Counting down the Irish: the Top 25 players

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As I mentioned last week, ESPN’s top five Notre Dame players got me thinking of a fun summer project that could help us get to preseason training camp. So, without further ado, here’s the official kick-off of said summer project: The Top-25 players on the Irish roster.

A little background:

Lists like this are by definition subjective. But the goal was to try and list the top players on this season’s roster, in order of their ability. (Consider this the training wheels version of the list Peter King made a few years back when he ranked the top 500 players in the NFL.) Who do you think is the best player on the Irish roster? Is he the most important for the team’s success? The one most likely to get picked in the first round of the NFL Draft? There are plenty of variables when trying to come up with a list like this.

Since even I’m getting sick of my own opinion, I enlisted some help from other Notre Dame voices around the blogosphere. You’ve probably seen many of their websites or read something from them on a message board. I kept the directions as minimal as possible, mostly to let them determine what they thought was important when doing their rankings, and hopefully get some better diversity in their lists.

Here’s our roster of judges:

Frank Vitovitch of UHND.com
Anthony Pilcher of ClashmoreMike.com
Matt Quirion of HerLoyalSons.com
Chris Wilson and Matt Barcus of RakesofMallow.com
Pat Rigney, Man of the people, non-blogger. 

Today, we’ll roll out rankings 25-21, with a brief rationale behind the decision. Complaints, comments, rankings, and just about everything else (except those pesky spam comments) are welcome below.

IRISH TOP 25: 25-21

Frank:

25. Shaquelle Evans, WR: Didn’t see much action down the stretch in 2009, but could be the heir apparent to Michael Floyd.
24. Jamoris Slaughter, DB: Showed some flashes at strong safety last year and has the potential to be a very good defensive back.
23. Nick Tausch, K: I really hope this is too low of a ranking for Tausch.
22. Robert Blanton, CB: Looked great as a freshman in 2008, but took a step back in 2009. Will have to fight off Walls and Gray for one of the starting spots at CB.
21. John Goodman, WR: With so little experience behind Michael Floyd at wide receiver it’s tough project where the other receivers rank at this point.

Anthony:

25. Nick Tausch, K: Rising sophomore should build off a strong freshman campaign.
24. Braxston Cave, C: Incredible strength to go with a mean streak.
23. Jonas Gray, RB: Fumbling problems limit a back with great size, speed, and quickness.
22. Mike Ragone, TE: Back-up TE with good speed is also a good fit for the spread offense.
21. Kerry Neal, OLB: Better equipped for the outside of a 3-4, should provide good pass rushing ability.

Matt:

25. Duval Kamara, WR: The senior is only on the list at all because of what he did his freshman year.
24. Kerry Neal, OLB: Looked like a spark of hope in 2007’s 3-9 campaign, and then he disappeared.
23. Dayne Crist, QB: This is low because he hasn’t done anything — yet — and we enjoy meteoric rises.
22. Mike Ragone, TE: Tiiiime is no longer on your side…
21. Robert Hughes, RB: Had one of the very few 100+ yard rushing games on this roster — three years ago.

Matt and Chris:

25. Louis Nix, DT: The kind of DT prospect ND rarely sees. All we have to go on is his recruiting film, but to quote Aaron Neville: “I don’t know much, but I know I love you.”
24. Nick Tausch, K: Showed great potential last year hitting 14 consecutive field goals to set a new ND record. Did we mention that he’s got three more years of eligibility left?
23. John Goodman, WR: Watch this
22. Duval Kamara, WR: It’s been a roller coaster career for Kamara (mostly lows recently), but you gotta believe a fresh start in Kelly’s offense will help him go out on a high-note.
21. Zack Martin, OT: One of the more consistent spring performers, the redshirt freshman may be the LT starter for years to come.

Pat:

25. Harrison Smith, DB: Hopefully the position changes ending will allow Harrison to perform well next season.
24. Duval Kamara, WR: Another receiver that should get a lot of balls thrown his way in Kelly’s offense.
23. Robert Blanton, CB: Passed on the depth chart by Gary Gray, he was second on the team last season in INTs and should see time next season.
22. Mike Ragone, TE: Now or never. He showed he has speed after chasing down the WSU defensive back. If he can stay healthy, he has a good shot at being very productive.
21. Jamoris Slaughter, DB: As Kyle McCarthy’s replacement, he has big shoes to fill.

