Skip to content

Counting down the Irish: The top five

Aug 1, 2011, 12:48 PM EDT

Michael Floyd 3

This is the fifth installment of “Counting down the Irish,” our annual ranking of the Top 25 players on Notre Dame’s roster. Click here for our ratings of players 25-2120-16, 15-11, and 10-6

It’s time to roll out our top five. As always, it’s been a fun exercise filled with different opinions, colorful comments, and our fair share of controversy. I’d like to remind our readers that I only asked people to participate that a) have a track record of providing good content and commentary on the Irish, and b) offer that content for free on the internet. (So be a little nicer to DMQ for his list, will you? He’s doing this out of the goodness of his Irish-obsessed heart.)

With less than a week to go before the Irish open preseason camp, we’re finally concluding our rankings. After looking at the comments, twitter action, and message-board threads, these rankings created quite a stir, and I actually think we’ve done a pretty good job putting this list together.

Here’s our Top 25 as it stands:

25. Taylor Dever (OT, Sr.)
24. Chris Watt (OG, Jr.)
23. Zeke Motta (S, Jr.)
22. Aaron Lynch (DE, Fr.)
21. Carlo Calabrese (LB, Jr.)
20. TJ Jones (WR, Soph.)
19. Louis Nix (NT, Soph.)
18. Braxston Cave (C, Sr.)
17. Tommy Rees (QB, Soph.)
16. Prince Shembo (OLB, Soph.)
15. Trevor Robinson (OG, Sr.)
14. Ethan Johnson (DE, Sr.)
13. Dayne Crist (QB, Sr.)
12. Tyler Eifert (TE, Jr.)
11. Kapron Lewis-Moore (DE, Sr.)
10. Robert Blanton (CB, Sr.)
9. David Ruffer (K, Sr.)
8. Theo Riddick (WR, Jr.)
7. Cierre Wood (RB, Jr.)
6. Darius Fleming (OLB, Sr.)

Now that we can put all the pieces together, here’s a look at our projected starting lineups (with player rankings in parenthesis):


DE: Kapron Lewis-Moore (11)
NT: Louis Nix (19) or Sean Cwynar (NR)
DE: Ethan Johnson (14)
OLB: Darius Fleming (6)
ILB: Carlo Calabrese (21)
ILB: Manti Te’o (2)
OLB: Prince Shembo (16) or Danny Spond (NR)
CB: Robert Blanton (10)
S: Harrison Smith (3)
S: Zeke Motta (23) or Jamoris Slaughter (NR)
CB: Gary Gray (5)


WR: TJ Jones (20)
WR: Theo Riddick (8)
LT: Zack Martin (4)
LG: Chris Watt (24)
C: Braxston Cave (18)
RG: Trevor Robinson (15)
RT: Taylor Dever (25)
QB: Dayne Crist (13) or Tommy Rees (17)
RB: Cierre Wood (7)
TE: Tyler Eifert (12)
WR: Michael Floyd (1)

Without further ado, here’s our top 25. Later tonight get our analysis together. Here’s the final rankings as selected by our panel:

Frank Vitovitch of
DomerMQ of
Eric Murtaugh of
Matt Mattare of
Matt & CW of


5. Gary Gray (CB, Sr.): Gray was an anchor on the short-side of the field for the Irish, a strong tackler who made a ton of plays in Bob Diaco’s new system. The third leading tackler on the team behind Manti Te’o and Harrison Smith, Gray tied for the team lead in passes broken up as well. Entering his senior season, there’s every reason to believe that another year in the system will only help Gray’s numbers, turning some of those pass breakups into interceptions.

Highest ranking: 3rd. Lowest ranking: 14th.

4. Zack Martin (LT, Jr.): Martin came out of obscurity to win the starting left tackle job and was named offensive lineman of the year at last season’s year-end award show. At 6-foot-4, 300-pounds, Martin isn’t the biggest guy on the offensive line, but Martin showed immediately what he could do on the field, making his first career start against Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, a 1st round draft pick and All-American. Martin played more snaps than any offensive lineman, starting two games at right tackle when Taylor Dever got injured. As he enters his second season in the starting lineup, Martin has the chance to become a standout offensive tackle, something the Irish haven’t had in a few years.

