Running back may be one of the deepest positions on this year's Notre Dame roster. The Irish have just added another potential star in the backfield.
Justice Hayes, a four-star prospect and the No. 22 running back in the Class of 2011 according to ESPN's Scouts Inc., has given his verbal commitment to Brian Kelly and the Irish. Hayes is a 5-foot-10, 180-pounder from Grand Blanc, Mich., who was also considering Tennessee, Michigan State and Michigan.
Hayes averaged 7.4 yards per carry while running for 1,295 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior last season. ESPN's Billy Tucker says Hayes will fit in well with Kelly's spread offense:
"He is very versatile in skill-set and embodies a lot of 'space-player' attributes coveted in an open spread offense. While he's a tough runner who can move the chains with deceptive in-line strength, we see Hayes' open-field elusiveness and polished pass-catching skills as the assets that placed him high on Notre Dame's offensive board."
"Hayes can make defenders miss with loose hips and great change-of-direction skill; a bit quicker than fast but has enough speed to find a seam through the second level and take it the distance. He could really create some mismatches and personnel problems with his ability to motion into the slot. Not a load-back at the next level, but doesn't have to be in this offense and should flourish early in his career in a change-of-pace type role."
The closest thing Kelly had to a star tailback at Cincinnati was Isaiah Pead, who ran for 806 yards and averaged 6.7 yards per carry last year on just 121 carries. But Kelly has said the Irish may need to run the ball more than his Bearcats did, especially when the weather turns cold in South Bend late in the fall.
Kelly felt so good about his depth in the backfield this season that he moved Theo Riddick to receiver. Armando Allen is the returning starter, and the Irish also have veterans Robert Hughes and Jonas Gray to go along with promising sophomore Cierre Wood. In the future, though, perhaps Justice will be served.