Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 16 Brandon Joseph, Northwestern transfer, preseason All-American, starting safety

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 23 Notre Dame Spring Game
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-1, 192 pounds.
2022-23 year, eligibility: A senior, Joseph has three seasons of eligibility remaining. His timeline may be more confusing than most, simply as a transfer, so to phrase that another way: Joseph can conceivably play college football through the 2024 season.
Depth Chart: Joseph will start for Notre Dame this season. The only question is which safety will start alongside him. Fifth-year DJ Brown may be the frontrunner, but classmate Houston Griffith is not far behind, nor is junior Ramon Henderson.
Recruiting: The rare incoming transfer at Notre Dame, the Irish were a distinct option for Joseph as soon as he announced his intention to leave Northwestern. Nonetheless, it took some work to get him through the transfer admissions process in South Bend, one area of the University specifically targeted for improvements by new head coach Marcus Freeman.

The other hurdle to any transfer is finding a home on the roster. To Freeman, that aspect is simple.

“I told the players, so we’re always on the same page, we’re always looking to enhance our team,” he said in December. “We’re always looking to find a better way. That’s it. Challenge everything.

“If there’s a better way, if there’s a better person or someone out there that’s going to enhance our roster, then we’re going to investigate it for sure. But as I told the coaching staff and I told the players in the team meeting, we will never bring somebody into this program that we don’t feel is the right fit.”

RELATED READING: Notre Dame adds Northwestern transfer, All-American safety Brandon Joseph to suddenly deep secondary

CAREER TO DATE
Joseph played in only two games in his debut campaign, preserving a year of eligibility. Thus, when he is described as an “All-American freshman” occasionally, recognize it is with an asterisk.

Nonetheless, in only eight games during the 2020 pandemic-shortened season, Joseph racked up 46 tackles and six interceptions. One pick against Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game was noted more than all the others, including since Joseph’s transfer.

His 2021 was not as highlight-driven, in part because nothing tied to Northwestern football featured many highlights in 2021.

2019: 2 games; 4 tackles.
2020: 8 games; 46 tackles, six interceptions and two passes broken up.
2021: 12 games; 79 tackles, three interceptions, four passes broken up and one fumble recovered.

Joseph also returned four punts in 2021 for 114 total yards, an average of 28.5 yards per return.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
One of the more enjoyable aspects of NIL rights has been the leasing of cars to players. That has long been a common tactic employed by local dealerships with players preparing for the NFL draft. The player rode in style from December through April, before he had secured significant money from the draft. At that point, the dealership trusted his first luxury car would come from them, be it bought or leased. Win-win.

That same general concept now applies to active college players, as well, including Joseph, with the added benefit for the dealership that he gives them some social media buzz.

Personally, I’d go for an Aston Martin before an Alfa Romeo, but beggars can’t be choosers.

QUOTES
Make no mistake about it, Joseph chose to transfer to Notre Dame with a purpose in mind. The bigger stage and, frankly, better team should better his NFL prospects.

“I came to Notre Dame to maximize my potential,” he said in January. “Joining an elite defense like this, having a piece like me, they’re returning eight starters and losing a guy like Kyle (Hamilton), so I figure a guy like me stepping in and filling in the piece of the puzzle is exactly what we need to take this place to the next level.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED WHEN JOSEPH TRANSFERRED IN JANUARY
“Part of that right fit is how a player meshes with the Notre Dame locker-room culture that was such an emphasis in Freeman’s hiring process, and part of that fit is simply getting into the University, particularly difficult for any undergraduate transfer. The latter worry was less of a hurdle given Joseph was coming from Northwestern, and that helped allay the former concern, as well. Receiver Bennett Skowronek fit in well with the Irish in 2020 after transferring as a graduate student from the Wildcats. His impression left the coaching staff more open to Northwestern possibilities in the future.

“Joseph played some cornerback early in his Wildcats career, and while he excelled as a safety, his real use to Freeman may be as a defensive back utility knife of sorts. Notre Dame relied on a three-man rotation at safety after Hamilton’s season-ending knee injury — seniors DJ Brown and Houston Griffith and sophomore Ramon Henderson — with a fourth impressing more and more in the final weeks, sophomore receiver-turned-linebacker-turned-safety Xavier Watts. Meanwhile, the Irish have remained young and short-handed at cornerback, a roster failure for years now.

“If the safety group contains more than two of Notre Dame’s best defensive backs, cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens and safeties coach Chris O’Leary may find ways to get more safeties on the field, even if that means they line up and play as cornerbacks.

