Notre Dame landed a trio of players on the 2015 USA Today All-American team with defensive stalwarts Sheldon Day and Jaylon being named 1st Team All-Americans and speedster wide receiver Will Fuller being tabbed a 2nd team All-American. With three players on the two squads, Notre Dame only had fewer All-Americans than the Crimson Tide of Alabama.
Landing two 1st Team Defensive All-Americans is not the norm for Notre Dame. In fact, it is quite the exception for a defense that has only really seen one dominant defensive player in the last decade or so in Manti Te’o. It’s also quite surprising given the inconsistency and frequent defensive lapses that plagued Notre Dame in 2015. Those lapses though were rarely, if ever, the fault of Day and Smith.
Smith, a former 5-star recruit, continued to live up to his hype in 2015 with a dominant season that was also capped off by being named the 2015 Butkus Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker on Tuesday as well. Smith racked up another 100+ tackle season while looking like a heat syncing missile most of the season. Smith’s play, while earning him well-deserved accolades, has the attention of the NFL as well as a widely considered top 10 NFL Draft pick despite having another year of eligibility remaining.
Sheldon Day had a stellar season as well in 2015 to earn his 1st team honors. Day led Notre Dame with 14.5 tackles for loss and 13 QB hurries. Day was also second on the team in sacks with a career high 4. Day entered the 2015 season with 3.5 sacks for his entire career. Day doesn’t have a NFL decision to make like Smith since he is out of eligibility but he most certainly will hear his name called in May as well. Day is currently projected as a 2nd-3rd round pick.
On the offensive side of the ball, Will Fuller is the lone member of the Notre Dame offense to be included on the USA Today All-American team as a 2nd teamer. Fuller’s senior season was highlighted by big plays and clutch catches in big spots. Fuller actually had 20 fewer receptions in 2015 than 2014, but still set a career high in yards with 1,145. His touchdown total dipped slightly in 2015 as well to 13 from the 15 he had a year ago. Despite the fewer receptions, Fuller’s game was bigger than ever with game winning catches in the final minute against both Virginia and Temple in road victories for the Irish.
Like Smith, Fuller has a NFL decision to make. Last month Fuller said multiple times that he fully intends on returning for his senior season, but he wouldn’t be the first college junior to state he was returning for a senior year only to later decide on leaving earlier. Fuller was one of five players to submit their names for a NFL evaluation earlier this week although that certainly does not indicate Fuller’s mind has been made up. Many times a player will submit their names for a NFL evaluation to see what they need to work on in their final season to improve their stock.
While none of these selections were surprising in the least, the omission of Ronnie Stanley is very surprising. Stanley is considered one of the top 10 prospects for next May’s draft and graded out as one of the best offensive linemen in the country this season. It would be shocking if Stanley didn’t find his name on other All-American lists as they are published over the coming days and weeks.