For Notre Dame to rebound from last year’s 4-8 campaign this fall, the Fighting Irish are going to need a lot of players to step up and become breakout stars this year. A very young team in 2016, Notre Dame now several players up and down the roster who could do just that. How much the Irish improve on those paltry four wins this year will largely be determined by how many of them take that step forward.
We will be profiling these players over the next few weeks starting today with perhaps the most pivotal player on the defensive side of the ball – sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes.
Pedigree & Career To Date
Daelin Hayes originally committed to USC as a high school junior before opening up his recruiting during his senior season and selecting Notre Dame. He was a composite 4-star recruit according to 247Sports, but was rated as a 5-star DE by Rivals – the only service to give Hayes a 5th star. That 5th star from Rivals came largely based on potential though because of multiple shoulder injuries that limited Hayes impact on the prep level. When healthy, Hayes flashed that 5-star potential on the camp circuit though.
Hayes committed to Notre Dame in what as at the time a pretty epic commitment video. Two years later they have become more of the norm, but at the time it was pretty impressive.
As a freshman last fall Hayes saw the field plenty, but did not register a sack. For Hayes’s development though, what was more important than his tackle or sack counts, was the fact that he stayed healthy all season long following the shoulder injuries that have stunted his development to date. Heading into 2017, Hayes is fully healthy.
Why Daelin Hayes Will Breakout
Hayes enters the 2017 season as the unquestioned starter at weak-side defensive end and really, there isn’t anyone behind him right now capable of being an every down player. At least not an every down player with his pass rush skills. Hayes is quite simply Notre Dame’s lone pure pass rusher who is ready to play every down. Sophomores Julian Okwara and Adetokunbo Ogundeji have that potential but still need some time with Matt Ballis in the weight room to be every down players. Incoming freshman Kofi Wardlow has that potential too but is still very raw.
Aside from Notre Dame’s pass rush basically totally hinging on Hayes, the sophomore showed in the Blue & Gold Game that he is ready to breakout this fall. Hayes was virtually unblockable by any of Notre Dame’s linemen – and that isn’t an indictment on Notre Dame’s OL. Hayes is just that good and has freakish athleticism. Hayes “officially” had 3 sacks and 7 tackles but he could have had some more if he was allowed to make contact and had the officials not allowed some plays to continue that should have been whistled dead.
Hayes is still young and will make mistakes this fall. He lost a lot of time in high school because of those shoulder injuries which has stunted his development. That said, it has been a long time since Notre Dame has had a pure pass rusher on its roster quite like Hayes.
Why Hayes Might Not Breakout
Simple. Injuries. That is really the only way that Hayes won’t be one of Notre Dame’s biggest breakout players in 2017. I’ve mentioned them a lot in this article already because injuries are what kept him from being higher rated by the other recruiting services two years ago and they are the only reason Hayes didn’t have more of an impact last fall.
Those shoulder injuries have caused Hayes to miss a lot of time on the field so last fall Hayes was still learning a bit as he went along. Brian Kelly mentioned it a couple times throughout the season, but last fall was very much a learning experience for Hayes.
Outside of injuries, it’s really hard to imagine Daelin Hayes not having a big season for Notre Dame in Mike Elko’s new defense. Elko’s defense at Wake Forest racked up 41 sacks last year including 10.5 from defensive end Duke Ejiofor. Notre Dame’s defense had 14 sacks as a unit last year.
If he stays healthy this year, Daelin Hayes will eclipse his sack total from 2016 by halftime of the season opener most likely. Will he go from 0 to 10.5 sacks to match Ejiofor’s total at Wake last year? That might be a bit of a stretch but it is easy to see Hayes ending the season with 8.0 sacks.
Justin Tuck jumped from 0 sacks as a freshman (he redshirted) to 5 as a true sophomore in his first real playing time. That was under the defensive “coaching” of Kent Baer though and Tuck only started one game. Stephon Tuitt had 12 sacks as a sophomore in 2012 after having just 2 as a freshman in 2011. Tuitt was a much different pass rusher though. Tuitt wasn’t running by people, he was running through them. Hayes will be doing much more of the former this fall.
Hayes will come up just short of reaching double digits in sacks this fall, but he will get very close. He will also make a least one ridiculous play in coverage that makes you say “that guy is a defensive end?” He flashed his coverage skills last fall and while he won’t have to do a lot of that this fall, he’ll blow up a few screens this year with his freaky athleticism.