Notre Dame v Florida State

Irish A-to-Z: Corey Robinson

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Perhaps the most impressive student-athlete on Notre Dame’s roster, Corey Robinson‘s sophomore campaign saw him earn first-team Academic All-American honors, a rare achievement for an underclassman. Now the goal is something perhaps more superficial—sync up his work on the field with his achievements off of it.

Robinson showed moments of greatness, playing a dominant game in Tallahassee that could’ve been greater had it not been ruined by a questionable yellow flag. And even though a broken thumb didn’t slow him down early in the season, Robinson’s production dwindled the second half of the year, with consistency still a question mark for the rising junior.

As an upperclassman, that needs to change. And as Will Fuller begins 2015 as a marked man, it’s up to Robinson and teammate Chris Brown to prove that opponents need to respect both sides of the field.

 

COREY ROBINSON
6’4.5″, 215 lbs.
Junior, No. 88, WR

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Notre Dame was the first to offer Robinson, a raw, gangly receiver from a small school in San Antonio. But by the time the recruiting cycle was over, Robinson had ascended to a four-star recruit with a handful of impressive offers to his name.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Played in all 13 games for the Irish, starting three. Caught nine passes for 157 yards and a touchdown, a 35-yard score against Air Force.

Sophomore Season (2014): Played in all 13 games, starting two. Caught 40 passes for 539 yards and five touchdowns, finishing second on the team in catches and touchdowns. First-team Academic All-American. Rockne Student-Athlete.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Feeling pretty good about getting both the off-field and on-field success right.

If there’s a prototype for the perfect football player for Notre Dame, Robinson seems pretty close. He’s a top-flight student, a PLS major (Program of Liberal Studies), one of the most demanding and intellectually stimulating majors the university has to offer. That matches up with the Renaissance Man reputation that’s already been hoisted on Robinson, a talented musician who seems to have a knack for just about everything. On the field, he’s got unique physical traits and comes from a family where it’s clear that the gene pool is pretty good, too.

I already expected a huge spike in Robinson’s production, a combination of the sophomore improving, the offense expanding, and a variety of weapons giving Robinson some juicy 1-on-1 matchups. And if DaVaris Daniels is suspended for a lengthy period, Robinson will be hoisted into the starting lineup, forced to play a bigger role on the outside with Chris Brown and Fuller.

The sky seems to be the limit for Robinson. There are still questions that need to be answered, mostly with how he beats tight, physical coverage. But if the Irish can utilize him properly, then Robinson should be a very, very productive player this season.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

If Robinson is going to be more than a productive college receiver, this is the season where you should see him take off. Last year there were some really solid moments (clutch 4th down conversions, the touchdowns against Florida State), but a late-season lull and some uncharacteristic drops (one that turned into a pick-six for Everett Golson) spoiled the performance and showed some limitations in Robinson’s ability to control his body, a necessity for the lanky receiver.

At this point, I’m not sure it’s realistic to think that Robinson is going to be quick enough off the line of scrimmage to be a dominant player. But situationally he can be a handful, and as a No. 2 (or No. 3 if Chris Brown stays in the starting lineup), Robinson has the potential to be a nightmare.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Remember when we talked about the matchup problem Robinson could be in the red zone with his basketball height and leaping ability? Maybe Mike Sanford will be the guy who arrives and finally says, “Hey, let’s throw this kid some fades in the end zone.”

That’s probably oversimplifying how Robinson can run up his touchdown total, but the fact that the Irish will be really tough running the football—especially with a quarterback who is a threat to keep the football near the goal line—means he’ll draw plenty of one-on-one coverage. (Run the ball, throw a fade to Robinson or a quick screen to Fuller? That’s quite a menu for any quarterback.)

We learned the term “catch radius” when watching Robinson turn UND practice reports into Spiderman spottings. So after battling through a hand injury that had to make squeezing the football harder, it’ll be important to see Robinson return to his velcro ways.

But beyond that, finding the footballs to make sure Robinson has the ability to build on 40 catches and push towards 50 or 60, that’s the question. Because if the junior is going to emerge as a big-play threat, he’ll need to demand the football over C.J. Prosise, Brown, Amir Carlisle and already guaranteed touches for Fuller in a crowd of capable playmakers.

Robinson has an NBA body and hands that you can’t teach. If he’s able to balance that with a play-to-play consistency, he’s another wonderful option.

