Notre Dame recruiting: Is it Will Shipley or bust at running back?

Will Shipley (Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images)
Will Shipley (Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images) /

Running back recruiting in 2021 has been a heavily discussed topic on Notre Dame message boards and social media, but is it Will Shipley or bust in 2021?

It won’t take long to find something on the message boards or Notre Dame twitter regarding the recruitment of Will Shipley, a five-star running back from North Carolina – and the top remaining target on Notre Dame’s board in the class of 2021.

The Irish coaching staff hasn’t made offers to many running backs in the class, and even the running backs they have very clearly come second fiddle to Will Shipley – including such highly rated targets in Camar Wheaton and Donovan Edwards.

The question is, is it a smart play for the staff to put all their cards in the Will Shipley basket? Are there other strong options if they miss? I find the answer to be somewhere in the middle. Before the Coronavirus outbreak, Shipley was set to make his way to South Bend for an unofficial visit in March, accompanied by many other top recruits.

It was also possible, he would be returning just a few weeks later for an official visit in early April. Many felt this would be the defining moment for Lance Taylor and the staff in winning the Shipley recruiting saga. As we all know, those visits never took place.

Now, Shipley looks to be torn between Notre Dame and the local-ish school Clemson, while others such as North Carolina, NC State, and Stanford technically haven’t been eliminated either. However, for all intents and purposes, this is a two-team race and seemingly a coin flip at this point. While he is expected to decide the coming weeks, there is no indication he has informed either staff of his decision.

In Notre Dame, Shipley seems to be closest to the recruits and coaching staff while also receiving a top-notch degree and early playing time. In Clemson, he is able to stay close to home and consistently compete for national championships, but with a more loaded running back room. The staff essentially has to figure out a way to win out against the safer option for him and his family. So what if Notre Dame misses?

Well…if you ask the average fan, it would be quite possibly the end of the world and Notre Dame will end up with some higher level or mid-tier 3-star recruit that some talk themselves into being better than they actually are. I don’t necessarily believe that to be the case.

Since Lance Taylor has arrived in South Bend, recruiting tactics at the running back position have become much stronger. His biggest strengths are building relationships and providing evidence on how he can elevate your game to an elite level.

While neither Christian McCaffrey nor Bryce Love attended Notre Dame, these are two perfect examples of players he landed and developed into stars in college and NFL draft picks. At Notre Dame, he has already landed one of his top targets in Chris Tyree during his first full cycle as a staff member.

Recruits such as Prophet Brown and Derrick Davis Jr., while first offered as defensive backs, also have the flexibility and talent to be very good college running backs – something that staff is preaching to both players. While fans want to believe this is an all or nothing approach for Shipley, I don’t think that is fully the case – but there is a clear hierarchy, and that is not a bad thing.

Brown and Davis are definitely two guys to keep an eye on if Will Shipley chooses to commit elsewhere, and both are 4-star talents at the running back spot – positional versatility is simply a big plus.

In Brown’s case, many schools are recruiting him at running back, while Notre Dame originally offered him as a corner. Davis has been a longtime Notre Dame safety target and some even believe he would make a tremendous college linebacker, but recent talk suggests running back is also an option.

When Irish fans look back on the 2021 class, the hope will be to see Shipley as a key member. With that said, Taylor and the rest of the staff have not given any indication to worry just yet. It may not be what you want to hear, but it is still fairly early on in the recruiting cycle.

More offers can go out and the heat can be turned up on guys currently with an offer as well – like Brown and Davis. Shipley is the guy everyone wants, and it would be an important win on the recruiting trail for Notre Dame, but it is not Shipley or bust. Lance Taylor has earned the trust of fans early on and that trust must continue during the Shipley recruiting process.

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Shipley is the crown jewel of this class and deservingly so. The staff should be putting all of their resources into making sure he feels that way.