Part three of our positional breakdown series will highlight the cornerback position. This is a tricky position on the roster to evaluate. On one hand, the corners have been disappointing under the tutelage of Todd Lyght, but on the other hand the youth and talent of players like Shaun Crawford, Julian Love, Troy Pride Jr., and Donte Vaughn is intriguing moving forward. With Mike Elko taking over as safeties coach, Lyght will be able to focus all his energy on the corners. This should help both positions overall, but for now the cornerback position finds itself at 6 on our list.
2016 Depth Chart
Notre Dame’s depth chart going into the 2016 season was much different than it finished. Shaun Crawford was back from his ACL injury during his freshman season, but unfortunately tore his achilles in week two against Nevada. Nick Watkins was sidelined all season with a broken leg, and Devin Butler was suspended for his resisting arrest charge in August of 2016. All three were potential starters and high on the depth chart. With those three out, Nick Coleman was thrust into a starting role and did not improve on his promising freshman season. Luckily, Notre Dame had a great freshman class, and as the season went on Julian Love, Donte Vaughn, and Troy Pride Jr. all played key roles and performed well. Cole Luke was back for his senior season and third year as a starter. He played a key role as a veteran leader, but unfortunately his last two years at Notre Dame were shells of his outstanding sophomore season.
2017 Depth Chart
Cole Luke is in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers, Devin Butler is graduate senior at Syracuse and Nick Coleman has made the transition to free safety. That’s the “bad” news. Fortunately for the Irish, Nick Watkins is fully back from his leg injury and started the Spring Game at corner while Shaun Crawford has been cleared to play and is expected to be full go before the start of the season. Getting these two players back should more than account for the losses of Luke and Butler, coupled with the return of sophomores Love, Vaughn, and Pride Jr. These five have the potential to be become one of the stronger units on the team and possibly the country, but they land at 6th on this list due to injury, coaching, and youth concerns.
2018 Commits and Targets
With Notre Dame whiffing on the cornerback position in the 2017 cycle, this becomes a huge need for the 2018 class. Four-star Kalon Gervin was once committed to Notre Dame, but recently backed off his pledge. The coaching staff hopes to get him on campus for the Irish Invasion in June, but his chances of landing in South Bend come February remain slim.
IMG Academy four-star athlete Houston Griffith remains a priority recruit for the Notre Dame coaching staff. I mentioned him in the safeties breakdown, but his future position remains in question. The staff would love to insert him as a future corner, but he’s a recruit that won’t be passed on regardless. Kyler Gordon from Washington is another defensive back recruit high on the staff’s board. Gordon and Griffith would be perfect compliments to each other as Griffith is seen as a boundary corner and Gordon a field corner. Gordon will be a tough pull from the west coast, Stanford and Washington posing the biggest threat, but if he leaves for anywhere else, Notre Dame will be tough to beat.
Another corner with high interest in Notre Dame is in-state recruit Donald Johnson. Notre Dame offered Johnson on May 4th, and many believe it is only a matter of time until he pledges Irish. Iowa remains a top contender, but if the staff is sold on Johnson I expect him to be in the class by summer’s end.
Outside of these main four, the targets are still in the evaluation stage. The staff is doing its due diligence with many players. Georgia 3-stars Donte Burton and Telly Plummer are both high on Notre Dame and hold an Irish offer, but it’s uncertain if their commitments would be accepted. Michigan State commit Christian Jackson is a player to keep an eye on from the same school as Irish commit Derrik Allen, but as of now he does not hold a Notre Dame offer.
More so than the safeties and defensive line, the corners have an opportunity to reach elite status by season’s end. I am cautiously optimistic, but I truly believe the players at the position can be a huge strength. The recruiting needs to pick up as the 2017 class was left with zero recruits, but I have full confidence the staff will make this position a priority. This could also be a make or break season for coach Todd Lyght. If the players on the roster under-perform and they are unable to land a few talented corners, Lyght could be on his way out of South Bend. Again, I am taking a cautious approach toward this group, but don’t be surprised if it is a major strength.