“That may be Joseph, or his presence may lead to one of those other names — Griffith and Henderson, in particular, have past experience dabbling at cornerback — to move in the defensive backfield.”

2022 OUTLOOK
Repeated preseason All-American lists have included Joseph on the first- or second-team. That may surprise anyone who did not closely watch Northwestern football the last two years … so it may surprise just about anyone. But it should also be viewed as a compliment to Notre Dame’s defense.

A ball-hawk safety can excel when the defensive front-seven is menacing, and the Irish front-seven may deserve such an adjective. That will be to Joseph’s immense benefit.

Interceptions can be a fickle way to judge a player’s contributions — and Joseph’s 6.25 tackles per game the last two years should project him into Notre Dame’s top-three tacklers in 2022 — but the takeaways are also the linchpin to Freeman’s preferred defensive approach. Since the Irish resurgence began in 2017, four interceptions in a season has been the high-water mark, set by Jalen Elliott in 2018 and matched by Hamilton in his freshman season in 2019.

That has also been the high-water mark for nearly a decade, dating back to Manti Te’o’s seven interceptions in 2012.

Joseph has the attributes of someone who could break that mark of four, though perhaps reaching Te’o’s seven (and Harrison Smith’s seven in 2010) will be a task too far.

DOWN THE ROAD
For every preseason All-American mention Joseph has received, he has been mentioned twice as a possible first-round draft pick in 2023.

He may have eligibility to play at Notre Dame through 2024, but it is most likely this is Joseph’s one season in South Bend.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 85 Holden Staes, incoming freshman tight end
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit
No. 80 Cane Berrong, sophomore tight end coming off an ACL injury
No. 79 Tosh Baker, one of four young Irish offensive tackles
No. 78 Pat Coogan, sophomore center, recovering from a meniscus injury
No. 77 Ty Chan, incoming offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, sophomore starting left tackle
No. 75 Josh Lugg, sixth-year offensive lineman, likely starting right guard
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard coming off foot surgery
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, senior offensive tackle-turned-guard
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, sophomore offensive tackle, former Auburn pledge
No. 68 Michael Carmody, junior offensive line utility man
No. 65 Michael Vinson, long snapper, ‘Milk’
No. 65 Chris Smith, defensive tackle, Harvard transfer
No. 59 Aamil Wagner, consensus four-star incoming freshman offensive tackle
No. 58 Ashton Craig, incoming freshman center
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, fifth-year defensive tackle, coming off shoulder surgery
No. 56 Joey Tanona, early-enrolled offensive guard coming off a concussion
No. 56 Howard Cross, senior defensive tackle with heavy hands, and that’s a good thing
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, fifth-year offensive lineman, three-year starting center, captain
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, senior defensive tackle, now lighter and a starter
No. 54 Blake Fisher, sophomore starting right tackle, ‘ginormous’
No. 52 Zeke Correll, senior center or perhaps left guard
No. 52 Bo Bauer, fifth-year linebacker, Ironman
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, sophomore offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, sophomore end-turned-linebacker
No. 47 Jason Oyne, sophomore defensive end-turned-tackle
No. 44 Junior Tuihalamaka, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, consensus four-star recruit
No. 44 Alex Peitsch, junior long snapper
No. 42 Nolan Ziegler, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Irish legacy
No. 41 Donovan Hinish, incoming freshman defensive tackle, Kurt’s brother
No. 40 Joshua Burnham, early-enrolled freshman linebacker-turned-end
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, senior Vyper end coming off an Achilles injury
No. 31 NaNa Osafo-Mensah, senior defensive end
No. 29 Matt Salerno, fifth-year receiver, punt returner, former walk-on
No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, fifth-year starting nickel back
No. 27 JD Bertrand, senior linebacker recovering from a plaguing wrist injury
No. 25 Philip Riley, sophomore cornerback
No. 25 Chris Tyree, junior running back, possible Irish bellcow
No. 24 Jack Kiser, senior linebacker, second-year starter
No. 23 Jayden Bellamy, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 22 Justin Walters, sophomore safety
No. 22 Logan Diggs, sophomore running back with a shoulder injury
No. 21 Jaden Mickey, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 20 Jadarian Price, early-enrolled freshman running back with a ruptured Achilles
No. 20 Benjamin Morrison, freshman cornerback
No. 18 Chance Tucker, sophomore cornerback
No. 18 Steve Angeli, freshman QB, Blue-Gold Game star
No. 17 Jaylen Sneed, early-enrolled linebacker, Rover of the future
No. 9 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL

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