Notre Dame Football’s Top 25 Players for 2019: The Top 5

We have reached the top 5 in our countdown of the top 25 players on the 2019 Notre Dame football roster.  Unsurprisingly, the top 5 is full of players on Clark Lea‘s Irish defense.  The exact order of how the top 5 might be a little surprising.

To recap, here are links to the previous installments in this series.

5. Troy Pride (CB, Sr)

  • Highest rank: 4
  • Lowest rank: 8
  • Number of ballots: 3

I was mildly shocked to see Pride as low as 8th on some ballots – looking at you, Greg.  There are still questions of whether or not Pride plays on the field or boundary side this fall, but to me, there is no question that he is one of the best players on the roster.  Pride was playing at just about the same level as Julian Love by the end of 2018.  He has the speed and measurables to ultimately end up getting drafted higher than last year’s Thorpe finalist too.

My thoughts on having Pride this high are simple.  Clemson tried testing Pride early in the Cotton Bowl and was unsuccessful.  When Julian Love left the field, Clemson didn’t even look Pride’s way.  If he is the boundary CB, he’ll need to show more against the run than he has in the past, but he isn’t going to be beaten by many wide receivers this fall.

Fun fact, Pride only allowed one touchdown in all of 2018, and it came on the last drive of the last game of the regular season.

Matt’s commentsPride has some big footsteps to fill as the leading field cornerback position with consensus All-American Julian Love leaving early for the NFL.  In the 2nd half of the season, one could argue Pride was just as valuable if not better as Love.  Pride finished the season with ten pass breakups and two interceptions and also forced a fumble.  Pride has the prototypical NFL size at cornerback and with a tremendous senior season could make himself an easy 1st round choice.

Greg’s commentsI have him lower than most I’m sure, his all-around game isn’t there like it is with the players above him, he gets docked for that. Very high upside who will take a step up in competition this season with Julian Love in the NFL. 

4. Alohi Gilman (S, Sr)

  • Highest rank: 2
  • Lowest rank: 6
  • Number of ballots: 3
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Matt is exceptionally high on Gilman having him ranked as the 2nd best player on the roster this year.  I, on the other hand, had him the lowest in our group at #6 overall.  That fluctuation resulted in Gilman coming in just within the top 5 and ranking ahead of Troy Pride.  I had Pride higher than Gilman based on projecting Pride on his potential this year.  Pride has a very high ceiling and will very likely be a high NFL Draft pick next April.

Gilman is a vocal leader who helped solidify the safety position for Notre Dame in 2018 after it being a significant liability in 2017.  Like fellow safety Jalen Elliott, he is a captain candidate, and even if he doesn’t earn a “C” on his jersey, he’ll be a leader in 2019.

Matt’s commentsThe safety transfer from Navy who was only a 2-star player coming out of Hawaii could and should be a captain this year after his leadership was on full display on and off the field.  Gilman instantly impacted the ND secondary last season by finishing 2nd on the team in tackles with 94 while recording two interceptions along with five pass breakups and three forced fumbles.  Alohi has a nose for the football and has earned preseason All-American magazine picks. 

Greg’s commentsHe’ll be vital this year, not just in his conventional role, but he’ll be doing a lot of cleanup for the linebackers this season. 

3. Khalid Kareem (DE, Sr)

  • Highest rank: 2
  • Lowest rank: 5
  • Number of ballots: 3

Like Pride, I had Kareem the highest in our group, ranking him 2nd overall.  I toyed with the idea of having Kareem ranked #1 overall because I see a monster year out of him this fall.  Okwara is getting all of the attention this summer, but by the end of the year, I would not be shocked if Kareem is getting at least equal billing.

Kareem spent his off-season training in Georgia and looks like he is a primed for a huge year.  I still think that he is getting overlooked by a lot of national pundits.  He is also comically underrated by a lot of early NFL Draft projections.

Matt’s commentsThe biggest recruits ND got this year was the return of defensive ends Okwara and Kareem for their senior seasons.  Kareem also had a breakout junior season in which he tied Jerry Tillery for 2nd on the team in tackles for loss (10.5), 2nd in QBH (8) and 3rd in sacks (4.5).  Oh yeah, he also tied Gilman in passes broken up with 5.  It’s gonna be fun to watch Kareem and Okwara on the edge all season getting after the QB.

Greg’s commentsNot as explosive as Okwara and figures to see the field less. Also, think Okwara could miss out on the sacks record because Kareem steals some. 

2. Ian Book (QB, Sr)

  • Highest rank: 1
  • Lowest rank: 3
  • Number of ballots: 3
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A year ago Ian Book wasn’t in our top 25 at all as Brandon Wimbush’s backup.  He enters 2019 as QB1 with a full off-season of training as The Guy for Notre Dame.  We all know Book’s limitations with the deep ball, so it is unrealistic to expect him to start launching bombs left and right.  If he can show marginal improvement with his downfield passing enough to get opposing defenses to respect the ball though, the Notre Dame passing game will open up a lot.

Greg had Book at #1 in his poll – thus his comment on Okwara below – while I had him 3rd behind Okwara and Kareem.  If Greg is right and Book is indeed #1 on the roster, the Notre Dame offense will reach some new heights in 2019.  As is, expect 3,000 yards and 30+ TDs from Book this fall.

Matt’s commentsBook stepped in last season for an ineffective Brandon Wimbush in Week 4, and all he did was lead Notre Dame to an undefeated regular season along with a playoff berth.  Book completed nearly 70% of his passes and also rushed for 4 TD on top of the 19 TD in the air.  Despite the poor Cotton Bowl performance Book is the unquestioned QB starter and should be named a captain.  If Book can hit his intermediate to deep balls more consistently, we could be talking about another undefeated regular season.

Greg’s commentsIf Julian Okwara registers 18 sacks like he’s been saying could happen, I will gladly admit I was wrong on this and proclaim Okwara the righteous #1. It feels weird picking the returning starter at quarterback is seen as going against the grain, but here we are. 

1. Julian Okwara (DE, Sr)

  • Highest rank: 1
  • Lowest rank: 2
  • Number of ballots: 3

All three of us had Notre Dame’s pass-rushing star Julian Okwara first or second.  Matt and I both had him #1 while Greg has him #2.  It’s easy to see why.  Justin Tuck’s single-season sack record of 13.5 looks like a realistic target after all of the near misses Okwara registered last year.

Okwara has apparently set a goal of 18 sacks for himself this season.  Not only would that obliterate Tuck’s record, but it could also vault him into top 10 pick territory.  Reaching those heights would also mean great things for the most important statistic of all – Notre Dame’s win/loss record.

Matt’s commentsOkwara is coming off a breakout junior season in which he led the Fighting Irish in tackles for loss (12.5), sacks (8), and quarterback pressures/hits (21).  The younger brother of Romeo started slowly last season, but in the last ten games, it would be hard to find a better edge rusher in the nation.  Okwara is one of the best drop ends in the country who should be disruptive all season.

Greg’s commentsThis is a bit of a hedge. Maybe Okwara is an all-timer for Notre Dame, and I’m wrong, but he probably isn’t because those are just the odds, so I’ll settle for just exceptionally good. 

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