Last spring, Matthias Farley was moved from safety to cornerback. After spending the better part of two seasons as a starter along the back line, Brian Kelly’s decision to shift Farley to cornerback—where the depth chart looked stocked with ascending talent—felt like a demotion after a poor 2013 season, even if the Irish head coach promised it wasn’t.
After KeiVarae Russell’s departure and Cody Riggs’ move outside, Farley’s shift to nickel back was the shrewdest personnel decision on the roster. After struggling through an injury-plagued 2013, Farley became the closest thing the Irish had to a playmaker in the secondary, sharing the team lead in interceptions while finishing second in sacks and fifth in TFLs.
That banishment to Siberia? It rejuventated Farley’s career. Now entering his fifth and final season, once again the depth chart looks stacked. But expect Farley to be in the middle of the action, his nose for the football and knack for making a big play a key to Notre Dame’s 2015 success.
5’11”, 205 lbs.
Grad Student, No. 41, DB
One of the earliest commits to the 2011 recruiting class, Farley was a true developmental project. Late to the sport and previously a soccer standout, the Irish coaching staff saw an intriguing athlete with good size, even if they weren’t sure where he was going to play.
A three-star prospect, Farley had offers from Duke, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, N.C. State, UCLA and Wisconsin when he committed to Notre Dame.
Freshman Season (2011): Did not see action. Was a reserve wide receiver on the scout team.
Sophomore Season (2012): After a spring move to safety, Farley was a surprise contributor in the season opener against Navy, moving ahead of fifth-year safety Dan McCarthy. Farley played in all 13 games, starting 11 after Jamoris Slaughter was lost for the season.
Junior Season (2013): Played in all 13 games, starting eight at safety. Made 49 tackles and two interceptions.
Senior Season (2014): Played in all 13 games, starting four for the Irish. Finished fifth on the team with 53 tackles, had 6.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks and four interceptions.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
I’ll take some credit for this projection, certainly helped out by the suspension of Russell and an injury to Cody Riggs. (Nevermind that it looks like I had all but forgotten Elijah Shumate when doing the math.)
There is a lot of talent in the Irish secondary. Max Redfield is expected to take charge of the free safety job, giving Notre Dame more of your prototype safety. Cornerbacks KeiVarae Russell, Cody Riggs and Cole Luke all look the part as well. Throw in Farley and veteran Austin Collinsworth and you’ve got six guys that should play a lot of football. (And Devin Butler will demand a look as well.)
No, Farley didn’t play all that well last season. But remember, Harrison Smith was a dog after two seasons before he turned into a first rounder. Not saying that Farley is on the same path, but he’s a guy that can help the Irish win and will play a ton of snaps. And leaving 2013 in the rearview mirror will be good for him.
At his best, Farley’s a player that embraces big collisions and feels comfortable near the line of scrimmage, and isn’t bad in coverage. Letting VanGorder find the right schemes and situations for Farley to thrive in is a promising situation that’ll likely trigger a bounce-back season for one of the Irish’s brightest student-athletes.
Farley may not be a true corner, nor a great field-covering safety. But he’s a heady football player, a solid leader and a versatile piece of Brian VanGorder’s defense.
As a fifth-year player, Farley is poised to have a great season. Another year of comfort could lead to a few more big plays. Even better? Finding some consistency that’ll eliminate the big ones that Farley is sometimes prone to giving up.
Without knowing how Farley will test in a combine setting, it’s tough to say if he’s got a career playing on Sundays. But he’s a tough guy who’ll play through pain, and he’s got the ability to come off the edge, make plays in coverage and stick his nose in the trenches and make a tackle. That’s a pretty good place to start.
There are few players I appreciate more on this football team than Farley. After being left for dead after a struggle-filled 2013, Farley responded by making play after play, forcing his way into the Irish’s defensive plans—even if Kelly and VanGorder forgot about him a few times.
While some scoffed at the time, Kelly’s explanation for moving Farley to corner (asking him to play outside-in instead of inside-out) turned out to be a perfect diagnosis. With KeiVarae Russell and Cole Luke to hold down the corner spots, Farley’s mix of veteran savvy and smooth skill set seems perfect in the slot.
I expect a statistical year even better than 2014, especially if he’s starting in the slot from Day One.
THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG