The final stretch of the off-season is upon us. July is the lull of all lulls of the off-season as we wait for fall camp to start next month. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at some specific players for the Irish that will determine if year two of the Marcus Freeman era is more successful than year one. Some of those players – like today’s spotlight Audric Estime – are headliners. These players must play at an elite level this year for the Irish to sniff the playoffs. Others will be players at the crossroads of their careers looking at make-or-break campaigns, while others will be newcomers that the Irish need to get contributions from.
Audric Estime was going to be a headliner for the Irish after his breakout campaign in 2022, even before the transfer portal thrust an even larger role on his shoulders. What exactly the Irish offense will look like under new OC Gerad Parker remains to be seen, but it’s safe to assume that the Irish will still run the ball quite a bit with its stout offensive line with Estime pacing the ground attack.
High Highs, Low Lows for Estime in 2022
Overall, Audric Estime’s sophomore campaign was a major success, but it wasn’t without some struggles along the way. After barely playing as a freshman in 2021, Estime erupted for 920 yards and 11 touchdowns on 156 carries (5.9 ypc). Along the way, though, Estime battled a bought of fumblitis that got him benched against UNLV.
Some of Estime’s fumbles were inconsequential. He lost one at the goalline against North Carolina that allowed the score to get closer than it had to be, but didn’t impact the final outcome in any way. His fumble against UNLV that got him benched briefly didn’t matter either, as the Irish won 44-21.
The big one, however, came against Stanford and impacted the outcome. With Notre Dame driving for a go-ahead score, Estime fumbled at the end of a 22-yard rumble that would have had the Irish in field goal range down two. That game should have never been that close to begin with, and Estime is hardly the reason the Irish lost it, but it could have derailed his season – especially since his fumble against UNLV came a week later.
After Estime’s benching against UNLV, he responded with back-to-back 100+ yard outbursts against Syracuse and Clemson. In Notre Dame’s beat down of Clemson, the Tiger defense couldn’t tackle him in the second half. He racked up 227 yards and 3 touchdowns over that two-week span. He didn’t top 100 yards again the rest of the season, but he also averaged at least 6.0+ ypc in every game after.
Estime Assumes the Lead Role in 2023
Estime teamed up with Logan Diggs for one of the best backfield tandems the Irish have had in some years, but when Diggs decided to transfer to LSU in the off-season, Estime’s workload almost certainly increased.
There isn’t a lot of experienced depth behind Estime heading into the season. Sophomore Jadarian Price is coming off a serious injury. Sophomore Gi’Bran Payne didn’t play much as a true freshman last year. Incoming freshman Jereymiah Love wasn’t on campus for spring ball. Transfer Devyn Ford ran the ball a total of 21 times in the last two seasons at Penn State. Senior Chris Tyree looks like a permanent wide receiver at this point. At least one of those backs will emerge as a viable option for the Irish offense, but Estime will be the lead back. Price could be that other back to play the role of Diggs in 2023, but don’t count out Love either.
Adding Sam Hartman should make things easier on Estime and the other Irish running backs this year. Defenses did not respect Notre Dame’s downfield passing attack last year with Drew Pyne under center. The Irish just never showed they could push the ball vertically, which made it a bit tougher than it needed to be for the Irish running backs. Even with that, Estime averaged almost 6.0 yards a carry.
With Hartman able to push the ball downfield, Estime should find fewer defenders stacked at the line of scrimmage. That could be a scary thought, given Estime’s ability to break tackles.
At a minimum, Estime should top 1,000 yards in 2023, assuming he stays healthy the entire season – even if Notre Dame runs the ball less with Hartman under center. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t improve on the 5.9 yards per carry average running behind an elite offensive line and with a more potent passing game to complement the running game. Whether or not he improves on his 11 touchdowns might be a different story simply because Hartman will end up with many more touchdowns than Pyne had in 2022.
One thing Notre Dame will need to be aware of throughout the season is relying on Estime too much. The Irish have numbers in the backfield, but without much experience behind Estime, the Irish would be wise not to overwork him to keep him fresh and healthy all season long.
Beyond 2023 for Audric Estime
Estime has the chance to really explode this year. He showed last year how good he can be. If he takes the next step this year, he could have a season similar to what we saw from Josh Adams in 2017. If he does, he might have an NFL decision to make.
The running back position in the NFL is so undervalued right now that getting to the NFL as soon as possible with as little tread on the tires as possible makes sense for running backs. There aren’t a lot of backs that look like Estime who move as well as he does these days, either. If he were to, say, have a 1,400+ yards 12+ TD season, there wouldn’t be anything more he could do as a senior to enhance his draft position.
That’s a lot of projection right now, but that kind of season wouldn’t surprise me in the least. In fact, I expect Estime to have a monster season in 2023 and have a decision to make in January. Until then, enjoy Audric Estime running over and through defenders all season long because he is going to be a hell of a lot of fun to watch this year.