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Best of the best: The highest-ranked Notre Dame secondary classes of the last 10 years

photos -jpgby:Ashton Pollard02/06/22

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The Notre Dame class of 2022 is complete, and expectations for the newcomers are understandably high after they finished as the No. 6 class in the nation. According to the On3 Consensus Football Team Rankings, the Irish just signed their highest-ranked recruiting class since the 2013 signees finished No. 4, a 10-year span.

Below is the first piece of a four-part series, one which examines the highest-rated recruits Notre Dame has signed at every position group between 2013 and 2022. The measures are according to the On3 Consensus, a complete and equally weighted industry-generated average that utilizes all four major recruiting media companies. 

We begin with defensive backs. Which Notre Dame classes had the best secondary recruits coming out of high school, and how did those cornerbacks and safeties pan out for the Irish?

Note: The following rankings are done based on how the player was listed by On3 at the time he signed. Notre Dame may have used him in another position once he arrived on campus.

Cornerback – 2013

The highest-rated group of cornerbacks to arrive on campus at Notre Dame in the last 10 years came from the 2013 class. Cole Luke of Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton, Rashad Kinlaw of Absecon (N.J.) Absegami and Devin Butler of Washington (D.C.) Gonzaga averaged an On3 Consensus rating of 91.055. All three prospects were four-star recruits according to On3 Consensus.

By all accounts, Luke was a success in South Bend. In 2014, he broke up 11 passes, which is tied for third all-time in the Irish record books for most single-season pass breakups. He ultimately signed with the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted free agent in 2017, and he is currently a free agent after the now-Washington Commanders cut him in October 2021.

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Kinlaw was released from the program in 2014 after sitting out the 2013 season and primarily playing scout team quarterback. Then-head coach Brian Kelly said Kinlaw “didn’t live up to the rules within our football program,” per NBC Sports. He never played in a game.

Butler had a turbulent career at Notre Dame plagued by injuries and a 2016 arrest. He finished his college career as a graduate transfer at Syracuse. The Washington D.C. native totaled 39 tackles, seven pass break ups and an interception over 37 games played in a gold helmet.

Interestingly, class of 2016 corners Julian Love and Troy Pride have been the only two cornerbacks taken in the NFL Draft that began their career at Notre Dame in or after 2013. Love was a 2019 fourth-round pick by the New York Giants, while Pride went in the fourth round to the Carolina Panthers in 2020. Both players remain active on those teams’ rosters.

Love is considered one of the best coaching successes in the secondary at Notre Dame in recent history, as he arrived as a low four-star recruit according to On3 Consensus but became an invaluable part of the Irish defense in 2018, the year the team made their first College Football Playoff appearance.

The class of 2022 has two cornerbacks: Jaden Mickey and Benjamin Morrison. Their average ranking is 90.586, which ranks third amongst classes of Irish cornerbacks since 2013. However, Nick Watkins was the only cornerback signed in 2014, and he had a ranking of 90.700. If you omit Watkins’ sole number, Mickey and Morrison check in just behind the 2013 class at No. 2.

Safety – 2019 (Well, sort of.)

The highest-rated safety Notre Dame has signed in the last 10 years was 2013’s Max Redfield. The five-star recruit had a 96.533 rating according to On3 Consensus, and the Irish pried him from the hands of rival USC after the California native originally committed to the Trojans.

However, Redfield had an underwhelming career at Notre Dame, one which ended with his 2016 dismissal from the team.

Outside of 2013, the highest-rated safety group Notre Dame has signed came in 2019. Kyle Hamilton of Atlanta Marist School had an On3 Consensus ranking of 94.533. Of course, signing Hamilton panned out well for the Irish as he is expected to be a top-five selection in the 2022 NFL Draft.

The other safety in his signing class, Litchfield Ajavon, is currently in the transfer portal. Ajavon attended Alexandria (Va.) Episcopal and had a four-star recruiting ranking of 90.400 coming out of high school. The average of the two defensive backs 2019 recruiting rankings is 92.467, making it the No. 2 class of safeties the Irish have signed since 2013.

The 2022 class has just one safety. Jayden Bellamy of Oradell (N.J.) Bergen Catholic has an 88.525 recruiting ranking.

Notre Dame has had one safety selected in the NFL Draft from the classes since 2013, Alohi Gilman. Gilman was a transfer from Navy and therefore did not factor into this list. Hamilton will look to end that drought come April.

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