With an ongoing transition to a 3-4 defense under Brian Kelly, Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers outside linebacker Jaylon Smith is all but a must-get for Notre Dame.
The uber-athletic Smith is the highest rated player in the state as well as the best player at his position -- a position of need for the Irish. So when the No. 3 player in the Rivals100 committed in June, it was a checked box.
Then when Notre Dame flipped Wyomissing (Pa.) High four-star linebacker Alex Anzalone from Ohio State at The Opening a month later, it was a boon for the class.
And when the Irish raidied the Stanford commitment list for Richmond (Va.) Woodberry Forrest four-star linebacker Doug Randolph in early September, it became clear that the national power was making a major statement.
Smith, Anzalone, and Randolph lead an impressive corps of linebackers that also includes three-star Michael Deeb of Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage and two-way talent Danny Mattingly from Spokane (Wash.) Mead. That kind of talent gives Notre Dame the nation's best group of prospects at any one position.
"It is a home run, an absolute home run," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. "The linebacker group this season isn't all that strong nationally, and for one team to land three of the best players in that group is huge.
"It is not only an impressive list of players, but it is at a position of tremendous need for Notre Dame. The team has lacked playmakers, with the exception of Manti Te'o, and has struggled some with the new defense; and this is a group that can come in immediately and make an impact."
Smith is a player that Farrell figures will step in and pay immediate dividends.
"He is incredible," Farrell said. "There are not enough positive things to say about what Jaylon can do on the field. He is fast, physical, smart, everything. He is a total package."
At 6-feet-3 and 212 pounds, Smith has been clocked at a 4.59 in the 40-yard dash and has a 33 inch vertical.
He has expectations to match his measurables.
"Most people that don't know Notre Dame, they refer to the glory days," Smith told IrishIllustrated.com. "They think all the Notre Dame people are always trying to refer to the glory days. It's really our challenge to get back there. I'm looking forward to it."
The anointing of this group as the best in the country is a reflection of tremendous work by the coaching staff which had five different coaches recruiting the players: Harry Hiestand was able to land Anzalone; Scott Booker was responsible for Randolph; Mike Elston concentrated on Smith; Tony Alford brought in Deeb; and Mike Denbrock had the ear of Mattingly.
Farrell said that efforts of the staff helped create one of the biggest victories of the season.
"There isn't much luck involved here," he said. "Hard work paid off and knowing the players and having built strong relationships is always a major factor.
"The results on the field have certainly helped as well. Winning keeps kids interested."
The Irish have started the season with four straight wins and are currently ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press Top 25. The defense ranks fourth in the nation in points allowed per game, 17th in yards allowed per game and second in interceptions. The steady improvement will only make for further selling points to the incoming class, which is currently ranked No. 4 nationally behind USC, Michigan, and LSU.
Players: Ty Isaac and Justin Davis.
Buzz: Both Isaac and Davis are inside the Top 75 overall players in the country and bring in the familiar physical style that USC running backs tend to possess. Rivals.com analysts have compared Isaac to class of 2012 five-star T.J. Yeldon, and he could have a similar immediate impact on the next level. Both Isaac and Davis plan on graduating early and figure to be on campus for spring football, which would give them a leg up on other regularly enrolling freshmen around the country.
Other classes considered: Alabama and Oregon.
Players: Alvin Bailey, Ahmad Fulwood, Marqui Hawkins, Chris Thompson.
Buzz: The headliners of this group are Rivals100 WRs Fulwood and Bailey, who are dramatically different yet complimentary players. Fulwood is a 6-foot-4 target who can be very physical with cornerbacks and safeties as well as outjump defenders in the red zone. Bailey is more of an explosive slot receiver at 5-feet-11, runs great routes and is dangerous with the ball in his hands on bubble screens. The loss of four-star Rodney Adams was actually a blessing in disguise for the Gators as it opened the door for Bailey to walk through. That helped elevate this class.
