Notre Dame Football’s Top 25 Players in 2017: #16-20

Our countdown of the top 25 players on the 2017 Notre Dame football roster continues today.  The first installment featured one of the most intriguing players on the roster – Chase Claypool – but also featured five players our group of voters all agreed on for the most part.  Today we have much more differing opinions.

As a reminder, our panel of three included myself, UHND’s Greg Flammang, and’s Matt Fairchild.

20. Tony Jones Jr – So, RB

Highest Ranking: 17th; Lowest Ranking: Unranked

Jones is a player our little panel here didn’t quite agree on.  Well Matt and Greg agreed with both ranking Jones 17th.  I didn’t have Jones on my ballot because for all of the hype, I think we’ll see more of Adams and Dexter Williams (more on Dexter in a minute).  Jones has been all the rave in camp, but something to me just feels like Jones might not have the role that the hype has led us to believe he will.

Greg on the other hand thought Jones could be ranked even higher.

One spot lower than my ranking and he honestly might still be a bit low. I think he’ll be on the field a ton, I expect more so than his backfield mate Dexter Williams. He’s the best receiver they have at running back, I could see him on the field on most third downs.

19. Dexter Williams – Jr, RB

Highest Ranking: 13th; Lowest Ranking: Unranked

One of the primary reasons I didn’t have Jones ranked is because I am really high on Dexter Williams.  The kid is just a playmaker who needs to have a role in the offense.  He’s got a unique skillset that the other backs don’t have and if he is relegated to 3rd string without many touches a game, it would be a shame.

One spot higher than mine for Williams, just not sure he’ll get the touches he needs to get up higher. I see him more as the backup to Adams; Jones Jr. has a niche as the receiving back that Williams doesn’t possess right now.

Matt didn’t have Williams ranked at all in his top 25.  For me though, Williams is easily one of the top 15 most talented players on the Notre Dame roster in 2017.  I think Chip Long and Brian Kelly will carve out a role for him that justifies my 13th placed ranking of Williams.

18. Kevin Stepherson – So, WR

Highest Ranking: 10th; Lowest Ranking: 22

Here’s another one where I had a player much higher than my esteemed colleagues here.  Again, talent wise Stepherson is one of the 10 best players on the roster but everyone knows he hasn’t been running with the first or second team.  Like the hype with Jones though, I just don’t fully buy it.  I think Kelly wants everyone to think that Stepherson is buried on the depth chart or in the dog house or whatever.

I could be way off base here, but if Stepherson is in the starting lineup Labor Day weekend, he’ll outplay even my 10th place ranking.   Greg agreed that talent wise Stepherson is up there for Notre Dame, but went with a more conservative ranking given Stepherson’s reported dog house status.

Talent wise, he should be higher. But, given the reports he’s not even taking team reps right now, it’s hard to justify that. If I was confident in his playing time he’d be closer to the top 10.

17, Jay Hayes – Jr,

Highest Ranking: 16th; Lowest Ranking 19th

We wrote about Jay Hayes as one of our Now or Never player for 2017 and right now all signs are pointing more towards NOW.  Hayes looks entrenched as the starter at SDE and even as a bigger DE, Kelly shot down the notion of playing him inside to help with the depth issues facing the DT’s.  Still Hayes is reportedly a new man this year.

Like Trumbetti it’s put up or shut up time for Jay Hayes.  A highly sought after 4-star player coming out of high school, for whatever reason Van Gorder never wanted to play Jay.  This year will be his opportunity to shine in Elko’s new defense.

All three of  us had Hayes ranked similarly but it wouldn’t surprise me if he outplayed this ranking.  Remember, this is a DE that Alabama wanted three years ago.  Hayes has talent and he can play.  I expect Hayes to make the jump everyone thought he would last year.

16. Greer Martini – Sr, LB

Highest Ranking: 10th; Lowest Ranking 22nd

Matt is much higher on Martini than either Greg or I.  While I had Martini 18th and Greg had him 22nd, Matt had Martini as the #10 ranked player overall on the roster.

While splitting duties last season with Te’von Coney Martini “Shaken, Not Stirred” finished with 55 tackles and 3 sacks on a horrible ND defense.  A heady player I expect Martini to have a coming out party like his teammate Nyles Morgan at the linebacker position.

I tend to agree much more with Greg here though.  The presence of Tevon Coney will make a breakout for Martini very difficult this year.

I didn’t have Martini ranked quite as high, he was 22 for me. I think he’ll have a solid year a la Carlo Calabrese in 2012 and 2013. It will be interesting to see how much time he shares with Te’Von Coney, because I expect both will play.

I mentioned in yesterday’s ranking of the #21-25 players that Coney was woefully underrated in this very unofficial poll.  In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Coney was starting by the end of the season.

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