•  Register
24

2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #23 Notre Dame

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 24, 2014

#23 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

 

2013 Recap:

The Fighting Irish finished 9-4 last year, after the previous season where they made it to the National Championship Game before getting waxed by Alabama. The early November loss to Pittsburgh was the backbreaker for the Irish as it seemed to take the momentum out of their season.

 

Coaching:

Brian Kelly does seem like a nice fit in South Bend and the coaching carousel looks like it can stop unless Kelly is the one to leave. Kelly has shown he can win at various schools in a variety of different ways, so in other words he is actually coaching to victories and not using gimmicky systems.

 

Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Everett Golson is back after sitting for a season after academic impropriety issues. Golson will be given the keys to the offense once again but the reigns might be shorter than you think with talented freshman Malik Zaire serving as the understudy. Zaire stole the show at the annual Blue-Gold game and there is a chance he could either be named the official starter or will see the field in some sort of platoon situation. Zaire comes with a lot of hype and many believe he is the best quarterback to find his way to Notre Dame in a number of years. Golson seems to have the intangibles that make those around him better and may have been what was lacking with the offensive attack a season ago.

Regardless of the quarterback situation, Notre Dame should concentrate on the ground game and play to their strengths because the stable is impressive. Tarean Foster averaged about 5.5 YPC as a freshman and he will be the primary ball carrier, although freshman Greg Bryant will see plenty of action giving Notre Dame fresh legs. Cam McDaniel is back and he was the leading rusher a season ago. Don’t be surprised if we see this trio of backs total about 2,000 yards on the ground with the quarterback spot offering some big chunks as well.

Best Draft Prospect: Tarean Folston RB 5th Round 2017.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Notre Dame always seems to find a way to have their receivers get yards and help the offense but they lost a lost of firepower through the draft last season with T.J. Jones and tight end Troy Niklas. DaVaris Daniels is primed to be the next in line of big time Notre Dame receivers and he is coming off a season where he had 49 catches as the main compliment to T.J. Jones. Daniels averaged over 15 YPC and he can stretch the field and go deep, as well as work the middle on the intermediate and short routes. Sophomores C.J. Promise and Corey Robinson will be the starters with Jones and they combined for 16 catches as freshman.

Notre Dame has sort of become tight end U as every tight end coming through seems to be drafted at the next level. Ben Koyack is the senior starter but Notre Dame has a pair of freshman waiting in the wings to become the next big target. Durham Smythe and Nic Weishar are both highly touted recruits that have the ability to be big time contributors. This is a nice receiving group but it may take about half a season before Notre Dame really gets comfortable with Robinson and Promise. Look for running backs like Folston and Bryant to be more active in the passing game.

Best Draft Prospect: DaVaris Daniels WR 4th Round 2016.

 

Offensive Line:

The offensive line is not as dominant on paper as many of the Notre Dame units we have seen in past years. Notre Dame usually cranks out a prospect or two a season along the offensive line, and this season Christian Lombard should be drafted in the later rounds at guard or he will be a highly sought after undrafted free agent. There are some good prospects that have come through in the talent-rich recruiting classes that Notre Dame is known for. Ronnie Stanley is a sophomore at left tackle that looks to be the next big thing and he currently carries a 3rd round grade for 2017. Matt Hegarty and Conor Hanratty are both very nice guards on the left side and both are juniors that could both see considerable time on the field. Notre Dame needs to cut down on the holding penalties, as they had a number of big plays wiped out last season with holding calls. The average size is 316 pounds for the lineman so size is not a concern and most of the lineman move very well in open space and are terrific athletes.

Best Draft Prospect: Ronnie Stanley OT 3rd Round 2017.

 

Defense

Defensive Line:

Watchers and followers of Notre Dame will be very anxious to see how the defense performs under new coordinator Brian VanGorder. VanGorder and his style of play is a stark contrast from the style that Notre Dame has been known for over the last five years. Notre Dame had consistently finished in the top 20 in scoring defense until last season when they were still a respectable 27th. This defense should create more turnovers and it starts up front where losing Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt is going to be tough to replace. Sheldon Day is the man that starts the Notre Dame presence up front as his playing time increased and his play improved with Nix's injury last season. Now with Notre Dame going back to a 4-3 front, Day should be the benefactor and establish himself as a legitimate draft prospect for 2016. Ishaq Williams only had 1 start last season but he was more important to the defense than the traditional statistics would indicate. Williams should have a nice senior year and provide some leadership for the younger players.

Best Draft Prospect: Sheldon Day DT 5th Round 2016.

 

Linebackers:

This is the area in the most state of flux with the injury to Jarrett Grace looming over the unit, an injury they have been unprepared for in filling. This could put even more pressure on Jaylon Smith, the most talented player on the team that is a borderline 1st round pick for 2017 or 2016 if he declares early. Last season Smith registered 67 tackles with 6.5 tackles coming for loss but it is his athletic ability and the amount of ground he is able to cover that has scouts so excited at the next level. Look for Notre Dame to try and utilize Smith more as a pass rusher on some blitzes this season as they are set to turn him loose in the new defensive system. Ben Councell will be counted on to be a big part of the defense this season and he saw action in nine games last year but did not have a start. As a unit this is a group that worries, but watching how Smith performs after his promising freshman campaign, now in a new system, will be worth the price of admission.

Best Draft Prospect: Jaylon Smith LB 1st Round 2017.

 

Secondary:

The secondary is loaded with talent with KeiVarae Russell busy establishing himself as one of the premier cornerbacks at the NCAA level. We could see him declaring early, although it seems more likely that he sets himself up to be one of the first corners of the board for 2016. Russell made a noticeable change by becoming more physical at the line of scrimmage and jamming receivers. This may have had more to do with Notre Dame playing teams that utilized timing patterns on offense, but it did make for an improvement in Russell and his numbers. Cody Riggs will be the other starting corner as the former Gator left the crowded secondary in Florida for another opportunity. Austin Collinsworth led the team in interceptions and he looks like a 2015 late-round prospect that has the opportunity to move up with a big year. This is a deep unit where the players backfill for one another and it may be one of the most underrated units in the country.

Best Draft Prospect: KeiVarae Russell CB 2nd Round 2016.

 

Special Teams:

Kyle Brindza is handling kicking and punting duties for the second consecutive year and he has converted 43 field goals over the last two seasons making him one of the most successful in that span at the NCAA level. The return game is far from settled as Notre Dame has toyed with about 5-6 players on punts and kickoffs. It's not that they do not have qualified players, they are just looking for the best fit. Coverage teams have been adequate in recent years.

Best Draft Prospect: Kyle Brindza K UFA 2015.

 

Schedule:

Notre Dame always ranks in the top 10 for SOS (strength of schedule) every year and they have a lot of flexibility being one of only 4 independent schools at the FBS level. The early game with Michigan will be a nice indication of where the program stands as Notre Dame will try to avenge a loss from last season. Notre Dame even travels to Florida State and ends the year at USC. It will be another typical year in South Bend.

 

Draft Outlook:

There are some terrific prospects here as the Notre Dame name will be attracting plenty of recruits in the future as it continues to do so now. KeiVarae Russell and Jaylon Smith could both be future 1st rounders and if they declare this season we could see them early in the draft process. The development of players like wide receiver DeVaris Daniels and tackle Ronnie Stanley will be fun to watch.

 

< Previous: #24 Utah State  Next: #22 Clemson >