notre Dame's last four classes have had at least 23 signees, which means there is room for at least six more players in the class. Depending on how the 2016 season shakes out, Notre Dame could end up with as many as eight more com- mits in the class. Here are Notre Dame's top remain- ing needs in the class: 1. Pass rushing reinforcements: The class does not have a player with the trait to come in and get after the quarterback with consistency. Con- sidering the current roster already has a dearth of pass rushers, this is the top need for the class. A number of Notre Dame's top pass rushing targets are already off the board, so meeting this need might require flip- ping someone committed to another program — like Los Angeles Cathe- dral defensive end Hunter Echols for example — or locating a target not currently on the board. 2. An impact offensive tackle: Notre Dame already has a commit- ment from standout offensive tackle Joshua Lugg of Wexford (Pa.) North Allegheny. In a pinch, Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy lineman Robert Hainsey could also play tackle, but his game best projects inside. The 2016 class had standout left tackle prospect Liam Eichenberg and Rivals100 lineman Tommy Kraemer, who seems destined to move inside. With little tackle depth on the roster returning, landing another impact offensive tackle is a must. 3. Outside playmakers at wide re- ceiver: Notre Dame landed strong three-man receiving groups in the last two recruiting cycles, giving it a base of talent. However, misses in previous sea- sons have created a numbers issue at the position. Notre Dame needs bod- ies, but it is also in position where it can be selective and focus on impact players. It met its needs for a dynamic slot player by landing Destrehan (La.) High wideout Michael Young. Now it will look to add at least one more big-time player on the outside. 4. Safety depth: Notre Dame landed a talented four-man class in 2016, but that just began to address the depth issues the Irish have on the back end of the defense. At least two potential starters are needed at the position, and a third would likely be welcome in the class. Below is a look at the top 10 play- ers left on the board for Notre Dame. Should the Irish fill its class out with players from this list it would likely lock in a top-10 spot in the final re- cruiting rankings. 1. Trey Smith, Offensive Tackle: One of the nation's top blockers is Jackson (Tenn.) University School offensive tackle Trey Smith. In fact, ESPN ranks Smith as the top player in the nation, and it is easy to see why the network is so enamored with him. During the summer, he checked in at 6-5½, 299 pounds at the Nike+ The Opening Regional in Chicago. On top of good size, Smith has out- standing athleticism and power, perfect for the left tackle position. Notre Dame, Alabama, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Clemson and Ohio State are his final six schools. Smith plans to take visits during the season and commit in December. 2. Foster Sarell, Offensive Tackle: The Graham (Wash.) Graham-Ka- powsin offensive tackle was named the Offensive Line MVP at The Opening Finals in Beaverton, Ore. His dominant summer performance resulted in Rivals, 247Sports and Scout all ranking him as a five-star prospect. Sarell is a fundamentally sound blocker that knows how to play the position at a high level. He uses his size and natural power to get good movement in the run game. Notre Dame is one of Sarell's top schools, along with Stanford and Washington. He plans to officially visit Notre Dame, most likely for its Oct. 15 matchup against Stanford. 3. Jedrick Wills, Offensive Tackle/ Guard: There was a period early in the summer where Notre Dame seemed to be the leader for Lexing- ton (Ky.) Lafayette offensive tackle Jedrick Wills, a five-star recruit ac- cording to Rivals. Wills is a physical run defender with elite size (6-5, 315) and above-average athleticism. Notre Dame and Kentucky were considered his top two schools, but a summer visit to Alabama shook up his list. Wills is considering mak- ing a decision before he finishes his senior season. If that happens he will likely pick the Tide. If he goes with his original plan to take five official visits and commit during or after his season, Notre Dame will get one of those visits and could once again emerge as a legitimate contender. 4. Hezekiah Jones, Wide Receiver: Notre Dame has had the Stafford (Texas) High product as a top target for some time now. Despite Jones' previous commitment to Baylor and a current pledge to Texas A&M, the Irish Have A Chance To Finish With One Of The Nation's Top Classes Offensive tackle Trey Smith — the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2017 class according to ESPN — is arguably the top uncommitted player on Notre Dame's recruiting board. PHOTO BY ANDREW IVINS

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