We continue our countdown of the top 25 players on the Notre Dame roster in 2018. Ranked between #16-20 we have a player who has top 5 talent but has struggled to stay on the field, a couple of backups who could be primed for breakout campaigns, and a pair of secondary players who will help form perhaps the best Notre Dame secondary in decades.
In case you missed yesterday’s run down of the players ranked #21-25, take a look before running down today’s list. Also as a reminder, make sure to check out Sportscrack.com (Matt’s company) for a wide range of collectibles and novelty sports t-shirts.
20. Dexter Williams, RB
Ballots: 3, Highest Ranking: 14, Lowest Ranking: 25
Yesterday Alize Mack was the hardest player to project of the players we profiled. Today it’s another player who has made as many headlines off the field as on it. Dexter Williams is hands down the most talented and explosive running back on the roster. There isn’t anyone who can make kind of case otherwise.
Williams is facing the unofficial but widely speculated four game suspension (just how many game is unclear given Brian Kelly’s inability to confirm a suspension related to University disciplinary action due to privacy laws). Without the suspension, Williams has top 5 player talent without question. He’s struggled throughout his time at Notre Dame with pass protection and consistency though, so he’s never been a featured back in the offense. When he does get the ball though, he is simply electric.
Matt: Juice has never had more than 8 carries in a game but when he does get the ball he’s electric. Problem is he can’t stay away from off field trouble or pick up the blitz thus limiting his play time.
Even with a potential 4-game suspension though, Williams can still have a huge impact on the season. He should be available for the Stanford game and all we have to do is look to Cierre Wood’s 2012 campaign to see what’s possible. Wood was suspended for the first two games of the 2012 season but still ran for 742 yards on just 114 carries and scored four touchdowns. Williams could easily top those numbers even if he misses four games if he gets the carries once he’s back.
19 Cole Kmet, TE
Ballots: 3, Highest Ranking: 14, Lowest Ranking: 24
When it comes to Cole Kmet, his ranking is really largely tied to whether or not Alize Mack puts it all together this year. It is very telling though that in these rankings, he checks in two spots higher than Notre Dame’s starting tight end. Part of his higher ranking is due to Greg ranking the sophomore tight end as the #14 overall player on the Notre Dame roster.
Greg: Expect a break out of sorts for the sophomore. He’s big and he’s dependable, and he’s hard to miss on the middle of the field.
Matt, like myself was a bit more reserved. In fact, I ranked Kmet the lowest all the way at #24. My thought process there was that Notre Dame just isn’t going to throw the ball enough for the back up tight end to have a huge impact week in and week out. I think we’ll see him make some big plays at times for the Irish, but not consistently. Not yet anyway.
Matt: Kmet could shoot all the way into the top 10 with a big sophomore season if Alizé doesn’t produce. Kmet when he’s not throwing heat on the mound for the baseball team has built himself into a freak of nature under Balis’s strength program.
18 Julian Okwara, DE
Ballots: 3, Highest Ranking: 12, Lowest Ranking: 22
On Sunday I wrote that Julian Okwara is one of eight Notre Dame backups the Irish need to take a big step forward in order to have a legit shot of the playoffs, but I had Okwara ranked the lowest at #22. Matt has the junior defensive end all the way up at #12.
Matt: Like Daelin Hayes I expect Okwara to burst out this season and become a force on the “Lea”gion of Doom.
Greg, like myself was a bit more reserved on Okwara.
Greg: Okwara being at 18 says more about the talent on this team than it does about Okwara, who could have a big season.
While I think Okwara steps forward this year, I still don’t see a monster breakout season in 2018. I think that comes in 2019. After playing the spring at just 230 lbs, I worry about how he will hold up in November even if he is checking in around 240 lbs now.
17 Alohi Gilman, S
Ballots: 3, Highest Ranking: 14, Lowest Ranking: 18
It’s still a bit surreal to me that a transfer from Navy is so widely considered to be the best safety on the team. That speaks to Notre Dame’s recruiting at the position prior to the class of 2018 in addition to Gilman’s skill level. All signs point to the former Midshipmen being an impact player for Notre Dame this fall though. He’s reportedly had a great camp and is always around the football. We’ll know in a hurry if all of the hype is real with Michigan sure to test him early.
Both Matt and Greg are expecting big things out of Gilman:
Matt: The transfer from Navy is expected to start after having to sit a season because the NCAA is, well the NCAA. A ball hawk ND didn’t have last season at safety I expect Gilman to get his hands on leather plenty thanks to some pressure from his defensive line teammates.
Greg: Gilman might have been the best safety on the team last year, and he was relegated to the practice squad. I ranked him as the best safety on this list and I’m glad he gets to play in actual games.
16. Shaun Crawford, CB
Ballots:3, Highest Ranking: 13, Lowest Ranking: 20
It’s no surprise that Greg had Crawford the highest ranked among the three of us who voted. Greg’s been a big fan of Crawford’s for a long time. Last year we got a glimpse what just how good Crawford could be the first few weeks of the season. Then he faded. Which should have been expected. He suffered major injuries in back to back seasons in 2016 and 2017 and hadn’t played a full year of football since high school.
In retrospect, I wish I would have ranked him higher as well. I think Crawford is going to show us the same player we saw the first quarter of the year in 2017 for much longer stretches in 2018. And remember, he still has a year of eligibility left after this year.
Matt: Just two years ago Crawford was probably a top 5 talent going into the season. Unfortunately the injuries have taken their toll and he’s lost his starting corner job. But he is the starting nickelback and has big time playmaking ability in the defensive backfield as witnessed in games vs Texas and Michigan State.
A full year removed from the latest major injury, look for Crawford to be an impact player all year. In hindsight, I already think we missed the mark with Crawford and that he will be play at a much higher level than this.