Notre Dame football: Best three-star at each position under Brian Kelly

Julian Love (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Julian Love (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Notre Dame has had its fair share of three-star recruiting talent since Brian Kelly took over the program, here’s a list of the best at each position:

Adding three-star recruits to a major college football roster is often frowned upon by fan bases, but in reality, every program does it and these athletes usually fill out important parts of your roster. Depth is a big deal, and no team can have enough of it. However, whenever coaching staffs all across the country find hidden gems or prospects that simply deserved a little more love in the rankings or with Power 5 offers.

While Notre Dame certainly lands its fair share of elite talent, three stars definitely are an important part of each recruiting class. Here are the best three-star guys at each position since 2010. The composite rankings were used to establish the three-star rankings, therefore discrepancy in rankings is absolutely possible.


Ian Book – ranked 517 nationally in 2016 

An easy choice for best three-star QB under Brian Kelly, Book was ranked as the number 20 pro-style quarterback in the country. For reference, his national ranking would be one of the lowest of the Kelly era as in most years Kelly has landed a four-star or better at the position.

Book enters the 2020 season as essentially a three-year star at Notre Dame and will likely finish it number 2 in many QB statistical categories when his career is over.

Honorable mention: Tommy Rees 

Running Back

Cam McDaniel – ranked 646 nationally in 2011 

Another relatively easy choice, as much of the production at tailback for under Brian Kelly, has come from four-star recruits, McDaniel was the number 40 running back in the country in 2011 and wasn’t really recruited to end up a starter in South Bend. With that said, during the 2013 season, he took over the backfield as the main back and rushed for 705 yards and 3 touchdowns.

While nothing crazy, McDaniel had the trust of the coaching staff and stepped in a time of need. Outside of that season, he would prove to be a reliable backup and special teams player throughout his career. He totaled nearly 1,300 yards of offense during his four seasons and 8 touchdowns. It is very possible, McDaniel isn’t the top guy on this three-star list a few years down the road.

Honorable Mentions: Jafar Armstrong, C’bo Flemister

Wide Receiver

Kevin Stepherson – ranked 601 nationally in 2016 

Probably an unpopular choice since he has been suspended multiple times and eventually kicked off the team while at Notre Dame. Stepherson is not only the most talented three-star Kelly has landed at the position, but there is also a legitimate argument he is one of the most talented players in general.

A true rankings miss in the industry, the coaching staff made Stepherson a priority early on in his recruitment even though he wasn’t the traditional Notre Dame fit. In only 17 games played for the Irish, he totaled 10 touchdowns and 900 yards of offense – and was a true difference-maker whenever he touched the ball.

Honorable Mentions – Chris Brown, Corey Robinson, Jalen Guyton (transferred to North Texas early on) 

Tight End

Tommy Tremble – ranked 490 nationally in 2018 

If not for a nasty leg injury in senior year of high school, it is very likely that Tremble would have been a four-star in the final rankings, but this article is happy that wasn’t the case. While he has only finished one of offensive production in South Bend, his presence was felt on last year’s team and many fans are excited about his future.

Sitting behind Cole Kmet the majority of the season, Tremble caught 16 passes for 183 yards and four touchdowns (only two less than Kmet). Tremble showed off some of his abilities in the first few weeks of the season while Kmet was out, but it was obvious he got better and more comfortable as his sophomore season went on.

Honorable Mention – None (Tyler Eifert was not a Brian Kelly recruit)

Offensive Lineman

Nick Martin – ranked 529 nationally in 2011 

Maybe the best overall Notre Dame player to make this list, Martin was a three-year starter at guard and center for the Irish while also a key reserve during his red-shirt freshman season. The brother of Zack Martin shouldn’t have to live with that over his shoulder, because he is a great NFL lineman in his own right and one of the best centers in the league. This was another easy decision for the best three-star for his position group.