 

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
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR
Chase Hounshell, TE
Torii Hunter, Jr. WR
Alizé Jones, TE
Jarron Jones, DL
DeShone Kizer, QB
Tyler Luatua, TE
Cole Luke, CB
Nick Martin, C
Greer Martini, LB
Jacob Matuska, DL
Mike McGlinchey, OT
Colin McGovern, OL
Peter Mokwuah, DL
John Montelus, OL
Nyles Morgan, LB
Sam Mustipher, OL
Quenton Nelson, OL
Tyler Newsome, P
Romeo Okwara, DE
James Onwualu, LB
C.J. Prosise, WR/RB
Doug Randolph, LB/DE
Max Redfield, S

 

Counting down the Irish: 20-16

Stanford v Notre Dame
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For those getting caught up, start here. Then, check out the players who just missed the cut. Our rankings start with No. 25-21

 

We kicked off our list with five candidates for a breakout season. Our next installment seems to be doing one better: All five players have already started football games (or in one case, a game), now the goal is to become dominant performers.

For some, it’s still a learning process. We saw that with Nyles Morgan in 2014, a young linebacker prone to mistakes but still capable of making the big play. For others like Chris Brown and Elijah Shumate, 2015 constitutes a final season to perform, with the hope that three seasons of experience will result in a breakthrough.

We saw game-breaking moments from a player like Corey Robinson. We also saw Mike McGlinchey step into the starting lineup and thrive, surviving a mid-game relief appearance against USC’s Leonard Williams before performing more-than-admirably against LSU.

The depth on Notre Dame’s roster begins to show itself in this installment, with all five players capable of putting together very big seasons.

 

2015 IRISH TOP 25 RANKINGS

25. Jerry Tillery, DL
24. Greg Bryant, RB
23. Durham Smythe, TE
22. Matthias Farley, DB
21. Quenton Nelson, LG

 

Notre Dame v Arizona State
Notre Dame v Arizona StateChristian Petersen/Getty Images

20. Nyles Morgan (LB, Sophomore): No, it wasn’t always pretty. But Morgan’s baptism by fire should help as he moves into his sophomore season. In limited playing time subbing in for an injured Joe Schmidt, Morgan managed to make 47 tackles, the eighth most of any freshman at Notre Dame in the program’s history.

Morgan’s big play potential is obvious. He managed 3.5 TFLs in his four starts, three more than Joe Schmidt managed during his MVP (as voted by peers and coaches) campaign.

A big, fast and mean linebacker, Morgan will compete with Schmidt and Jarrett Grace for time in the middle of the defense. And if he’s able to take the next step from a mental prospective, there’s a chance that Morgan can see the field at the same time as Schmidt and Jaylon Smith, giving the Irish a linebacking corps that should be incredibly productive.

Highest Ranking: 17th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (three ballots).

 

Chris Brown, Adoree Jackson
Chris Brown, Adoree JacksonAP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

19. Chris Brown (WR, Senior): For two seasons, Brown’s 50-yard catch against Oklahoma served as the singular highlight on the receiver’s resume. But in 2014, he showed shades of becoming a complete player, serving as a capable No. 2, even if it still only happened in spurts .

But as a senior, inconsistency won’t cut it. And playing across from Will Fuller, that type of productive should be a given. So if you’re looking for a candidate to step forward in a receiving group that doesn’t lose a body, Brown is an odds-on-favorite.

He’s big (nearly 6-foot-2) and fast (a high-school sprinter and national record-setter in the triple jump). He’s also finally understanding what it takes to be a consistent performer in Brian Kelly’s offense, though 39 catches and 548 yards is just a start. Somebody has to help take the attention off of Fuller. And Brown is the type of veteran leader who should get one of the first chances to do it.

Highest Ranking: 16th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (three ballots).

 

Purdue v Notre Dame
Purdue v Notre DameMichael Hickey/Getty Images

18. Elijah Shumate (S, Senior): After an impressive freshman season where Shumate helped the 2012 defense as a slot cornerback, the veteran safety battled injuries during a mostly lost sophomore season and then struggled with the transition into Brian VanGorder’s defense in 2014. Still, he started 11 games and played in all 13, finishing third on the team in tackles with 66, chipping in a game-ending interception against Michigan to score a touchdown that counted everywhere but the scoreboard.

