Houston Griffith finished oh-so-close. In the annual “Counting Down the Irish” series, the freshman safety finished just three points outside Notre Dame’s top-25, leading the way among both freshmen and those “Others Receiving Votes.”
The annual polling of a dozen media members on the Irish football beat hopefully results in a wisdom of the crowd ranking, one that neither overhypes nor underestimates Griffith’s potential impact this season. That impact may not be specifically felt in stats — though Griffith breaking up a few passes or, gasp, intercepting a pass would elevate him above Notre Dame’s recent safety play.
While production is largely objective, the combination of contributions and on-field value to the team is a bit more subjective. This polling attempts to quantify that gray area, and nine of the 12 voters expect Griffith to be one of the 25 most impactful Irish this fall. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly does not inherently disagree.
“We’re talking about playing on a really good football team but having the skills to play both [cornerback and safety],” Brian Kelly said Thursday. “Then, functional intelligence for the position in which [Griffith] plays. He can diagnose, he can see things, he reacts quickly to things in front of him.
“The skillset is high at that safety position for him … Age doesn’t really become a disqualifier for him.”
Five other freshmen join Griffith below the top-25’s dividing line, along with three sophomores with a full four years of eligibility remaining. Of those nine, it is worth noting five play on the defensive side of the ball, including freshman rover Shayne Simon, who received one ranking of No. 21 to earn his five points.
Of the total 19 others receiving votes, 11 play defensively, making exactly half of the 44 vote-getters under coordinator Clark Lea’s charge. (Note: Two special teams contributors made the cut. It is not a perfect offense/defense split.) As the polling reveal reaches its conclusion, the quality of the top defensive players will become apparent. For now, know only one safety made the top-25, while three fell between Nos. 26 and No. 44, with junior Jalen Elliott (five points) and freshman Derrik Allen (two) joining Griffith.
That grouping underscores Notre Dame’s need to figure out its rotation at safety this preseason. Similarly, Simon is joined by senior Asmar Bilal (nine) and sophomore Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah (six) as possible rover options.
If offering any personal comment to these votes, it would not surprise this scribe to see Simon considered too low when looking back after the season. He just may have the highest ceiling of those three, leaving the biggest yet only question of how much talent can he tap as a freshman?
“There’s some really fine athletes [at rover],” Kelly said. “They have got to be productive, as well. Here’s what’s nice about it from my perspective: We’ve got good players, and we just need to coach them and teach them and develop them along the way and be patient with them.
“They are all going to be good players.”
Junior quarterback Ian Book (22) finished only four spots outside the top-25 though appearing on just four ballots, well ahead of freshman Phil Jurkovec (four points), but both warranted consideration.
Last year, four cornerbacks made the cut, but this year only three do. Two repeated, and one’s rise was expected after his finish last season. The surprises come via the transfer departure of Nick Watkins and the rankings plummet of now-junior Donte Vaughn. He finished No. 25 in 2017, but now received no votes whatsoever. Senior Nick Coleman, split somewhere between safety and cornerback, finished just one point behind Griffith.
A final piece of interest, sparked by one of the two players to receive only one point in voting, three defensive tackles finished among those receiving votes. The depth on the frontline interior is not exceptionally proven, but it is deeper than in years past.
Others receiving votes:
Freshman safety Houston Griffith – 26 points, nine ballots.
Senior cornerback Nick Coleman – 25, three ballots, high of No. 11.
Junior receiver Michael Young – 25, four ballots, high of No. 16.
Junior quarterback Ian Book – 22, four ballots, high of No. 18.
Sophomore defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa – 16, three ballots, high of No. 15.
Sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong – 9.5, six ballots.
Senior linebacker Asmar Bilal – 9, two ballots, high of No. 18.
Senior receiver Chris Finke – 8, two ballots.
Sophomore defensive tackle Kurt Hinish – 8, one ballot, high of No. 18.
Sophomore Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah – 6, one ballot, high of No. 20.
Junior safety Jalen Elliott – 5, one ballot, high of No. 21.
Sophomore linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath – 5, one ballot, high of No. 21.
Freshman linebacker Shayne Simon – 5, high of No. 21.
Fifth-year tight end Nic Weishar – 5, one ballot, high of No. 21.
Freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec – 4, one ballot, high of No. 22.
Freshman safety Derrik Allen – 2, one ballot.
Sophomore running back Avery Davis – 1.5, two ballots.
Freshman receiver Kevin Austin – 1, one ballot.
Freshman defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola – 1, one ballot.
Michael Bryan, 18 Stripes
Bryan Driskell, Blue & Gold Illustrated
Matt Freeman, Irish Sports Daily
Elizabeth Greason, The Observer
Tyler James, South Bend Tribune
Laken Litman, Indianapolis Star
Tim O’Malley, Irish Illustrated
LaMond Pope, Chicago Tribune
Ryan Ritter, Her Loyal Sons
Pete Sampson, The Athletic
John Vannie, ND Nation
Joshua Vowles, One Foot Down