Other classes considered: Florida State and USC.
Players: O.J. Howard and Josh McNeil.
Buzz: There may be no single player who has seen his stock soar like Howard, who skyrocketed this summer to the No. 5 overall player in the country with his performances at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge, The Opening, and Gridiron Kings. At 6-feet-6 and 220 pounds while running a 4.49 time in the 40 yard dash, Howard is an absolute match-up nightmare. He wants to be great and certainly has the talent be exactly that. The addition of McNeil to the equation is almost unfair for Alabama. He checks in as the No. 169 overall player in the Rivals250 and showcased his skills this summer at multiple camps and events. McNeil is the more physical of the two at 6-feet-5 and 240 pounds, but he can still make his way down the field and catch the ball. No other tight end pairing competes with this duo.
Other classes considered: None.
Players: Kyle Bosch, David Dawson, Chris Fox, Patrick Kugler, Logan Tuley-Tillman.
Buzz: All five commits across the offensive line are ranked inside the Rivals250, making for quite a haul to the Maize and Blue. Kugler leads the way at No. 88 in the Rivals100 and is joined by Bosch at No. 92. Fox at No. 112, Dawson at No. 165, and Tillman at No. 241 -- enough to make any team envious of the potential in the trenches the next four years. Of the group, Dawson is the player that can be a tone setter, playing the offensive line with the anger and aggression of a defensive end. It's a contagious attitude that may push the Wolverines forward. Having this group remain together will be the key to a recruiting class that was at one point tops in the nation.
Other classes considered: Notre Dame and UCLA.
Defensive line: USC
Players: Kylie Fitts, Jason Hatcher, Kenny Bigelow, Eddie Vanderdoes.
Buzz: All but Hatcher are ranked inside the Rivals100. Bigelow is the No. 12 overall player in the country with Vanderdoes close behind at No. 33. Fitts just made his way into the ranking at No. 100, and Hatcher rounds out the group at the No. 213 in the country. Bigelow was very active on the summer circuit and showed a tenacity at his position as well as a love for playing football. He has drawn comparisons to Trent Cole of the Philadelphia Eagles and has a motor that runs as high as any player in the country. The group has a uniquely friendly disposition for playing on the defensive line, which could make for a unit that will quickly jell when and if they all land on campus.
Other classes considered: Auburn and Clemson.
Players: Cameron Burrows and Eli Woodard.
Buzz: The class of 2013 is absolutely loaded at cornerback, but the Buckeyes were able to land two players who are both inside the Top 30 of all players in the country in Burrows and Woodard. Both are bigger cornerbacks, both standing over 6-feet. Burrows is the No. 27 player in the Rivals100 and has drawn comparisons to current Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Woodard is No. 29 player in the nation and showcased his skills this summer at multiple national events. The duo, as highly ranked as they are, each actually dropped in the latest evaluation period with Burrows losing his five-star status and Woodard being jumped by a few players. Even with that, this is the most talented duo entering the same program together.
Other classes considered: LSU and USC.
Players: Su'a Cravens and Max Redfield.
Buzz: Cravens and Redfield are both ranked inside the Top 35 players in the nation. Cravens is the top-rated player at his position and No. 8 overall, while Redfield is the No. 31 player overall and No. 3 at safety. Cravens has been compared to Antrel Rolle of the New York Giants as a player who can cover adequately as well as make an impact stopping the run. He was also one of the players recruiting Redfield the hardest to join the class. The two paired up at the Rising Stars Camp this summer and shut down the opposition. They complement each other perfectly and have USC fans eagerly awaiting their arrival. The scary part is that USC is still going after Leon McQuay III, who is the No. 18 overall player in the country and a five-star prospect, as well as Tahaan Goodman, the No. 44 overall player. While it is highly unlikely the Trojans bring in three or more of these players, being in serious talks with the top four players at the position is a strong statement being made.
Other classes considered: Florida.