Irish defensive line listed as top in the nation

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For those worried about the Irish defensive line after the surprising loss of Eddie Vanderdoes, it’s probably worth taking a look at who’s returning along the Irish front.

Just about everybody.

While the Irish lose senior captain Kapron Lewis-Moore to graduation, they return five of their top six players up front, including All-American caliber talent in nose guard Louis Nix and defensive end Stephon Tuitt. Both are expected to be first round picks whenever they chose to head to the NFL.

That’s a big reason why Phil Steele projects the Fighting Irish to have the best defensive line in the country.

Here’s Steele’s rationale:

The Irish had a top-notch defense last year and it was spearheaded by their front seven, as the defensive backs were inexperienced. This year they have five of their top six D-linemen back in South Bend. Notre Dame has two of my top 15 projected first-round picks in their three-man line with 6-foot-6, 322-pound defensive end Stephon Tuitt, a first-team All-American last year with 12 sacks, and 6-3, 357-pound defensive tackle Louis Nix III, who earned third-team All-American honors last year and is the top DT in the country.

The Top 15 Defensive Lines, as judged by Phil Steele.

1. Notre Dame
2. USC
3. South Carolina
4. Arizona State
5. Texas
6. Florida
7. Virginia Tech
8. Florida State
9. Stanford
10. TCU
11. South Florida
12. Ole Miss
13. Alabama
14. LSU
15. Clemson

The loss of Vanderdoes doesn’t look likely to sting the Irish until 2014, when there’s a very real chance that both Nix and Tuitt are playing in the NFL. (That said, don’t get too worried yet, Irish fans. Tuitt has been consistent about getting his degree, meaning he’ll likely join the growing trend of Irish standouts returning for his senior season.)

With Sheldon Day likely stepping into Lewis-Moore’s shoes, and the ability of Prince Shembo and Ishaq Williams to put a hand on the ground if needed, there’s plenty of depth both inside and out, with the reinforcements coming from Tony Springmann, Kona Schwenke, Justin Utupo and company.