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2013 Fierce-40 Previews: #22-Notre Dame

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 25, 2013

2013 Fierce 40 Previews

 

#22 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

 

2012 Recap:

It was looking like a cinderella season for Notre Dame as they started 12-0 and had a birth in the BCS Championship game. The title game was not as close as the 42-14 score indicates, as it was an absolute drubbing and it felt like Notre Dame lost by 100. Notre Dame returns plenty of talent and they obviously look to avoid a hangover from the title game.

 

Coaching:

The coaching carousel at Notre Dame has been well documented but it looks like the Irish have their man in Brain Kelly who is 28-11 in three seasons and is 199-68-2 over his 22 year career. Kelly looks to be the perfect blend at Notre Dame as he is a player's coach that demands and receives respect from his players.

 

Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Of all the teams considered for the Fierce 40 this season no team suffered a larger fall in the standings than Notre Dame following the Everett Golson situation. Golson didn’t project as a pro prospect but he was a difference maker for Notre Dame last season as he played efficient football while the defense dominated and held opponents to an average of 12.8 PPG. Golson suffered some academic improprieties and has been lost for the season. Notre Dame has given Golson a chance to earn his eligibility back but for now the controls go back to Tommy Rees, who has experience as a starter. Rees is a prospect himself with a 7th round/FA grade, but Golson just did enough to make the team go. Sometimes at quarterback it’s about what you don’t do, rather than what you do and Golson was a perfect example. Constantly making smart decisions, not taking unnecessary losses and most importantly not turning the ball over. Rees is a better traditional quarterback and the team has experience working with him so this is not the end of the world for the team.

Expect Notre Dame to control the clock and try to win the battle of possession with the running game led by junior George Atkinson III. Amir Carlisle was set to be the backup after transferring from USC but he missed last year with a broken ankle. In the spring Carlisle suffered a broken collarbone as well, so while he may not miss the whole season, he will not be ready when the season begins, putting even more pressure on Atkinson to perform. Atkinson is capable of handling the load though and I currently have him listed as a 4th round prospect for 2015.

Best Draft Prospect: George Atkinson III RB 4th Round 2015.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

T.J. Jones tied the departed Tyler Eifert for the team lead with 50 receptions in 2012 and both found the end zone 4 times as well. The tight end spot now goes to Troy Niklas an unproven commodity who had just 5 receptions a year ago. However, he has the ability and at 6’6” he has the size Notre Dame will need for a reliable red zone target. Jones will be paired with new starter DaVaris Daniels who contributed 31 catches as a freshman but failed to reach the end zone. Daniels looks like a future prospect himself and I expect he will be rather active in the slot for Notre Dame while Jones will be the jack-of-all trades. Daniel Smith is another backup who should see considerable time in the slot and has deceptive speed. Notre Dame receivers in a Brian Kelly system are always asked to be just as adept at blocking in the open field as they are catching the football. Jones is not a large receiver by any means but he has the speed to excel in the open field and he is scrappy, reminiscent of Golden Tate a few years back. I think the passing game is going to be used with shorter throws, high percentage and safe plays, setting up the running game as Notre Dame will rely on mixing up the play calling on first down between pass and run. Notre Dame will take their shot, as Tommy Rees has excelled in play action in the past. Jones will go anywhere from round 3-6 in the next draft and I currently have him in the 4th round, having some added value as a possible punt return specialist at the NFL level.

Best Draft Prospect: T.J. Jones WR 4th Round 2014.

 

Offensive Line:

The offensive line is like a tale of two sides as the left side is intact from last season while the right side features a new guard and a change at center. A big part of the success for Notre Dame last year was that their offensive line was intact for every game. Zack Martin is back at left tackle and he is a legitimate pro prospect and the best player the Irish have to offer up front. We could see Martin go as high as the second round although I have him listed in the third at this time. With Martin it is hard to judge his prospects because at 6’4” and 310 lbs, he is right at the cusp between what teams like to see for a traditional tackle and a guard. Martin does not have a huge wingspan suggesting the team that drafts him may ultimately use him as a guard. Martin should be played at both positions and I feel he looks more like a future starter at guard while being able to play tackle in a pinch or move over if an injury or shift necessitates it. Chris Watt is a fifth year senior and has started every game at guard for the last two seasons. Watt and Martin seem to work well together and cover each other’s areas when opposing schemes call for it. Christian Lombard is back at right tackle and he may have been the weak link on the line a year ago, battling with inconsistency, playing too high and thus losing leverage. Nick Martin and Conor Hanratty get the calls at center and right guard respectively. This is still a very talented group and Notre Dame will need to avoid injury as they did a season ago as the depth along the offensive line is nowhere near the depth along the line on defense.

Best Draft Prospect: Zack Martin OG 3rd Round 2014.

