Tag: Counting down the Irish

Will Fuller, Nick VanHoose

Counting down the Irish: Looking back


This August, a group of people who spend way too much time watching and writing about Notre Dame football got together to put together some preseason rankings on the roster. In doing so, we (I’m definitely included) put in writing what so many of you (especially in the comments) already thought was true: We don’t know what we’re talking about sometimes.

But a look back at the Top 25 list is a fun exercise. So this week we’re going to spend some time looking at some hits, some misses and some clues as we spend the week re-ranking the roster.

Notre Dame’s offensive player of the year? Will Fuller was only good enough to come in at No. 25 on our list, fifth best among pass catchers. Only three voters gave Fuller a vote, with me giving him his highest ranking at 14th, while predicting a 1,000 yard campaign. The Irish’s defensive player of the year? Everybody saw Jaylon Smith coming, he was at No. 1 on six of eight ballots.

While nobody was thinking that Ronnie Stanley had the makings of a first-round pick after the 2014 season, we did have him as the team’s No. 1 offensive lineman. And even though Cam McDaniel was named a team captain and an opening day starter, the running back was ranked third-best on our list, with our group of experts identifying Tarean Folston as the team’s best back. (ND Tex at HLS had Folston No. 1 on his board.)

The suspensions that ultimately cost KeiVarae Russell, DaVaris DanielsIshaq Williams  and Kendall Moore their seasons? It took two of the team’s top seven players off the field, and three of the team’s top 20. And for those who believed Brian Kelly when he said the team had the deepest roster he’s had at Notre Dame, Fuller was No. 25, and Team MVP Joe Schmidt checked in at No. 24.

As we await the Irish and LSU to do battle on December 30, let’s look back at the best and worst of 2014, and see how well we did in August with our hunches.



Counting down the Irish: Others receiving votes

Notre Dame v Air Force

As we roll out this year’s rankings, it’s worth putting up a special post just for the players who just missed being ranked in our final composite ranking. With depth on this roster significant, and several unknown quantities expected to play big roles, quite a few players left off the Top 25 list will likely be a big contributor this season.

Let’s roll through the dreaded “others receiving votes” tally from this year’s proceedings.


2014 Irish Top 25 — Others Receiving Votes


Will Fuller, WR (Soph.): The sophomore receiver technically finished in a tie for 25th, but lost in a tiebreaker. Fuller has big-time potential as we saw last season when he led the Irish receiving corps with a beefy 26.7 yards per catch. He’s in the mix to start at wide receiver opposite DaVaris Daniels and will likely be more than just a human go route in 2014.

Highest Ranking: 14th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (Six ballots).


Fuller joins the Top 25 with the hard luck No. 26 spot now going to…

Romeo Okwara, DE (Jr.): Listed on every ballot but one, Okwara slid outside the Top 25 because he lacked any single voter projecting a high-upside season for the converted defensive end. I think that season is possible, but Okwara will need to show a nose for getting after the quarterback, something we haven’t seen in his two seasons at outside linebacker.

Highest Ranking: 20th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (One ballot).

Elijah Shumate, S (Jr.): After an injury plagued sophomore season, Shumate fell outside the Top 25 after finishing at No. 24 last year. Physically, he’s arguably Notre Dame’s second most impressive safety, behind only Max Redfield. But Shumate enters training camp behind grad student Austin Collinsworth, and in need of recapturing the swagger he showed as a slot cornerback in 2012.

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


Amir Carlisle, WR (Sr.): Carlisle fell out of the rankings after finishing No. 19 last season, the product of a disappointing 2013 season that saw him start the year as the team’s No. 1 running back but finish the season out of a job — and a position. After a good spring at slot receiver, we’ll see how Carlisle rebounds at a new position.

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


Austin Collinsworth, S (GS): Even though Collinsworth has a starting job heading into training camp, there’s some skepticism surrounding his overall ability. (Hence a lower rating than Shumate.) His athletic deficiencies showed when C.J. Prosise blew around him during the Blue-Gold game for a big touchdown, but Collinsworth finished the 2013 season strong, and showed an early ability to adapt in Brian VanGorder’s defense.

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


Nyles Morgan, LB (Frosh): The freshman linebacker had the most votes from our panelists of those missing the Top 25, but they weren’t enough to slide inside the composite ranking. Morgan will battle Joe Schmidt and Jarrett Grace for time at middle linebacker, and is expected to see the field from the start this year. The Chicago native was one of the top linebacker recruits in the country.

