Our countdown of the top 25 players on the Notre Dame football roster for 2017 continues today with the players ranked 11th-15th. As we inch towards the top 10, cornerbacks and offensive linemen are in focus today alongside one of the most enigmatic players on the roster.
In case you missed either of our previous segments, take a look before diving into this one. Also as a reminder, our voters were myself and Greg Flammang from UHND and Matt Fairchild of SportsCrack.com.
15.) Sam Mustipher – Sr, OC
Highest Ranking: 10th; Lowest Ranking: Unranked
Sam Mustipher comes as the lowest ranked non first year starter on the offensive line (Tommy Kraemer was lower but will be a first year starter) in our poll primarily because Matt did not have the senior center among his top 25 players at all. At the same time, Greg had Mustipher 10th and I wasn’t too far behind with Mustipher 12th. Even without his snap problems against Stanford (forget the ones against NC State altogether) Mustipher was just kind of a guy out there last year though so he’ll need to show some big improvements to justify 10th or 12th.
Greg has high hopes for him this year though.
Mustipher was top 10 for me, I expect a big season from him in 2017. He’s fixed the snapping woes and seems more comfortable with his role and ability on the line. As far as offense goes, he’s a candidate for most improved, in my opinion.
14.) Alex Bars – Sr, OG
Highest Ranking: 13th; Lowest Ranking: 19th
Bars might not ever live down the ridiculous expectations Brian Kelly placed on him as a freshman when Kelly claimed he was the most physically gifted offensive lineman he had ever coached. Bars struggled last year as a first time starter at tackle, but moved inside to guard during the spring. Greg feels comfortable with Bars at guard.
Bars and Tillery were flipped on my list, I see them as similar players. Bars should be more comfortable at guard after a year at right tackle. With the heavy emphasis (supposedly) on the running game, Bars should excel.
Matt on the hand pointed out that despite Kelly’s praise a few years ago, Bars isn’t even the best guard on the team.
Kelly once described Bars as one of the best linemen he’s ever coached. The scary thing is he’s not even the best guard on the roster. That belongs to Quenton Nelson. The ND line should dominate this season thanks to Bars contributions.
13.) Jerry Tillery – Jr, NT
Highest Ranking: 13th; Lowest Ranking: 17th
You will be hard pressed to find a player who is more polarizing on the roster this year right now than Jerry Tillery. Last time we saw him in action he had a few moments that he ended up being not proud of to say the least. Tillery wasn’t officially ejected against USC but he should have been following a couple of personal foul worthy plays (only one was called).
Heading into 2017 though, the Notre Dame defense very much hinges on Tillery taking a step forward. With no experience at nose tackle and thin numbers at defensive tackle, Notre Dame needs Tillery to mature on and off the field in a hurry.
As Greg points out:
A lot is riding on the shoulders of Tillery, who is the only player inside who has played extensive minutes in competitive games. My suspicion is he’s ready for the role, at least early in the season, and he has enough physical ability to be a solid player for Notre Dame.
Let’s hope Greg is right because but as Matt’s comment illustrates, right now there is a lot of hoping going on when it comes to Tillery.
It would be hard to find more important players on the ND roster than Tillery. Coming off a disappointing and rather embarrassing 2017 season in which he was ejected vs USC, Tillery will be counted on to be the clog in the middle of an unproven defensive line. The talent is there but the ND staff is hoping Tillery can produce at a consistent level and be a wrecking ball up the middle.
I ranked Tillery the lowest at 17th in part because of what I saw in that USC game. He’s had an entire off-season to make amends with his teammates and coaching staff but until I see a few games from him this fall where he displays leadership with the defensive line, I’ll remain a bit skeptical.
12.) Shaun Crawford – Jr, CB
Highest Ranking: 11th; Lowest Ranking: 16th
I am shocked that Greg had Shaun Crawford ranked the lowest of the three of us. If you’ve read his articles over the last two years you know he loves Chase Claypool and Shaun Crawford. Greg had both players ranked lower than Matt and I. The only reason Crawford isn’t in the top 10 is because of the injuries. It will be a damn shame if Crawford isn’t able to bounce back from his second major injury because he was a very special athlete coming out of high school.
Greg’s comments on Crawford echo a similar sentiment.
I was more conservative with one of my favorite players (16th), just because I haven’t seen him move since they resumed practice in the fall. If he retains the physical tools he entered Notre Dame with, and prior to his injuries, he is hands down one of the best players on the defense.
Matt is in a wait and see approach as well.
Unfortunately he’s had two devastating season ending injuries and we’ve barely caught a glimpse of what he brings to the field. When he was playing though specifically vs Texas last year we all saw a game changer. Here’s hoping Crawford can bounce back and be the player we all know he can be.
If Crawford makes it 12 games and plays as Notre Dame’s nickel corner all 12 games, the Irish secondary will be in good shape. Again, without injuries we are talking about a top 10, maybe top 5 player on the Notre Dame roster at this point in his career. Stay healthy this year young man.
11.) Nick Watkins – Sr, CB
Highest Ranking: 11th; Lowest Ranking: 16th
Another member of the Notre Dame secondary who has suffered some injury setbacks. Nick Watkins would have been a starter in 2016 had it not been for a season ending injury that he originally suffered in spring practice that lingered and lingered.
I had Watkins 16th while Matt and Greg both had him 11th.
Identical ranking for me, I’m a believer in the young man’s talent. I became a fan when he declared last season if he didn’t earn a starting spot at corner “I’ll have no one to blame but myself.” Sign me up for that type of attitude all day.
In retrospect, perhaps my ranking was a bit low, but I’ve seen even less of Watkins than Crawford and it took a couple injuries for him to really get on the field in 2015. Still, I probably had Watkins a bit too low. As is, he still comes in just outside the top 10 with just one career start under his belt.