 

Defense

Defensive Line:

Is there a better defensive line at the FBS level than what we see at Notre Dame?  Notre Dame is usually known more for linebackers or secondary players on defense than players along the line but they are not complaining. Louis Nix is the best defensive tackle in the country as Daniel McCullers of Tennessee is the only player I could see at the position possibly going ahead of Nix, although it is unlikely. Nix has NFL size and quickness at 6’2” 325 pounds, and he does his job, occupying blockers in the middle yet still picking and choosing his spots and getting penetration. While Nix ties up players around him, the man piling up the stats is end Stephon Tuitt who, like Nix, projects as a 1st rounder, albeit a little further down the board. Tuitt had 47 tackles last year with 13 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. Tuitt plays a bit over 300 pounds so he can even line up in the middle at the next level to provide penetration from the tackle spot or ideally get drafted by a team with a 3-4 base in search of an end. While Nix and Tuitt are All-Americans, it could be fellow end, sophomore Sheldon Day who is the real winner here. Day saw plenty of action as a freshman with 3.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. Day projects as a 3rd/4th round pick for 2016 right now, but with so much attention being paid to Tuitt and Nix, Day could be the beneficiary and we could see him explode on the stat sheet. To put it simply, the entire line are filled with prospects, a pair of which are franchise type players. This is the best 3-4 defensive line at the NCAA level and maybe the best defensive line overall.

Best Draft Prospect: Louis Nix III 1st Round 2014 (2015 class likely declaring this season, top ten pick and first picked at position), Stephon Tuitt 1st Round 2014 (2015 class likely declaring this season).

                       

Linebackers:

The linebackers are almost as good as the front line, though just not from a star power stand point. Three of the four starters from last year are back with the exception being Manti Te’o. Carlo Calabrese will start in place of Te’o although he really isn’t a new starter as he has been a backup all over the field for the Irish in recent years and had 30 tackles a year ago. Dan Fox will play inside with Danny Spond on the outside, and both are capable linebackers who understand their roles. Spond will need to show more consistency though as he was guilty of too much arm tackling a season ago. The prize here is senior Prince Shembo who flirted with declaring last season and made a good decision to stay in school. With Te’o gone he will be the focal point of the linebackers and with a solid core behind him, Shembo is the player Notre Dame lets loose as a joker-type player creating havoc for opposing offenses. Shembo doesn’t have blazing straight line speed but he is fast off the snap and changes directions as well as any linebacker in the country. Shembo had 10.5 tackles for loss and was second on the team with 7.5 sacks. I have Shembo listed as a borderline 3rd/4th round pick but he is a player who if he throws up a faster 40 time than many are expecting, he could be one of these “combine risers” we see every year since his workout numbers always seem to be extraordinary. Ishaq Williams and Kendall Moore are capable backup junior linebackers who will make contributions on special teams as well for the Irish.

Best Draft Prospect: Prince Shembo 3rd/4th Round 2014.

 

Secondary:

The secondary is very talented so finding a chink in the armor of the Fighting Irish defense is not an easy task. Last season KeiVarae Russell was a freshman who was being asked to start at cornerback and Bennett Jackson was a first year starter as a junior. This was the question mark a season ago and now it is a strength as both players established themselves as tough corners who have the ability to play man-to-man and not just traditional zone coverage. I currently have both Irish corners listed as 2nd round prospects with Jackson being drafted this season and Russell in 2016 or even 2015 if he declares a year early, which is a possibility since he would likely have three years of starting experience under his belt. Jackson intercepted 4 passes a season ago while Russell had 2 and the pair combined for an additional 12 passes being defensed. The parade of second round prospects continues as sophomore Matthias Farley was the unsung hero of the defense with 49 tackles last year, yet so many of them were big clutch plays. Farley is a player I see declaring early next season, and he is eligible this year because he is a redshirt sophomore. That may happen if he feels the defense will be losing too much with Tuitt and Nix likely gone.

Best Draft Prospect: Bennett Jackson CB 2nd Round 2014 and KeiVarae Russell CB 2nd Round for 2016 (2015 if he declares), Matthias Farley S 2016 (2015 if he declares which seems very likely).

 

Special Teams:

Kyle Brindza was a first year starter for Notre Dame and all he did was set a school record with 23 field goals. Without the terrific placekicking there is no way Notre Dame even makes it to the Championship game last year as five of the Irish twelve victories were decided by 7 points or less. T.J. Jones is a punt returner who I mentioned above as using his ability here to possibly push his stock up the board as a receiver.

Best Draft Prospect: T.J. Jones WR/KR 4th Round 2014.

 

Schedule:

Notre Dame usually has one of the strongest schedules in the country and this year is no different but they have a number of big contests at home. Michigan State, Oklahoma, USC and BYU all have to come to South Bend. The toughest road games look to be the second contest on September 7th against Michigan and closing the season with Stanford. The game with Stanford is one to circle as it could have BCS ramifications written all over it, with the loser being on the outside looking in.

 

Draft Outlook:

A total of five players listed on defense are 1st or 2nd round prospects, so watching Notre Dame from a draft standpoint shows you need to be watching more closely. There are a few players on offense who have the talent and it will ensure Notre Dame has one of the premier programs this season as far as players moving to the NFL. With Brian Kelly getting Notre Dame back to national prominence, the strong recruiting classes are becoming even stronger and challenging programs like Alabama, LSU, USC and Texas that traditionally are near the top of the rankings overall.

 

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