Keith:

25. Nick Tausch, K: As much as people talk about Tausch’s streak, I can’t stop thinking about the two field goals he missed against Navy, and the early-game jitters he displayed.
24. T.J. Jones, WR: I’m hesitant to rank him too high after a big spring, but he could easily become one of the Irish’s better playmakers.
23. Taylor Dever, RT: I’ve got a feeling Dever will stay off most lists, but I’m pretty high on the projected starter at right tackle, and think Ed Warinner will turn Dever into a solid player.
22. Gary Gray, CB: Cautiously optimistic about Gray’s ability to make “the leap” this season after showing some promise last year.
21. Theo Riddick, WR: Another guy who could flourish in the spread, I also expect him to make some noise in the return game.

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
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Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.

 

WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president

Notre Dame v Florida State
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On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.

 

Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)

***

 

Restocking the roster: Offensive Line

Notre Dame offensive line
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When Notre Dame takes the field this spring, there’ll be two very large holes in the offensive line that need filling. All-American left tackle Ronnie Stanley is gone. As is captain Nick Martin at center. Both three-year starters leave Harry Hiestand with some big decisions to make in the coming months as the Irish look to fill those key positions and still field a unit with the ability to dominate in the trenches.

The Irish have had incredible stability at left tackle, with Stanley sliding in seamlessly after four seasons of Zack Martin. Perhaps the best six-year run in the program’s storied history at the position, Stanley will likely join Martin as a first-rounder, back-to-back starters at a key spot that often dictates the play of one of the most important units on the field.

Replacing Nick Martin could prove equally tricky. Rising junior Sam Mustipher served as Martin’s backup in 2015, filing in capably for Martin after an ankle sprain took him off the field briefly against UMass. But Mustipher will face a challenge this spring from rising sophomore Tristen Hoge, the first true center recruited by Hiestand and Brian Kelly since they arrived in South Bend.

Kelly talked about 2017 being a big cycle on the recruiting trail for restocking the offensive line. You can see why when you look at the depth, particularly at tackle. Let’s look at the work that’s been done the previous two classes as Notre Dame continues to be one of the premier programs recruiting in the trenches.

 

DEPARTURES
Ronnie Stanley
, Sr. (39 starts)
Nick Martin, Grad Student (37 starts)

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Tristen Hoge
, C
Trevor Ruhland
, G
Jerry Tillery
, T
Parker Boudreaux
, G
Tommy Kraemer
, T
Liam Eichenberg
, T

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Hunter Bivin, T
Quenton Nelson, LG
Sam Mustipher, C
Steve Elmer, RG
Mike McGlinchey, RT

Alex Bars*, T
Colin McGovern*, G/T
Mark Harrell*, C/G
Tristen Hoge*, C
John Montelus*, G
Jimmy Byrne*, G
Trevor Ruhland*, G

*Has an additional year of eligibility remaining. 

ANALYSIS:
It’ll be a fascinating spring up front for the offensive line. We’ll get our first look at potential replacements and see if the Irish staff values a veteran presence (as it has done in the past) or puts former blue-chip recruits in position to become multi-year starters.

For now, I’m putting last season’s backups in line to ascend to starting spots. That’s not to say I think that’s what’ll happen. Hunter Bivin may have been Stanley’s backup last season, but as long as Alex Bars is fully recovered from his broken ankle, I think he’s the best bet to step into that job. Sharing reps at guard—not a natural spot for Bars to begin with—was more about getting him some experience, with the aim to move him into the lineup in 2016. That allows Bivin to be a key swing reserve, capable of playing on either the right or left side.

At center, the decision is less clear cut—especially since we’ve yet to see Tristen Hoge play a snap of football. Size and strength is a genuine concern at the point of attack for Hoge, not necessarily the biggest guy hitting campus. But it sounds like he’s had a nice first season from a developmental standpoint, and if he’s a true technician at the position, he could be a rare four-year starter at center if he’s able to pull ahead of Mustipher this spring.

On paper, the other three starting jobs don’t seem to be in question. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey are ready to step to the forefront. Concerns about Steve Elmer’s buy-in will certainly be answered by spring, there’s little chance he’ll be on the field in March if he’s not going to be around in August. I’m of the mind that Elmer’s too good of a character guy to leave the program, even if his life doesn’t revolve around football 24/7. Now it’s time for him to clean up some of the flaws in his game, the only starter from last season who held back the Irish from being a truly elite group.

Depth isn’t necessarily a concern, but there isn’t a ton of it at tackle. That happens when you move a guy like Jerry Tillery to defensive line and lose a player like Stanley with a year of eligibility remaining. That could force the Irish to cross-train someone like Colin McGovern, a veteran who can swing inside or out if needed. McGovern seems to be a guy who would start in a lot of other programs, but has struggled to crack a two-deep that’s now filled with former blue-chip recruits, all of them essentially handpicked by Hiestand and Kelly.