Notre Dame's 2011 recruiting class review

Notre Dame's 2011 recruiting class review
February 26, 2014, 9:00 am
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For the most part, this group began to make an impact as sophomores the year Notre Dame reached the BCS Championship. As seniors, the goal is to get back to title contention — so where do the members of the 2011 recruiting class stand heading into spring practice and the fall season?

DE Stephon Tuitt (5 stars; Monroe, Ga.): Turned pro after his junior season, projects as a first or second-round pick in May's NFL Draft.

LB Ishaq Williams (5 stars; New York, N.Y.): Penciled in as Notre Dame's starting 'cat' linebacker/edge rusher this fall. He hasn't lived up to his five-star hype, with only one sack to his name in three years backing up Prince Shembo. But the athleticism is there, and in his final year in South Bend, will have a chance to shed the "bust" tag and tee himself up for the NFL.

[Notre Dame spring storylines: The quarterback 'battle']

RB George Atkinson III (4 stars; Livermore, Calif.): Turned pro after his junior season, is a decent NFL prospect as a kick returner but a fringe player at running back.

LB Ben Councell (4 stars; Asheville, N.C.): Tore his ACL in early November last fall, but should return for the fall and slide back into a reserve role behind Jaylon Smith at 'dog' outside linebacker.

WR DaVaris Daniels (4 stars; Vernon Hills, Ill.): Has a chance to be Notre Dame's No. 1 pass catching target this fall, though hurt himself with an academic issue that got him booted from school for the spring semester. He has a good rapport with Everett Golson, though, and if he can learn to negotiate the physical grind of a full season should be primed for a huge season.

S Eilar Hardy (4 stars; Pickerington, Ohio): Worked his way into Notre Dame's safety rotation last fall though will have to fight to keep his spot in it with Max Redfield fighting for playing time and Nicky Baratti returning from an injury in August. Coaches liked the strides he made as a junior, though he was suspended twice for a violation of team rules.

OL Matt Hegarty (4 stars; Aztec, N.M.): Should see reps with the first-team offensive line this spring as incumbent starter Nick Martin recovers from a knee injury. Even if he doesn't start at center this fall, he's a valuable depth guy to have on the interior of the offensive line.

TE Ben Koyack (4 stars; Oil City, Pa.): Notre Dame's No. 1 tight end heading into spring and the only guy at his position with any in-game college experience. Made significant strides both as a route runner and blocker last year and can be the next in a growing line of successful Irish tight ends.

DE Aaron Lynch (4 stars; Cape Coral, Fla.): Transferred to USF after his freshman season at Notre Dame, though questions about his attitude and an inconsistent 2013 season have muted his elite athleticism as a pass rusher in most draft projections.

[Notre Dame spring storylines: Sizing up defensive line]

TE Troy Niklas (4 stars; Anaheim, Calif.): Turned pro after his junior season, projects as a second-round draft pick and has a tremendous amount of upside at the pro level. Koyack may wind up being a fine tight end, but he — along with Tuitt — is a guy Notre Dame probably wishes it had back.

WR Josh Atkinson (3 stars; Livermore, Calif.): Converted to wide receiver after struggling at defensive back, likely will only get more buried on the depth chart with the growth of underclassmen at his position.

CB Jalen Brown (3 stars; Irving, Texas): Didn't appear on defense in 2013 for the Irish after seven uneventful games in 2012 — a year in which Notre Dame had precariously thin depth at cornerback. Currently a depth guy buried beneath a few underclassmen.

DE Brad Carrico (3 stars; Dublin, Ohio): Put on medical hardship before the 2012 season, meaning he's still on scholarship at Notre Dame but doesn't have his scholarship count against the 85-player limit.

S Matthias Farley (3 stars; Charlotte, N.C.): Started on 2012's 12-1 team, but regressed in 2013 and may not be guaranteed a starting spot this fall. Still, he's likely to be a key part of Notre Dame's safety rotation and does have plenty of experience playing the position, which carries plenty of weight in Notre Dame's two-deep look.

QB Everett Golson (3 stars, Myrtle Beach, S.C.): A sleeper candidate for the Heisman Trophy but hasn't played a down of competitive football since the BCS Championship in early January of 2013. He's exactly what Notre Dame's offense needs on paper — an agile, strong-armed, playmaking quarterback with experience in the system — but we won't know the positive and negative effects of his year off until he takes the field this fall.

LB Jarrett Grace (3 stars; Cincinnati, Ohio): Started a few games for Notre Dame last September before suffering a devastating broken leg Oct. 5 against Arizona State. He'll either stay at the Mike and fight off four-star recruit Nyles Morgan for the starting job, or slide over to Will to make room for Morgan. But as long as Grace is healthy, expect him to see the field plenty at either inside linebacker position.

OL Conor Hanratty (3 stars; New Canaan, Conn.): Saw playing time here and there as a reserve offensive lineman last fall, could compete for a starting gig this spring at left guard but will have to fend off Hegarty and freshman John Montelus, among others.

DE Chase Hounshell (3 stars; Kirtland, Ohio): Some significant shoulder issues kept him sidelined in 2012 and 2013, but if he's over those, he'll be in the mix for reps opposite/in relief of Sheldon Day at defensive end.

[Notre Dame spring preview: Will talent shine through at RB?]

C Nick Martin (3 stars; Indianapolis, Ind.): Tore his MCL in November and, while coach Brian Kelly said he's ahead of schedule, likely will be limited at best in spring practice. Expect him to take his starting job back this fall and continue to develop as a rock-solid center in the middle of Notre Dame's offensive line.

RB Cam McDaniel (3 stars; Coppell, Texas): Led Notre Dame in rushing attempts and yards in 2013, but will have to keep scrapping for playing time with Tarean Folston emerging as a weapon and Greg Bryant in position to eat away reps and carries, too. At worst, he's a dependable, durable running back who's adept at carrying nine or 10 times on a game-clinching drive.

DE Anthony Rabasa (3 stars; Miami, Fla.): Could see increased reps in spring practice, but with four freshmen defensive linemen coming to campus over the summer will need to make an big impression to move up the depth chart come August.

DT Tony Springmann (3 stars; Fort Wayne, Ind.): Likely limited in spring practice but should be on track to return for fall camp after suffering a torn ACL and subsequent infection in his surgically-repaired knee last fall. He and Jarron Jones will split time at nose guard, though Springmann has the flexibility to slide outside to defensive end if need be. For a unit replacing two All-American candidates in Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, Springmann's health will be key this coming fall.

K Kyle Brindza (2 stars, Canton, Mich.): As dependable a late-game kicker as there is in college football, Brindza also served as Notre Dame's primary punter in 2013. He may relinquish that role this fall to Andrew Antognoli or incoming freshman Tyler Newsome, but if he doesn't, he proved he can handle both jobs (and kickoffs) just fine.