But that’s not the type of productivity that’ll get things done at the back end, and Shumate spent too much of last season not fully grasping his role in the Irish defense. But Shumate had a strong spring and is expected to put together a much more impressive final season in South Bend.

Capable of playing near the line of scrimmage and one of the team’s toughest hitters, the 213-pounder will be armed with another season of knowledge in VanGorder’s system.  Hopefully that unlocks a smashmouth playmaker who’ll cause trouble for quarterbacks and strike fear into receivers.

Highest Ranking: 11th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (two ballots).

 

Ronald Darby,Corey Robinson
Ronald Darby,Corey RobinsonAP Photo/Mark Wallheiser

17. Corey Robinson (WR, Junior): Robinson played the game of his career against Florida State, nearly completing the touchdown hat trick and pulling out a historic win if it weren’t for a dubious offensive pass interference call. And while he had a few other clutch moments in 2014, there’s a consistency that still needs to be added to Robinson’s game if he’s going to take the next step as a receiver.

There’s reason to believe that he can. Robinson put together an impressive sophomore season even after playing most of the year with a fractured thumb. That neutralized one of Robinson’s best traits, a pair of velcro hands, as he continued to evolve as a route runner and grow comfortable with a body that seems to have sprouted well past his listed 6-foot-4.5 height.

A year after being named a first-team Academic All-American and Notre Dame’s Rockne Student-Athlete of the Year, it’s time for Robinson to emerge as a true red zone weapon—not to mention a complete receiver—as he looks to round out his game.

Highest Ranking: 17th. Lowest Ranking: 22nd.

 

16. Mike McGlinchey (RT, Junior): The jump Notre Dame’s starting right tackle made in the rankings from 2014 gives you an idea of his upside. And for all the talk about Ronnie Stanley and his chances to be the potential top pick in 2016, some think McGlinchey could offer much of the same thing at offensive tackle, a scary proposition if true.

At a shade under 6-foot-8, McGlinchey has the mass and length needed to be a prototype tackle. And we’ve heard more than enough from Brian Kelly to understand that McGlinchey’s best asset might be his athleticism.

While Christian Lombard did his best to gut out a tough final season in South Bend as he battled back injuries, McGlinchey sat on the bench. He was the odd-man out after spending last spring as Notre Dame’s projected right tackle, only to see Steve Elmer slide outside during fall camp. Even after that experiment failed, Harry Hiestand and Kelly decided to stick with a veteran like Lombard, though after seeing McGlinchey play when Lombard’s back finally gave out, he seemed more than ready for action.

Entering his third season in the program, McGlinchey is getting his chance. And the physical roadgrader should have a very good season.

Highest Ranking: 10th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (one ballot).

 

***

Our 2015 Irish Top 25 panel
Keith Arnold, Inside the Irish
Bryan DriskellBlue & Gold
Matt Freeman, Irish Sports Daily
Nick Ironside, Irish 247
Tyler James, South Bend Tribune
Michael Bryan, One Foot Down
Pete Sampson, Irish Illustrated
Jude Seymour, Her Loyal Sons
JJ Stankevitz, CSN Chicago
John Vannie, NDNation
John Walters, Newsweek 

Irish A-to-Z: Max Redfield

Terrence Magee, Max Redfield
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Irish fans have been waiting to see Max Redfield emerge as the star safety Notre Dame has desperately needed since Harrison Smith went to the NFL. But entering his third season, Redfield is still a work in progress.

It hasn’t all been the Southern California native’s fault. Redfield has had two defensive coordinators. He’s had his position coach change. And he’s seen information overload likely impact his ability to make split-second decisions, the different between playing great football… and getting replaced, like Redfield was last season.

2014 was an up-and-down year for Redfield, with a public benching after the Arizona State game serving as the low point and a nice performance against LSU in the Music City Bowl a impressive rebound.

The junior is Notre Dame’s best hope at safety. Let’s take a closer look at the former five-star prospect.

 

MAX REDFIELD
6’1″, 198 lbs.
Junior, No. 10, S
RECRUITING PROFILE

Redfield had a five-star rating before he pledged to Notre Dame at the Under Armour All-American bowl. It was just part of the strong finish the Irish had on the recruiting trail, snatching Redfield’s commitment from USC and putting him in the Irish secondary.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Played in 12 games, starting against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. Made 12 tackles on the season.