Highest Ranking: 20th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (Four ballots).


Mike McGlinchey, OT (Soph.): Currently penciled in at right tackle, all eyes will be on McGlinchey during fall camp, as he’s the current leader for the fifth spot on the offensive line, with four other starter jobs seemingly spoken for. At almost six-foot-8, McGlinchey has the length, size and athleticism you covet at tackle. With an upside that’s nearly unmatched, we’ll see if he’s ready to contribute in 2014.

Highest Ranking: 19th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (Seven ballots).


Honorable Mention: WR C.J. Prosise (two votes), OT Quenton Nelson (two votes), LB Ben Councell (one vote), Eilar Hardy (one vote), LB Kendall Moore (one vote), WR Torii Hunter Jr. (one vote), S Matthias Farley (one vote), LB Jonathan Bonner (one vote), DE Jhonny Williams (one vote).


Our 2014 selection committee:

Pete Sampson, Irish Illustrated (@NDatRivals)
Tyler James, South Bend Tribune (@TJamesNDI)
Chris Hine, Chicago Tribune (@ChristopherHine)
Team OFD, One Foot Down (@OneFootDown)
Ryan Ritter, Her Loyal Sons (@HLS_NDTex)
JJ Stankevitz, CSN Chicago (@JJStankevitz)
John Walters, Medium Happy (@JDubs88)
John Vannie, ND Nation
Keith Arnold, NBC Sports (@KeithArnold)

Counting down the Irish: 10-6

Purdue v Notre Dame

Looking at the first fifteen names we’ve revealed, one pretty clear trend seemed to be emerging. The strength of this team’s depth was on defense. Ten of the players we’ve already rolled out will be defensive contributors. That includes highly touted freshmen Max Redfield and Jaylon Smith, who will have to find a way onto the field for Bob Diaco’s defense.

Of the offensive players listed, only Christian Lombard is a proven commodity. While we’ve talked about the positional flexibility Lombard has, he started 13 games at right tackle, where he’ll open fall camp as the returning starter.

The next five names all but even out our proceedings. They include a nice mix of talented youth and veteran experience, with all five players seemingly on track to be front-line college starters with NFL potential.

Let’s take a look at where where we stand before rolling out our penultimate grouping:

2013 Irish Top 25
25. Max Redfield (S, Fr.)
24. Elijah Shumate (S, Soph.)
23. Jaylon Smith (OLB, Fr.)
22. Ishaq Williams (OLB, Jr.)
21. Greg Bryant (RB, Fr.)
20. Christian Lombard (RT, Sr.)
19. Amir Carlisle (RB, Jr.)
18. Carlo Calabrese (LB, Grad.)
17. Jarrett Grace (LB, Jr.)
16. Matthias Farley (S, Jr.)
15. George Atkinson III (RB, Jr.)
14. Dan Fox (LB, Grad.)
13. Sheldon Day (DE, Soph.)
12. Danny Spond (OLB, Sr.)
11. Tommy Rees (QB, Sr.)


10. Davaris Daniels (WR, Jr.) Entering his third season in the Irish program, where Daniels goes this season will likely give us a better idea of his career trajectory. After redshirting during his freshman season and watching future first round draft pick Michael Floyd, Daniels spent his debut season battling injuries and inconsistency, not all that surprising for a guy taking his first collegiate snaps and depending on a quarterback doing the same.

Daniels made three starts in his eleven games, with an ankle injury and broken collarbone sidetracking him just as he seemed to get rolling. Daniels returned from the collarbone injury against Alabama to provide one of the lone bright spots for the Irish, catching six balls for 115 yards against a talented Crimson Tide defense. Sure, it was with the game mostly in hand for Saban’s crew, but it gives you a glimpse at the tremendous ability that Daniels has when he puts it all together.

That time is now for Daniels, with the Irish offense without a All-American caliber receiving threat for the first time in Kelly’s three seasons. That’s not to say that Daniels doesn’t have that ability, but he’ll need to become the consistent player that many hope is waiting to breakout.

Highest Ranking: 7th. Lowest Ranking: 15th.