Highest ranking: 4th. Lowest ranking 9th.

3. Harrison Smith (S, Sr.): The fact that Smith finds himself ranked among the three best players on the roster is a huge credit to the reclamation work Chuck Martin did with the physically gifted, but incredibly inconsistent safety. After bouncing back and forth between safety and linebacker, Brian Kelly made it clear that if Smith were going to play, it’d be at safety. Harrison rewarded the coaching staff with a “lightbulb on” kind of season, as he put together a rock-solid 2010 season at safety, leading the Irish in interceptions, tying with Gray in pass breakups, and finishing second in tackles. It wasn’t a perfect season (and a gift from USC’s Ronald Johnson helped), but Smith is one of the best athletes on the field, and looks to be one of the premiere defensive backs in the country in 2011.

Highest ranking: 3rd. Lowest ranking: 7th.

2. Manti Te’o (ILB, Jr.): The Irish haven’t had this type of athlete at inside linebacker in decades, and Te’o gives the Irish their first chance at an All-American linebacker since Michael Stonebreaker roamed Notre Dame Stadium. Te’o’s 133 tackles led the Irish, his 9.5 TFLs were second, and his highlight reel of big hits gave the Irish one of college football’s best knockout artists. Leading the defense as a sophomore, Te’o still missed too many tackles and ran by more than a few plays, but as he enters his third season starting at inside linebacker, there’s every expectation that Te’o’s experience will allow his football IQ to match up with his tremendous physical gifts.

Highest ranking: 1st. Lowest ranking: 2nd.

1. Michael Floyd (WR, Sr.): For the second season in a row, Michael Floyd tops this list. Only players with the loftiest expectations can consider 12 touchdowns and 1,025 yards a down season, but Floyd’s yards-per-catch were at an all-time low as the Irish transitioned to a new offense and broke in two new quarterbacks. Still, the offense went as No. 3 went, and Floyd was the heart of an Irish attack still learning its way. After making the decision to return to school for his degree and a senior season at Notre Dame, Floyd’s senior season is still in jeopardy after a drunk driving arrest. Settling both the legal and academic repercussions, Floyd seems on pace to rejoin the team during fall camp, but that decision lies in the hands of Brian Kelly.

Highest ranking: 1st. Lowest ranking: 3rd.


  1. nudeman - Aug 1, 2011 at 3:15 PM

    I love it that they have an OL in the top 5. I realize this is a Weis recruit (as I guess all the top 5 are), and I’m no fan of Weis’s recruiting (or his schemes). But it’s nice to see they’ve got some respected beef upfront to protect Crist and open some holes for Wood, Atkinson, et al.

  2. billthegoat - Aug 1, 2011 at 8:03 PM

    Congratulations Michael Floyd!
    I’d like to buy you a beer!

  3. 10of14 - Aug 1, 2011 at 8:55 PM

    Floyd scares me…he will have his least productive season due to pressures from fans, media and self. Time for others to step up!

    • nudeman - Aug 1, 2011 at 10:01 PM

      Many seemed poised to step up. TJ Jones comes immediately to mind; so does Tyler Eifert (sp?). Admittedly neither fills the same shoes as Floyd, but their aerial game will be good this year. Also, I look for Cierre Wood to blossom running the ball. That certainly won’t hurt.

    • oldestguard - Aug 1, 2011 at 11:19 PM

      I see greatness for Floyd, on and off the field, as long as he continues to take the correct path and show proper conduct that befits a Notre Dame man, He can be a true leader if he digs his way out of all this and earns back the respect that he had lost.

      I see him hitting that field with a clean conscious and a burning desire to get back to work.

  4. ndfanwabashman - Aug 1, 2011 at 11:16 PM

    Can we, as a Notre Dame fan base take a serious look at Harrison Smith and stop viewing him through green colored glasses?