Honorable Mention – Trevor Ruhland 

Defensive Tackle

Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa – ranked 472 nationally in 2017 

This was a close one between Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Kurt Hinish and Jonathan Bonner, but I ultimately decided on MTA. MTA was a late find by the newly minted defensive staff during the 2017 recruiting cycle – which turned out to be a really solid defensive class for Notre Dame, MTA being a big reason why.

During his first year as a starter this past season, he recorded 23 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and .5 sacks. He also played a key reserve role as a freshman, appearing in seven games and nearly matching his tackles for loss from this season with two. As a sophomore, he only appeared in one game due to a broken leg suffered in week one of the season.

Honorable Mentions: Jonathan Bonner, Kurt Hinish 

Defensive End

Romeo Okwara – ranked 452 nationally in 2012 

The first of the Okwara’s brothers to play football at Notre Dame, Romeo was the less heralded of the two. He was forced into action as a true freshman due to lack of depth, and many Notre Dame fans wonder what 2016 could have looked like if he returned as a 5th-year senior.

During his last two seasons at Notre Dame, he tallied 12 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss – nine of those sacks and 13.5 of those tackles for loss coming in his senior season. By the time he left Notre Dame, he was a tremendous college defensive lineman and that has carried him into a decent NFL career.

Honorable Mentions: Prince Shembo, Ade Ogundeji, Jamir Jones


Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah – ranked 456 nationally in 2017 

Much like defensive tackle, this was a tougher decision than the majority of other categories. I ultimately decided on Wu, even though he has one season of starting experience under his belt. The fact of the matter is, he is probably the most athletically gifted linebacker to start for Notre Dame since Jaylon Smith and his stats from last season back that up.

While I fully admit this is more of projection ranking, Wu is a special college football player and potentially really good NFL linebacker. He finished his first year as a starter with 80 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss  5.5 sacks, four passes defended, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries – and it honestly felt like more. Clark Lea recruited Wu as his first true Rover linebacker, and it fits him perfectly.

Honorable Mentions: Greer Martini, Drew White 


Jalen Elliott – ranked 476 nationally in 2016 

The third 2016 signee to make this list, Elliott was a three-year starter for Notre Dame at safety and he got better every season. It started out shaky during his sophomore season as his raw ability hindered his play, but as a junior, his instincts and natural athleticism shined as he led the team with 4 interceptions and finished with almost 70 combined tackles.

This past season, his leadership was on display from the get-go and while his stats dipped a little bit, I truly believe he was a better football player because of the whole package. Whether or not he ends up drafted, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he spends a decade in the NFL.

Honorable Mention: Matthias Farley


Julian Love – ranked 480 nationally in 2016 

I don’t know how the staff found so many gems in the 2016 class, but looking back they not only hit on a lot of four-star talent but on many three-star talents as well. Love is the best example of this regardless of position.

No one comes up with an all-time top corners list at Notre Dame and doesn’t include Julian Love – and that is with only playing three years. He finished his career with 176 tackles, six tackles for loss, five interceptions, two defensive touchdowns, and 39 passes defended – the most all-time by anyone to ever wear a Notre Dame uniform.

Honorable Mentions: Bennett Jackson, Tariq Bracy 

When Notre Dame fans think of stud three-star recruits, Julian Love is at the top of the list. The best part though is the competition is pretty steep – and there are plenty of others that narrowly cracked the list or didn’t at all. In fact, if we are coming up with a top-10 three-star recruits list since 2010, some of these guys probably wouldn’t even be on it.

Next. Notre Dame football: the 2020 linebacker situation. dark

Programs in the realm of Notre Dame, don’t necessarily want to lean on three-star talent to win, but what this demonstrates is that identifying the right ones and the proper amount is still hugely important to roster construction. Simply put, the best staffs in America can identify traits in players that go unnoticed by ranking sites and other college football staffs. Under Brian Kelly, Notre Dame has done this at one of the highest levels in college football.