9. Troy Niklas (TE, Jr.) That Niklas checks in this high is a testament to the potential of the hulking tight end that should feel much more comfortable a season after learning on the fly as a sophomore. At 6-foot-6.5 and 260-pounds, Niklas has freakish size and strength, and his hands and speed are much better than you’d expect for a man his size.

A season after taking pleasure in learning the mechanics of blocking by flipping sleds, the Irish will ask Niklas to be a more well rounded threat. The Irish coaching staff thinks they have a player that can resemble Rob Gronkowski, and not just in the eclectic personality category.

Niklas caught a modest five balls for 75 yards and a touchdown last season, but was used almost exclusively as an attached blocker that helped power the running game. There were some ugly moments as he played his first season of tight end, but his improvement was well documented as the season went on. Tommy Rees is a fan of using his tight end and Niklas could be the primary beneficiary this season.

Highest Ranking: 7th. Lowest Ranking: 2oth.

8. KeiVarae Russell (CB, Soph.) Entering fall camp as just another body in the running back depth chart, Russell switched sides of the ball and miraculously started all thirteen games for the Irish, putting together a freshman All-American season at cornerback while racking up 58 tackles and two interceptions.

After getting beat for a touchdown pass against Navy in the opener, Russell played with more and more confidence as the season went on, coming up interceptions against both Michigan and USC, the latter a clutch pick against Max Wittek in Irish territory.

It’s still hard to quantify what Russell’s ceiling is as a football player, even after his impressive freshman season. Russell was in the starting lineup mostly out of necessity, with Lo Wood’s season ending Achilles injury putting the Irish into a training camp bind that also saw the Irish temporarily flip Cam McDaniel to the defensive side of the ball as well.

Russell has good enough speed, nice enough size, and clearly has a great head on his shoulders. Spending any time around him you understand that he also has the confidence to be a great cornerback, which goes plenty far. We’ll see by Bob Diaco’s scheme this season how much they trust the duo of Russell and Bennett Jackson to lock down receivers. Never a man coverage defense, adding some to the defensive scheme might tell you all you need to know about the talented sophomore.

Highest Ranking: 5th. Lowest Ranking: 20th.

7. TJ Jones (WR, Sr.) After being stuck in neutral for two seasons, Jones excelled in 2012, taking a big step forward with 649 yards and showing himself as more than just a complementary part of the offense. Jones matched All-American Tyler Eifert’s numbers for both catches and touchdowns, and had a flair for the dramatic, coming up big against both Stanford and Pitt when the Irish needed him most.

Jones will never be a true No. 1 receiver, but he’s getting national attention if only for his consistent body of work and impressive performance against Alabama, where he made seven tough catches. Jones rarely has a ball come his way that he doesn’t catch and had a great knack for getting the tough yards last season.

Quicker than fast, Jones isn’t all that big at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds. But he’s a smooth operator and has worked his way around the Irish offense, starting in the slot and then succeeding last season on the outside. After learning on the fly last season with a new quarterback, Jones is primed for a big season, and could be one of those guys that does enough right to find a nice niche playing on Sundays.

Highest Ranking: 4th.  Lowest Ranking: 14th.

6. Chris Watt (LG, Grad.) That Watt ranks this far down our list goes to show you how much better this roster has gotten personnel wise. In 2010, both Trevor Robinson and Chris Stewart ranked higher on our lists than Watt, with only Robinson latching on to an NFL team as an undrafted free agent. The Irish staff believes Watt is one of the top guards in college football, and at 6-foot-3, 321-pounds, he’s a rough and tumble guy that’s done a lot of good in the trenches for Notre Dame.

Entering his third season as a starter at left guard, Watt and Zack Martin could be one of the best left sides in all of college football. He’ll be counted on to move an already strong running game forward, and should anchor an offensive line that could be one of the strongest in recent memory for the Irish.

It’s hard to truly evaluate the ceiling of an offensive lineman without evaluating an awful lot of game tape, but Watt is one of the best interior linemen on the Irish roster in recent memory.

Highest Ranking: 5th. Lowest Ranking: 10th.


Our voting panel:

Brian Hamilton, Chicago Tribune
Pete Sampson, Irish Illustrated
JJ Stankevitz, CSN Chicago
John Vannie, ND Nation
John Walters, MediumHappy.com
Ryan Ritter, HerLoyalSons.com
4pointshooter, OneFootDown.com
Keith Arnold, Inside the Irish