Listed Measurements: 6-foot-3 ¾, 268 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: A senior, Hayes enters his final season.
Depth chart: While senior Julian Okwara will get the starting honors at drop end, consider Hayes as much a starter. The two will certainly rotate as such.
Recruiting: The sole five-star prospect on Notre Dame’s current roster, per rivals.com, Hayes was chased by Ohio State, Michigan and Alabama. The No. 7 outside linebacker in the country and No. 31 player in the class, the U.S. Army All-American enrolled early, putting to bed any recruiting drama before the old-fashioned National Signing Day.
CAREER TO DATE
Hayes was primed to overcome high school shoulder injuries to play every game of his Irish career before a stinger, indeed to his shoulder, sidelined him at Virginia Tech last year. By his own admission later on, the injury hindered him for longer than just the one missed week. It came at an unfortunate time, as he had found a groove in the two weeks prior, racking up 10 total tackles with 2.5 for loss against Wake Forest and Stanford.
2016: 12 games; 11 tackles, one forced fumble.
2017: 13 games, 12 starts; 30 tackles including 6.5 for loss and three sacks, along with one pass breakup and two fumbles recovered.
2018: 12 games, one start; 31 tackles with five for loss including two sacks; one pass breakup and one fumble recovered.
In retrospect, it is somewhat remarkable that Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator churn has not warranted more notice. To some degree, that reflects the smooth nature of Clark Lea’s take over when Mike Elko departed for Texas A&M. Nonetheless, this will be the first year Hayes has played for the same coordinator for a second season. According to Hayes, last season was his first return to a defensive scheme since eighth grade.
“The natural progression of the learning curve from the first year to the second year, you’re a lot more comfortable and confident,” Hayes said last August. “Things have definitely slowed down. That’s the first time I’ve really experienced that.”
One would think that effect will increase not only for Hayes this season, but also for the entire Irish defense.
WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Hayes improved drastically between his first two seasons, as most-evidenced by his 30 tackles and 6.5 for loss. (While on that topic, let’s give some kudos to nailing Hayes’ 2017 projected stats. Pure skill, obviously, no chance whatsoever.) His snap count this season will only increase without (Andrew) Trumbetti siphoning off a handful of plays a game, even if Okwara is ready to handle more. An increased snap count and more effectiveness should boost Hayes’ figures closer to 40 tackles with at least six for loss once again.
“A dozen or so more tackles this year (meaning in the low 40s) would likely point to Hayes finishing the season stronger than he did last. That is one aspect of the sought improvement. The other will come in the simplest measurement of any defensive end: sacks.
“From a defensive coordinator’s point of view, a sack not only pushes the opponent backward, it also takes away the opportunity of a play. If Hayes provides that twofold effect twice as often this season as last, he will be in line with the coaching staff’s hopes for him tracing back to his recruitment. More than that and Hayes will become a focal point of opposing offensive coordinators, helping the defensive line as a whole.”
For the first time in his collegiate career, the expectations may be off Hayes’ shoulders this year. And that should be a good thing for him. The last three seasons have begun with some version of five-star projections; this year begins with all eyes on Okwara and senior strongside defensive end Khalid Kareem.
That view misses the fact that Hayes is a direct piece of the success enjoyed by Okwara and Hayes. His rotation with Okwara keeps both their legs fresh, and on passing-specific downs, Hayes allows Kareem to move inside to exploit a mismatch. More precisely, that nickel package sometimes uses stunts to free Kareem around Hayes, a la late against Pittsburgh last October.
As far as Notre Dame needs to be concerned, those contributions are enough from Hayes, because they are more valuable than widely-recognized.
That said, the Irish may need more from Hayes to reach their ceiling. The lack of depth and experience at defensive tackle can be shored up by the defensive end depth and talent. At his weight, it could even be within reason to send both Hayes and Kareem to the defensive interior on 3rd-and-longs. That may not result in statistical boosts for Hayes, but the threat alone on those snaps could prove vital to Lea’s second year.
DOWN THE ROAD
If Hayes merely replicated 2018, he would be drafted in the spring. If he wants to move up from a mid-to-late round selection, an excellent season combined with strong testing could do just that.
He has the raw tools, even if his stats at Notre Dame have never jumped off the page. This year will not bring the spotlight, but scouts oftentimes notice someone they were not expecting when watching film. Okwara and Kareem could aid Hayes in that manner, just as he has made their lives easier on the field the last few seasons.
NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Isaiah Foskey, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90: Hunter Spears, defensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver
No. 85: George Takacs, tight end
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 80: Micah Jones, receiver
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right guard, three-year starter
No. 77: Quinn Carroll, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive guard
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive lineman
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, left tackle, two-year starter
No. 73: Andrew Kristofic, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle, three-year starter
No. 71: John Olmstead, offensive lineman, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 69: Aaron Banks, left guard
No. 60: Cole Mabry, offensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, veteran backup offensive lineman
No. 57: Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle
No. 56: John Dirksen, offensive lineman
No. 56: Howard Cross, incoming freshman defensive lineman, consensus four-star
No. 55: Jarrett Patterson, starting center
No. 55: Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle returning from injury
No. 54: Jacob Lacey, consensus four-star defensive tackle, early enrollee
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, senior defensive end
No. 52: Zeke Correll, consensus four-star center, early enrollee
No. 52: Bo Bauer, linebacker, sophomore
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, junior defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, senior inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, senior defensive end
No. 42: Julian Okwara, senior defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, junior defensive tackle
No. 40: Drew White, junior inside linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, junior kicker
No. 35: TaRiq Bracy, sophomore cornerback
No. 35: Marist Liufau, Hawaiian freshman linebacker
No. 34: Jahmir Smith, sophomore running back
No. 34: Osita Ekwonu, inside linebacker, consensus four-star
No. 33: Shayne Simon, sophomore linebacker
No. 31: Jack Lamb, sophomore linebacker
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, junior linebacker
No. 29: Ovie Oghoufo, sophomore linebacker-turned-defensive end
No. 27: J.D. Bertrand, consensus four-star linebacker
No. 25: Braden Lenzy, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 24: Tommy Tremble, sophomore tight end
No. 24: Jack Kiser, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Mr. Indiana Football
No. 23: Litchfield Ajavon, four-star safety, freshman
No. 23: Kyren Williams, early-enrolled freshman running back
No. 22: Kendall Abdur-Rahman, quarterback-turned-receiver, freshman
No. 22: Asmar Bilal, the only returning starting linebacker
No. 21: Jalen Elliott, three-year starting safety
No. 20: Shaun Crawford, defensive back returning from yet another injury
No. 20: C’Bo Flemister, sophomore running back
No. 19: Jay Bramblett, freshman punter
No. 19: Justin Ademilola, sophomore defensive end
No. 18: Joe Wilkins, sophomore receiver
No. 18: Nana Osafo-Mensah, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
No. 17: Isaiah Robertson, junior receiver
No. 16: K.J. Wallace, freshman defensive back, three-star
No. 15 Isaiah Rutherford, freshman defensive back, consensus four-star
No. 15: Phil Jurkovec, sophomore quarterback
No. 14: Kyle Hamilton, freshman safety, consensus four-star
No. 13: Lawrence Keys, sophomore receiver
No. 13: Paul Moala, sophomore safety-turned-linebacker
No. 12: DJ Brown, sophomore cornerback-turned-safety
No. 12: Ian Book, starting quarterback
No. 11: Alohi Gilman, senior safety
No. 10: Chris Finke, fifth-year receiver, second-year starter
No. 9: Cam Hart, freshman receiver