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Projecting 2021 Freshmen Contributions

With the addition of RB Logan Diggs during the February signing period, the 2021 Notre Dame recruiting class is officially set. The Irish add 27 incoming freshmen, including a record-breaking 14 early enrollees (the previous record for early enrollees in a single class was 10 from the 2019 class). The overall size of the class ties the mark set in 2018, where the Irish also inked 27 recruits, for the largest class of the Brian Kelly era.

According to both Rivals and 247sports, the 2021 class is tied with the 2011 class (both ranked #9) for Kelly’s 2nd highest ranked recruiting class with the Irish, trailing only 2013’s #3 ranked class. However, it is important to remember that class recruiting rankings are also heavily weighted by the number of recruits in a given class. Therefore, larger classes with perhaps a lower average recruiting ranking tend to have their class ranking slightly inflated. It is also important to note that ND has been able to leverage its talent from the last several recruiting classes (typically within the mid-teen class rankings) into two CFP births in 3 years. ND still needs to crack into that elite top-5 talent pool, but it cannot be argued that the Irish are targeting and developing the “Tier 2” talent at a better rate than anyone in the country.

As noted above, the Irish will be bringing in a plethora of talent with this 2021 class, but opportunities for playing time will be scarce going into next season. Returning talent combined with Coach Kelly’s aversion to playing inexperienced freshmen seem to indicate a narrow path to immediate contribution for the 2021 class, but the added benefits of so many early enrollees could present an interesting situation for the Irish coaching staff heading into next season. Here are the best bets for the freshmen class during the 2021 season:

Competing for Playing Time (7)

Ryan Barnes (Early Enrollee), Tyler Buchner (EE), Blake Fisher (EE), Khari Gee, Philip Riley (EE), Gabriel Rubio (EE), Rocco Spindler (EE)

To reiterate, it is always tough for true freshmen to break the 2-deep, and there is a decent chance that no one from this group sees significant snaps next season, but each will be given a legitimate look to compete for a spot in the gameday rotation. Barnes, Riley, and Gee will all have opportunities to showcase their speed and awareness for wide-open defensive backfield spots. Fisher and Spindler both arrive with the strength and size to immediately compete for playing time on an inexperienced OL. Rubio comes in as one of ND’s most talented prospects and will perhaps allow the coaching staff to feel comfortable moving one of their upperclassmen DTs to the edge. Buchner will face an uphill battle at QB, but his status as an early enrollee will allow him to compete in the QB race right from the start.

Special Teams Contributors (3)

Kahanu Kia, Prince Kollie, Lorenzo Styles Jr. (EE)

Hawaii-native Kahanu Kia and 2020 Prep Butkus Award winner Prince Kollie arrive as talented LB prospects who the coaching staff will look to for help on special teams next season. Kia arrives with less fanfare than Kollie, but history seems to indicate that Hawaiian prospects are typically vastly underrated. Meanwhile, consensus seems to indicate that Kollie is indeed the real deal, and Irish fans would love to see Kollie follow in the footsteps of the only two players to win both the high school and collegiate Butkus awards – ex-Irish LBs Manti Te’o and Jaylon Smith. Styles will compete for return roles on special teams starting on day one.

Likely to Redshirt (4)

Cane Berrong (EE), Deion Colzie, Logan Diggs, Audric Estime

There is an outside chance that TE Cane Berrong will be given a chance to compete for playing time if OC Tommy Rees wants to utilize certain 14-personnel sets in the red zone again this year. WR Deion Colzie and RBs Logan Diggs and Audric Estime will face deep competition at their position groups, but special teams contributions are still on the table for 2021.

Locks to Redshirt (13)

Joe Alt, Devin Aupiu (EE), Josh Bryan, Pat Coogan, Mitchell Evans (EE), Caleb Johnson (EE), JoJo Johnson, Jason Onye, Ron Powlus III (EE), Will Schweitzer (EE), Jayden Thomas, Chance Tucker, Justin Walters (EE)

All of the linemen in this group will benefit from a redshirt year in Matt Balis’s strength program. Mitchell Evans will be converting from playing QB on his high school team to TE in South Bend. WR Jayden Thomas and CBs JoJo Johnson and Chance Tucker will likely be behind the curve as summer enrollees. Josh Bryan will likely have to really impress in the summer in order to unseat Jonathon Doerer as the starting kicker.

Last Thoughts – Rest in Peace to former Notre Dame DT and fan favorite, Louis Nix III, who passed away over the weekend. “Irish Chocolate” was such a joy to follow on and off the field, and I think I speak for many Irish fans when I say I am forever grateful to Louis for all of the fun he brought to an unforgettable 2012 football season.