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The Ballad of a 5-Star: An Evaluation of Irish Blue-Chips Past and Present

Written by Liam Gaudet|Senior Editor|Twitter/X: @LiamGaudetIT

Jaylen Sneed

Photo by The Irish Tribune


Death, taxes, and recruiting speculation are the only things that are certain in the offseason for Notre Dame fans across the country. As we draw closer to national signing day, and with no Irish football this weekend, a lot of attention has been shifted toward recruiting - whether that be in the transfer portal or high school. To all my die-hard fans out there, I know just how painful it can be when Notre Dame loses a recruiting battle for the services of a highly coveted prospect to another school. I can also relish in the jubilation and excitement of the fanbase when that top-30 prospect grabs a hat with an ND monogram off of the table. Following recruiting can be intoxicating at times, almost as if the entire future of the program hinges on the decision of a 16-17 year old kid. Although that's not often the case, I feel like it's still important to reflect on their impact. Now that we're officially approaching recruiting season, I'd like to take the chance to evaluate the 5-star caliber players who have come through the university over the last half decade or so, and evaluate their performance at Notre Dame, or their development thus far. I'd like to make it clear that I will be using the 247 Sports rankings and Rivals rankings for this analysis, as I believe their rankings are the most well rounded and researched (Just my opinion). Only athletes that finished the cycle as 5-stars will be considered for this piece. So, let's dig into the blue chips.

Kyle Hamilton - Safety (2019) No. 15 National, No. 1 Position (247 Sports)


We are certainly starting off the list hot with one of the greatest to ever play the position for the Fighting Irish. Kyle Hamilton was one of the top targets on Notre Dame's board in the class of 2019, and it didn't take fans long to figure out why. In his freshman season, Kyle Hamilton's first big play for the Irish came in just his second game, where he tallied a pick-six against New Mexico, announcing his arrival to the program with style and confidence. He would finish off an incredible freshman season tallying 4 interceptions, with 41 total tackles, 1 for loss, and six passes defended. This dominance didn't taper off over the rest of his career, as Hamilton would put up similar or better numbers in most of these categories throughout the remainder of his career, a total of 31 games played over three seasons. It's no secret that Hamilton was a home run, and didn't require a high degree of development in order to see playing time. His dominance earned him a nod as a consensus All-American in 2021, and he was selected in the middle of the first round by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2022 NFL Draft. Today, Hamilton has enjoyed high praise in the NFL as one of its premier defenders, and he looks to only be getting better. It's safe to say he's more than lived up to his 5-star status.


Michael Mayer - Tight End (2020) No. 23 National, No. 2 Position (247 Sports)


How can one even begin to quantify the impact a player like Michael Mayer had? Let's put it this way: In a program that has been known for over half a century to be the premier destination for elite tight ends, Mayer has been the best of them all. Period. From the moment that Mayer stepped on campus, he was playing like a veteran. In his freshman season alone, Mayer tallied nearly as many receiving yards (450) as Notre Dame's leading receiver Chris Tyree did this season (484). Whether that's a testament to Mayer's skill, or an indictment on the current state of the offense is for you to decide, but this was only the beginning. Mayer proceeded to tally 840 and 809 yards receiving in the 2021 and 2022 seasons respectively. This earned him national recognition as a 2022 consensus All-American, and he managed to leave Notre Dame with school records including total receptions (180), career receiving yards by a tight end (2,099), and touchdowns by a tight end (18). Without a doubt, Michael Mayer's value as a 5-star athlete was warranted. It's a shame he's being underutilized by a mediocre Raiders team in the pros.


Jordan Johnson - Wide Receiver (2020) No. 28 National, No. 5 Position (Rivals)


Just when you started to think that being a 5-star automatically made you a program legend, Jordan Johnson appears. Going back and watching Johnson's highschool tape, I'm still in awe. Johnson was an extremely rangey athlete with a catch radius that stretched well beyond average, and was seen by most fans as a possible day one starter with his pedigree. For whatever reason, Johnson simply did not get the playing time that was expected. Fans initially speculated that Johnson was perhaps in Brian Kelly's "dog house", which led him to transfer from Notre Dame after his freshman season without a single career reception for the Fighting Irish. Similarly, in his time at UCF, the results were the same. He appeared in just four games for the Knights in 2022 and entered the transfer portal for a second time. He landed at Iowa Western, a community college in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he has finally seen some action. As a redshirt sophomore, Johnson totalled 20 receptions for 305 yards and four touchdowns, helping Iowa Western win an NJCAA national championship. It's been a tumultuous career for Johnshon thus far, but I am certainly rooting for him to make a comeback to NCAA division 1 football, even though the chance may be slim.

Blake Fisher - Offensive Tackle (2021) No. 26 National, No. 6 Position (Rivals)


The only downside to having a guy like Blake Fisher on the roster is that he was overshadowed by how good Joe Alt has been over the course of his career. And that's some pretty high praise for Alt considering that Blake Fisher has been pretty decent over his career with the Irish. I had the chance to stand next to Blake when we covered Notre Dame's Shamrock Series game in Las Vegas last season, and he is every bit of 6'6" and 310 lbs. In 24 career games at Notre Dame, Blake got off to a rocky start by getting injured during his first game in his freshman season, which kept him sidelined for the rest of the year. After moving to right tackle, Fisher struggled, but began to settle in by the end of his second season (and first full season on the field) with Notre Dame. Although he was solid this season for an offensive line that was plug and play at times, Fisher recently announced he would be declaring for the 2024 NFL Draft. All in all, Fisher put together a serviceable body of work at Notre Dame, but likely could have benefited greatly by staying another season to put together a Magnum Opus. Do I think he was 5-star worthy? If he stayed another year, possibly. I definitely wouldn't say he underachieved though. Best of luck to him at the next level!


Jaylen Sneed - Linebacker (2022) No. 42 National, No. 5 Position (247 Sports)


Okay, I'll admit that I'm cheating a bit here, but technically the 247 Sports composite rankings have Sneed as a 5-star caliber player and I think most fans would have agreed. Sneed, like most highly rated players, was an incredibly versatile athlete. A combination of speed and violence, his high school tape was reminiscent of someone like Jaylon Smith - Woah, that's high praise, I know. We haven't seen too much of Sneed yet, but when he has seen action, the skill is there. This season, Sneed saw a lot more playing time in rotation and tallied 21 total tackles with 1.5 for loss with one sack and one forced fumble - coming in the final game against Stanford. You have to think that Sneed will get the nod for more time next season, even with the return of Jack Kiser. His versatility should open more doors for him to get on the field. His hard-hitting play style is something that's been sorely missed in recent seasons, and I'm excited to see that come to fruition on the field. Is he a legit 5-star talent? Time will tell. He certainly has all the tools, and it'll be exciting to see him put them all together.


Legion of the Leprechaun





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