We have reached the top 10 in our countdown of the top 25 football players on the Notre Dame roster in 2018. We’re now getting into the area of Notre Dame’s elite players. The players who could start for almost any team in the country. The players that Notre Dame needs to play up to their immense potential to make a real run at the playoffs.
Daelin Hayes, DE
Ballots: 3, Highest Ranking: 7, Lowest Ranking: 16
The parity in the rankings for Daelin Hayes was one of the more interesting observations I had in looking at the rankings come in. I had Hayes at #8 and Matt had him at #7 but Greg ranked him substantially lower all the way down at 16th. I think Greg will not be happy with that ranking when all is said and done this year.
Like me, Matt is expecting a big season from Daelin Hayes.
At full health it’s time for the junior to finally shine and live up to his 5-star billing out of high school. I expect plenty of QB pressures from Hayes.
Many people, presented company included, thought Hayes would have a breakout in 2017 as a sophomore. Most of us either forgot or overlooked the fact that 2017 was the first full year of being a starter at any level for Hayes in years after injuries plagued his prep career. As it should have been predictable, Hayes faded in the second half of the year. I don’t expect that same fade to occur this year. Will he breakout and be a 10 sack player? Maybe not. I think, however he will have a much better junior campaign.
9. Miles Boykin, WR
Ballots: 3, Highest Ranking: 7, Lowest Ranking: 12
A year ago at this time, no one would have expected Miles Boykin to be one of Notre Dame’s top 10 players a year later. Boykin was a complete afterthought at receiver on the Irish roster at this time last year. A lot can change in a year though.
My ranking for Boykin appears to have pushed him into the top 10 since both Matt and Greg have Boykin outside of the top 10. Matt though still expects a big season for Boykin.
Who could forget his game winning catch vs LSU? From all reports it’s helped boost Boykin’s confidence and he should be Wimbush’s #1 target this fall.
Boykin meandered through the 2017 season still largely an afterthought until the play that probably saved his collegiate career. That touchdown in the Citrus Bowl looks like it was essentially the light switch moment in his career. Since then he began to assert himself as Notre Dame’s top receiver and a huge season could be in store if the quarterback position is improved enough to get him the ball.
8. Brandon Wimbush, QB
Ballots: 3, Highest Ranking: 8, Lowest Ranking: 10
Speaking of the quarterback position, no player on the Notre Dame roster holds the fate of the Irish season in their hands more than Brandon Wimbush. It’s really quite simple too. IF Brandon Wimbush plays like the quarterback everyone thought he was at this time last year, Notre Dame will challenge for a playoff spot.
We know that Wimbush is one of the most dangerous running threats at the quarterback position in the entire country. But so does every defensive coordinator the Irish will face. Until Wimbush shows he is also a more than capable passer, defenses will be trying to eliminate that running threat all together.
Greg thinks some will feel this ranking is too high. He had Wimbush ranked the highest of the three of us, but none of us had him lower than #10.
For all of the people thinking this is too high, settle down, he accounted for 30 touchdowns last year.
So far this summer the news on Wimbush out of camp has been mixed. There have been reports that Wimbush has shown some steady improvement. But then there were reports from the last open practice when Wimbush had a rough day at the office. Talent wise and impact wise, Wimbush could easily be the top player on this list. Considering all three of us had him ranked in the 8-10 range though, it’s pretty clear that this group at least is taking a wait and see approach.
7. Troy Pride, CB
Ballots: 3, Highest Ranking: 6, Lowest Ranking: 11
There is not a single player on the Notre Dame roster whose stock has risen as fast as Troy Pride Jr this off-season. And it hasn’t been just because Pride can run a blazing fast 40 yard dash
Prior to spring football most thought Pride would challenge Nick Watkins and contend with Shaun Crawford to start opposite Julian Love. Well, Watkins saw the rising junior ascending up the depth chart and decided to use a graduate transfer. Crawford meanwhile is locked in at nickel. All because Troy Pride looks primed for a breakout.
Pride began his ascent last fall already when he forced his way onto the field in the second half of the season. At this point, he’s performed so well that some are wondering if he will team with Love to give Notre Dame its best tandem at corner since the early 90’s.
Matt and I were a bit reserved on Pride ranking him 9th and 11th respectively. Greg, on the other hand has Pride as the 6th best football player on the roster.
Can Pride and Love be the best corner tandem since Lyght and Smagala? Duff and Walton?
Despite a lower ranking, Matt still thinks that Pride could generate some All-American buzz this year.
Pride has become almost a 1A/1B corner with his teammate Love this offseason camp. Don’t be surprised if he makes AA accolades.
6. Alex Bars, OT
Ballots: 3, Highest Ranking: 4, Lowest Ranking: 7
Last year Notre Dame’s best two football players were on the offensive line. This year, only one lineman found his way into the top 5. Bars comes in just outside the top 5 at number six though Greg did have him ranked as high as #4.
Alex Bars has had an interesting career. As a freshman Brian Kelly proclaimed that Bars was one of the most advanced freshmen linemen he had ever coached. He moved into the starting lineup in 2016 but struggled at tackle before moving to guard last fall. As a 5th year senior Bars is one of the leaders of the offense and the staff is hoping he can help the line pick up where Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey left off.
Matt had Bars in his top 5 and ranked the highest at #4.
Overshadowed by the greatness that was Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey the last two seasons I expect Bars to continue ND’s success on the offensive line by becoming an All-American this season.
It’s unlikely Bars ends up playing his way into the top 10 of the NFL Draft like McGlinchey and Nelson, but he can play himself into a long NFL career. A senior season similar to that of Chris Watt would be considered a great end to his Irish career.
And now all that is left is the top 5. The players there shouldn’t have been a surprise but the order may raise a couple eyebrows tomorrow when we publish them. What is very clear at this point though is that our panel sees this team being very heavy on talent on the defensive side of the ball.