With just two spots remaining on our countdown of the top 25 Notre Dame players this year, we had to make the same decision some NFL GMs will likely have to make next spring – Stephon Tuitt or Louis Nix. You can’t go wrong with either of the future NFL 1st round draft picks, but after a lot of debate, we are going with Stephon Tuitt as our #2 ranked player in our countdown.
The recruitment of Stephon Tuitt was almost as drama filled as that of Aaron Lynch… almost. Tuitt committed to Notre Dame only to decommit for Georgia Tech only to recommit to Notre Dame a few days later. It was one of the first times we saw the Notre Dame staff target an elite recruit and not back down when they decommitted
Initially overshadowed as a freshman by his linemate, Aaron Lynch. Tuitt stepped up front and center in 2012 after Lynch transferred. Tuitt jumped off to a torrid start to the 2012 season with 6 sacks in the first four games of the year. Tuitt slowed some over after the fast start as he dealt with a sports hernia that required off-season surgery. Fully healthy, Tuitt enters his junior season on just about every award watch list imaginable – and deservedly so.
Why Stephon Tuitt could be ranked higher
Well, there is really only one spot higher that Tuitt could be ranked, but even so, Tuitt has the talent and potential to be the most dominant player on the field every time he steps out there. During his four game stretch to start 2012, Tuitt showed the havoc he is capable of wrecking when he is fully healthy and on top of his game.
Tuitt also faces off against one of the best offensive tackles in the country day in and day out in practice in Zack Martin – the #3 player on our countdown. The battles he faces every day in practice will actually be tougher than the ones he faces on Saturday afternoons and evenings most weeks making games just another walk in the park for Notre Dame’s All-American defensive end.
If Tuitt stays healthy all season long and has the type of season that he is capable of having, he’ll leave Notre Dame as the single season and career sack leader after coming up just 1.5 short of Justin Tuck’s single season career mark a year ago. Tuitt needs just 11 sacks this season to surpass Tuck’s career mark of 24.5 as well. Both of those numbers are not only obtainable for Tuitt, but it would be an upset if he did not take down both records this year. Tuck agrees too after the New York Giants star tweeted some encouraging words for Tuitt this week.
@DOCnation_7 are you going to break my sack record or what. I've had it long enough— Justin Tuck (@JustinTuckNYG91) August 29, 2013
Why Stephon Tuitt could be ranked lower
Really, there are only two things that could hold Tuitt back from having a huge season – injury and conditioning after all the time he lost in the weight room this off-season. When Tuitt reported to camp this summer, there were a lot of questions about how the time Tuitt lost would effect his play this fall, but to date Brian Kelly has said that he and the staff are not concerned at all with Tuitt’s conditioning effecting his play.
Assuming Tuitt has built up his work volume back up to where it needs to be, there really is no reason for Tuitt to be ranked any lower if he stays healthy all season. He is simply too talented and too good of a player for him not to be considered one of Notre Dame’s best players. In fact, the biggest question mark for Tuitt this year will be whether or not he leaves for the NFL as a surefire first round draft pick.
What would a successful season in 2013 be for Stephon Tuitt?
If Tuitt can collect 12 sacks while playing with a nagging injury, that should be considered the floor for gauging his 2013 performance. Tuitt should break Tuck’s sack record this year and could reach 15 sacks this fall and no one would be surprised in the least. For Tuitt to have a successful season this year, he needs to stay healthy and keep his work volume up so that he is on the field as much as possible.
Tuitt showed what he is capable of last year, but if there is one area that Tuitt can improve on this year it’s in the turnover department. Tuitt forced three fumbles last year which was only tied for 59th overall in the NCAA last year. Tuitt also only had 1 tackle for loss last year that wasn’t a sack. Notre Dame will need him to be more of a force in stopping the ground game this fall for the defense to maintain the level of dominance it achieved during the regular season last year.
If Tuitt plays all 13 games this year and doesn’t break Tuck’s record or at least come really close to it, his 2013 season will be seen as a bit of a disappointment. Aside from that, an improvement to 5 forced fumbles and 5 or 6 additional tackles for loss outside of sacks would should all be attainable for Tuitt this year.