Sophomore Season (2014): Played in all 13 games, starting 11 at safety. Made 68 total tackles, tops for defenders in the Irish secondary. Had interception against Michigan. Made 14 tackles against LSU, putting him on multiple All-Bowl Team lists.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

To put it bluntly, I missed on this. Redfield didn’t thrive in Brian VanGorder’s system, as the safety play for Notre Dame was a huge liability.

Count me among the believers in Redfield, who should put up big numbers roaming center field for VanGorder’s defense. If cornerbacks KeiVarae Russell, Cole Luke and Cody Riggs are capable of holding strong in coverage, Redfield is going to be the beneficiary of plenty of misdirected passes, with receivers rubbed off their routes and timing interrupted.

That said, one of the tenets of a Brian Kelly defense is a disdain for giving up big plays. And ultimately Redfield will be the Irish’s last line of defense, with the responsibilities of being the man over the top and ultimately understanding all that’s going on.

After struggling with the transition to the college game and a complex system, one listen to Redfield assures you those worries are gone and his confidence is back. We’ll see if that short memory continues when things break down on the field, but for now the Irish have the makings of a young star at safety.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

There’s a fairly large disconnect between what the coaching staff views Redfield’s ceiling at and what we’ve seen from him on the field. Again, it’s worth the standard boilerplate disclaimer: Redfield’s a safety and it sometimes takes some time. If it were up to Irish fans, Harrison Smith would’ve been an outside linebacker as a third-year player. Instead he became one of the country’s best safeties.

At this point, I just don’t think Redfield has the same ceiling as Smith, even if he was a blue-chip recruit with five-stars next to his name. But I do think he’ll take a large step forward, and there’s no question that he’s got elite athletic abilities, even if his natural playmaking ability hasn’t come out yet.

On paper and at their best, the duo of Redfield and Elijah Shumate look like future NFL contributors. In reality, we haven’t seen anywhere close to that yet. But they’ll be different players now that they’ve spent a season with VanGorder and benefit from the coaching of Todd Lyght, and that’s a big reason why it’s still logical to be bullish about Redfield’s future.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I’m going to bet on Redfield one more time, taking my own advice that sometimes it takes a little bit longer for safeties to figure it out. That said, there are some things that I’d like to see cleaned up in his game, and it’s hard to un-see that missed tackle on the sidelines against Arizona State, the kind of olé that sticks with a player for a long time.

You need to be a ball-hawking centerfielder if you aren’t the most physical guy in the world. And Redfield’s single interception and just two pass breakups sure doesn’t look like ball-hawking. He was a step slow too often in 2014, seeing a play develop, but not reacting soon enough to make a difference. That’s not good safety play.

But Redfield’s bowl game performance really helped. (No, the touchdown pass wasn’t his fault.) And that’s the way Redfield should play every week, near the football constantly and racking up tackles while playing physical.

This spring, we heard all the right things about Redfield’s game. And the change at position coach will be good for Redfield, a new voice—and clean slate—important. Make no mistake, there isn’t anybody else in this secondary who can play safety the way the Irish staff needs Redfield to play. So if the Irish are going to be as good as they think they can be, they’ll need Redfield to up his production.

My guess? He’ll do it. So I’m putting the baseline at 85 tackles and four interceptions, while also expecting him to exponentially increase his ability to be disruptive in the passing game.

 

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
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR
Chase Hounshell, TE
Torii Hunter, Jr. WR
Alizé Jones, TE
Jarron Jones, DL
DeShone Kizer, QB
Tyler Luatua, TE
Cole Luke, CB
Nick Martin, C
Greer Martini, LB
Jacob Matuska, DL
Mike McGlinchey, OT
Colin McGovern, OL
Peter Mokwuah, DL
John Montelus, OL
Nyles Morgan, LB
Sam Mustipher, OL
Quenton Nelson, OL
Tyler Newsome, P
Romeo Okwara, DE
James Onwualu, LB
C.J. Prosise, WR/RB
Doug Randolph, LB/DE

 

Irish A-to-Z: Doug Randolph

Doug Randolph
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Two seasons in and we have yet to see much from linebacker Doug Randolph. But after a shoulder injury slowed him at the beginning of his career and various injuries kept him from contributing more in 2014, perhaps a position change is what gets the rising junior back on track.

A strong athlete and top-notch recruit coming out of the same high school football program that brought the Irish C.J. Prosise and Greer Martini, Randolph will likely look to rejuvenate his career as a defensive end, hoping to get on the field with his former classmates.