    Here’s how this goes: Ronald Johnson doesn’t drop that pass. He doesn’t get the interception at the end of the game, or the picks thrown right to him in the bowl game (as they would not have been playing in the Sun Bowl.) He is instead blamed for the loss to USC.

    Also, we now all remember he lost the game against Michigan State. So, what one dropped pass can do for a man. He goes from being a hard hitting, constantly out of position question mark to one of the best players in America. Here’s a prediction, look at this post at the end of the season and wonder how you all missed this one…

    • piratey - Aug 2, 2011 at 7:20 AM

      Actually, even if we lost to USC, we were still going to the Sun Bowl. And you are judging him based on one game and a play from another, I think it may be you who needs to expand your sample size from last season in judging Harrison Smith. He lead the team in picks(7) and passes broken up.(7)

      • ndfanwabashman - Aug 2, 2011 at 10:18 PM

        You are correct about the Sun Bowl.


        He had one pick against USC, and three against Miami. So four out of his seven picks were the last two games. Clifford Jefferson also picked off three passes in his last game against Purdue and is still the worst player to ever play for Notre Dame.

        I would love nothing more than to be wrong, but I just don’t understand how this guy is the third best player on the team.

    • nudeman - Aug 2, 2011 at 12:02 PM

      There’s truth to what you say ndfanwabashman. I haven’t been breaking down film and don’t have any insider’s knowledge of Smith’s abilities. But we might just be getting a little excited over him based on a small handful of plays that did and didn’t happen. I hope that what I’ve read about his “blossoming” under new coaching in 2010 is for real.

      The other side of the coin is that he’s the new Larry Brown. Remember him? CB for Dallas who nabbed a couple easy picks in a SB a while back and won the SB MVP Trophy; everyone suddenly thought he’d become something he wasn’t; the Raiders signed him to a mega deal in the offseason (gotta’ love the Raiders football acumen) and by mid season he was on the bench.

      Hope that’s NOT Smith’s story.

    • paiten34 - Aug 4, 2011 at 3:05 PM

      You have the word “fan” in your user name but are you a football fan or even a sports fan? Look at the long history of sports and tell me how many single plays have changed a game, season or even how a player is judged. A slip, stumble or mis-handled pass or hand-off has made winners into losers and losers into winners. Lou Holtz ounce said “that no matter how good you are every team needs a little luck to win.” Harrison Smith and Notre Dame had luck in that USC game. So to judge Smith on that play alone is just stupid and shows a lack of understanding football.

      • ndfanwabashman - Aug 4, 2011 at 9:31 PM

        I’m not judging him on that one play. You, and the others who consider him to be a good player, are judging him on that one play. I’m basing my judgment of his abilities on an entire career, and last season as a whole. I’m asking people not to consider him as a good player just because he was lucky for a a few plays.

        Do you, as the great football wizard, consider Harrison Smith to be the third best player on the ND team? That’s my point.

  5. bbdaines - Aug 2, 2011 at 12:11 PM

    Thank you all for an entertaining run down of the team.. but I hope you have missed, and missed badly on Dayne Crist.. If, at the end of the year Crist is the MVP of this team we will be serious, (as opposed to delusional drank the Koollaid ND fans) BCS contenders.. If Crist or one of the other QB’s on the team are not in the top 5, maybe top ten I just don’t think the year will be what we are all hoping for with double digit wins.. Again, thanks for a great set of articles, keep up the good work..

    • nudeman - Aug 2, 2011 at 5:45 PM

      I couldn’t agree more on Crist, and don’t understand why he’s not getting some love.

      He was solid, if unspectacular last year before getting hurt. 15 TDs/7INTs isn’t too bad for a 1st year starter. He’s a big guy, mobile, very good arm, seems bright and as far as I know has the respect of the team.

      Only downsides I see are:
      1) Two knee injuries in two years. Is that a fluke, or is he doomed to be injury prone?; and
      2) Not the prototypical “spread” QB, or so I’ve read. I’m not even sure what the ideal spread guy is. They say Hendrix is that type, and I assume that means more mobile, more of a runner than Crist is.

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!