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January 29, 2011

Roundtable: Notre Dame D-line is tops

MORE ROUNDTABLES: Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Full NSD coverage

Rivals.com football recruiting analysts weigh in on National Signing Day topics every day leading up to Feb. 2.

Which school has recruited the best position group overall?

Mike Farrell: The Notre Dame defensive end class is very impressive. I know some of the players listed as defensive ends who play the position in high school will end up as linebackers in the 3-4 scheme the Irish run. But the pure ends such as Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch both have very high ceilings. The hybrid guys who can stand up and play with their hands down such as Ishaq Williams, Ben Councell and others can be very special as well. It's a sick group.

Adam Gorney: I've been impressed with what California has done on the defensive line. The Golden Bears got two massive and physical defensive tackles in Viliami Moala and Mustafa Jalil - nicknamed Tiny and Moose, respectively - and then got three dominant defensive ends in Todd Barr, Jason Gibson and Brennan Scarlett. All five prospects have four-star ratings and I'm not sure how many other programs nationally have had such success recruiting defensive linemen this recruiting cycle. Gibson could play with his hand down or as an outside linebacker, and that versatility is attractive. Barr is undersized but not many people play with such a motor.

Chris Nee: Notre Dame's haul on the defensive line is pretty incredible. The Irish have a pair of five-star ends in Williams and Tuitt, as well as four-star Lynch, who it can be argued was worthy of a five-star rating. When Anthony Rabasa is one of your lowest-rated prospects at the position, you are doing pretty well.

Keith Niebuhr: There are so many directions in which one could go here, but I really like what Auburn has done on the offensive line. Right now, the Tigers have quite an impressive haul. Tackle Christian Westerman, our No. 27 overall prospect, is the headliner. Auburn recently got him to flip from Texas, which was one of the biggest stories of the month. Two other offensive line commits are four-star prospects, including Greg Robinson, another Rivals100 player. Now for the scary part: Auburn might not be done. Among the players the Tigers are still in contention for is five-star tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. A close second for me would be Notre Dame's defensive ends.

Brian Perroni: Notre Dame's success at defensive end is hard to ignore. They scored two huge commits with Ishaq Williams and Aaron Lynch, and managed to weather the storm with Stephon Tuitt as Georgia Tech made a furious run. With seven commitments listed as defensive ends, some of them could end up playing outside linebacker in South Bend. But all seven have a chance to contribute early.

Which overall position group is strongest this season?

Mike Farrell: I know a lot of people will say running back and that is the glamour position in this class, but I really like this group of linebackers. Curtis Grant already looks like a college linebacker and is special, Tony Steward is still raw but is amazingly athletic, Kris Frost is a ball of energy and has only played the position for a couple of years, C.J. Johnson is a shade behind Grant when it comes to being college ready and Stephone Anthony could end up being the best of the group if he corrects a few flaws. After the five-stars there is plenty of depth as well.

Adam Gorney: I think running back and linebacker definitely deserve to be toward the top of the list but I'm going with defensive end as the best position group this recruiting cycle. Start with top-rated prospect Jadeveon Clowney, who could be one of the best high school players in a long time. The list certainly doesn't end with Clowney. Ishaq Williams, Ray Drew, Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt were all incredibly impressive at the Army game. Anthony Chickillo has moved up the charts after an outstanding week at the Under Armour Game and Greg Townsend Jr. is one of the best defensive ends on the West Coast.

Chris Nee: Running backs are an incredibly impressive group to me. You've got some really talented backs in Malcolm Brown, James Wilder Jr. , Isaiah Crowell and Brandon Williams, who can pound it out on the ground. Then you have some versatile backs such as Demetrius Hart, Amir Carlisle and Herschel Sims, who are deadly both in the backfield and split out wide.

Keith Niebuhr: To me, it's strongside defensive end. In our rankings, 22 players at this position earned four or more stars. Not only is this spot loaded at the top with No. 1 overall prospect Jadeveon Clowney and Stephon Tuitt, but it has tremendous depth. Aaron Lynch was dominant at times in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Chase Farris couldn't be blocked during Offense-Defense Bowl practices. D.J. Pettway has incredible strength. Cedric Reed has a tremendous first step. All in all, it wouldn't be a shock if this group produced several future all-conference players.

Brian Perroni: This year's running back class is exceptional. Any time that a runner such as Devonta Freeman is only No. 10 at the position means it is a very deep year. Even if James Wilder Jr. ends up as a linebacker, guys such as Malcolm Brown, Brandon Williams, Isaiah Crowell and Demetrius Hart should be very early contributors in their careers.

Which position group is weakest?

Mike Farrell: Where are all the cornerbacks? Marcus Roberson could be special and he was one of the guys I pushed for as a five-star but after him it's a crapshoot. Guys are either slight, a step slow or a combination of both to be elite at this stage so it's not a very good year overall at that position.

Adam Gorney: Quarterback is the weakest. There are no five-star quarterbacks in this class and the highest-rated quarterback - Florida commit Jeff Driskel - is No. 32 in the Rivals.com rankings. There are only five pro-style quarterbacks ranked four stars and it was clearly one of the weakest positions at the Army game. There just aren't many players at that position in this year's class that are surefire college successes.

Chris Nee: Quarterbacks are underwhelming to me. Just don't see a lot of quarterbacks that are close to being complete at this point in their career. A lot of development has to be done at the next level. I am pretty high on Florida commitment Jeff Driskel and USC commitment Max Wittek, though.

Keith Niebuhr: Quarterback, specifically the pro-style grouping. When all was said and done, we gave only five pro-style quarterbacks a ranking greater than three stars. And none grabbed a fifth star. Our top choice, Jeff Driskel, no doubt is a good one. So are the other four-star kids right behind him. But after that, things really thin out in a hurry. Overall, this position seemed to be lacking in this particular cycle. What we saw were plenty of good quarterbacks, but few whose skills knocked your socks off.

Brian Perroni: The cornerback group is a bit disappointing this year. The No. 2 prospect at the position, Marcus Roberson, is a very good defensive back but could end up being a safety in college. Doran Grant was ranked as the No. 1 corner most of the year but had a disappointing showing all week at the Under Armour game. Quandre Diggs has excellent coverage skills but he is a bit smaller than his listed height of 5-foot-10.



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