With three seasons of eligibility remaining, it’s not do or die time just yet. But with a slew of young talent that could potentially play along the edge of the defense, Randolph will be in a competition with several unproven players, and it’ll be up to him to emerge.

Let’s take a closer look at Doug Randolph.

 

DOUG RANDOLPH
6’2″, 240 lbs.
Junior, No. 44, LB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A Stanford commitment before flipping to Notre Dame, Randolph was a U.S. Army-All American and a Top 150 player. Randolph had offers from Virginia, Maryland and Virginia Tech as well.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Did not see action, recovered from a shoulder injury that he brought into South Bend with him.

Sophomore Season (2014): Played in six games, mostly on special teams. Assisted on a tackle against Louisville.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

He played special teams, though you can’t really call a half-tackle an impact.

A perfect fit to make his impact on special teams, Randolph is the type of athlete that could thrive on cover units, fast enough to get down the field and big even to wreak havoc. He also showed an ability to get after the quarterback in high school, so there’s room for him to find the field if he can show the coaching staff he’s productive enough.

It’s worth considering what Stanford saw in Randolph, likely seeing a candidate to play on the edge of their defense as an outside linebacker. If the Irish do indeed show some 3-4 looks, Randolph’s versatility could be helpful.

With question marks on the defensive side of the ball and a lot of young players fighting to answer them, Randolph’s one of a handful of former big-time recruits with an opportunity to be a part of the next generation.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

 

The first two seasons of Randolph’s career have been a bit of a mystery. Miscast as a linebacker last season, Randolph will spend fall camp trying to fit in as a defensive end, a roster deficiency probably the main reason he has a shot to get into the mix.

Injuries seem to have been the ultimate undoing for Randolph, who was the highest-profile player that Notre Dame reeled in out of Woodberry Forrest. Yet Prosise emerged last season and is on track for a big 2015 while Martini made quick work of the depth chart and started games as a freshman.

Make no mistake: Randolph looks the part. Big, strong, athletic and one of the guys who really look good getting off the bus, Randolph needs to jump start his career with this position change, taking advantage of the struggles the Irish have had finding defensive ends or linebackers who can rush the quarterback.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

It’s hard to see Randolph doing more than being a larger staple on special teams, unless his really finds a spark as a pass rusher. And really, that’s not as crazy as it sounds, considering many expected Randolph to be a defensive end when he showed up in South Bend.

Still, there’s plenty of competition for the job Randolph is trying to fill, with Jonathan Bonner, Grant Blankenship, Kolin Hill and Andrew Trumbetti all competing for time. So for Randolph to emerge, he’ll need to find out how to stay healthy and wow new defensive line coach Keith Gilmore with some yet-to-be-seen pass rush ability.

 

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
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR
Chase Hounshell, TE
Torii Hunter, Jr. WR
Alizé Jones, TE
Jarron Jones, DL
DeShone Kizer, QB
Tyler Luatua, TE
Cole Luke, CB
Nick Martin, C
Greer Martini, LB
Jacob Matuska, DL
Mike McGlinchey, OT
Colin McGovern, OL
Peter Mokwuah, DL
John Montelus, OL
Nyles Morgan, LB
Sam Mustipher, OL
Quenton Nelson, OL
Tyler Newsome, P
Romeo Okwara, DE
James Onwualu, LB
C.J. Prosise, WR/RB

Counting down the Irish: 25-21

Quenton Nelson Twitter
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As we begin our rankings, we find a cross-section of players that represent just about every type of Brian Kelly recruit. There are blue-chippers. There are “RKGs.” And there are position switches and developmental projects.

If there’s been a most impressive part of Brian Kelly’s six years in South Bend, it’s the roster building. And no subset of five players does a better job of checking the boxes than this group.

Interestingly, while our “Just Missed” included starters in Romeo Okwara, Amir Carlisle, Justin Yoon (a kicker, but still) and James Onwualu, this group has only two projected starters. But the impact expected from this group certainly speaks to a higher ceiling, and all five players should be important performers this season.

Without further ado, let’s get things started.

 

2015 IRISH TOP 25 RANKINGS

 

25. Jerry Tillery (DL, Freshman): There was no bigger story in spring football than the emergence of freshman defensive lineman Jerry Tillery. With Jarron Jones recovering from foot surgery and Sheldon Day taking only limited reps, Tillery emerged as the next man in, a surprising twist considering most expected him to be an offensive tackle.

Brian Kelly raved about his young defensive lineman, and it didn’t just sound like coachspeak. And while we should exercise caution as we set out expectations for one of the Irish’s youngest contributors, Tillery looks like a future star who could make an impact from the get-go, a rarity along the defensive line.

Highest ranking: 19th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (four ballots)

 

Grge Bryant, Austin Larkin
Grge Bryant, Austin LarkinAP Photo/Joe Raymond

24. Greg Bryant  (RB, Sophomore): News broke in July that Bryant would be suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season. That likely played a role in his drop down our lists, with Bryant the biggest “loser” in our poll, falling 15 places from his No. 9 slot last season. The former five-star running back did lead the Irish running backs in yards-per-carry in 2014, but gave way to Tarean Folston down the stretch as his classmate emerged as the closest thing to a feature back the Irish had.

There’s a chance this could be an over-correction by our voters. But if Bryant is going to miss one-third of the regular season, that’s a massive amount of time for a guy who looked to be on the come after a strong spring. But after arriving in South Bend with great expectations, maybe this is the best thing for Bryant. If he returns with fresh legs in October, he’ll be a great option for a ground game that performed well when he shared the backfield with Malik Zaire against USC.

Highest Ranking: 17th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (five ballots).

 

Durham Smythe
Durham SmytheAP Photo/Joe Raymond

23. Durham Smythe (TE, Junior): Notre Dame has produced elite tight ends better than any other program in college football over the past decade. And perhaps that’s why Durham Smythe finds himself on this list, even if he’s only made one catch in his first two seasons in South Bend.

Smythe looks like he’ll be the starter at tight end, the most well-rounded prospect at a position filled with some intriguing pieces. And while there’ll certainly be more mixing and matching at the position after Ben Koyack led the offensive skill players in snaps taken, Smythe has the ability to be just as good as his predecessor (and in all likelihood, better).

At this point, it’s hard to say with certainty what Smythe does well. But he’s got the trust of the Irish coaching staff, and it’s hard to think playing major minutes won’t automatically mean Smythe picks up where Koyack left off.

Highest Ranking: 16th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (Six ballots).

 

Notre Dame v Arizona State
Notre Dame v Arizona StateChristian Petersen/Getty Images

22. Matthias Farley (DB, Grad Student): What a difference a season makes. At this time last year, Farley looked like a bench warmer. One season after a very disappointing sophomore campaign featured Farley played erratically at safety, Brian VanGorder and Brian Kelly moved the veteran to slot cornerback, where he looked to be buried at one of the roster’s deepest positions.

But after KeiVarae Russell was suspended and Cody Riggs slid back outside, Farley emerged as Notre Dame’s best playmaker in the secondary. He filled the stat sheet—tying for the team lead in interceptions, while finishing second in sacks, and tied for second in TFLs. Farley finds his way around the football. And while he’s still prone to the occasional mismatch in coverage, he made enough big plays to make up for it.

Highest Ranking: 12th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (five ballots).

 

21. Quenton Nelson (LG, Sophomore) One year after a redshirt, our panel expects Quenton Nelson to thrive now that he’s in the starting lineup. Penciled in at left guard, Nelson’s emergence ultimately was the reason why Matt Hegarty transferred, with Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand believing that Nelson could plug-in just fine at guard while Nick Martin slides back to center. (Hegarty was told he’d have to compete for the starting job at guard.)

Handing off a job to a young, first-year performer is a risk, especially when it means someone talented like Hegarty is leaving. But after traditionally betting on veterans with time in the program instead of the young player with upside, Nelson must not have given the Irish staff much of a choice.

The physically impressive guard will get his chance to go toe-to-toe with some big-bodied defensive tackles, putting to test the strength and nastiness that has so many excited about his future.

Highest Ranking: 15th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (five ballots).

 

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Our 2015 Irish Top 25 panel
Keith Arnold, Inside the Irish
Bryan DriskellBlue & Gold
Matt Freeman, Irish Sports Daily
Nick Ironside, Irish 247
Tyler James, South Bend Tribune
Michael Bryan, One Foot Down
Pete Sampson, Irish Illustrated
Jude Seymour, Her Loyal Sons
JJ Stankevitz, CSN Chicago
John Vannie, NDNation
John Walters, Newsweek