Let’s face it, sleepers are fun, but everyone wants to know when we are going to see the new toys in action. New recruits are like draft picks; no one wants to see the first and second round picks sit on the bench for a year. We want these guys out on the field to see if they are the missing piece that vaults the Irish back to the top. The good news about the 2018 class is there are a number of players who fit that bill, unlike some other seasons. Here are my picks, from most to least likely.
1.) Kevin Austin, Wide Receiver
Notre Dame’s second highest ranked player at #82 in the nation and the most likely to make a huge impact in 2018. First, he’s physically ready to play. He’s 6-3, 200 with a well developed upper body. The guy can step onto the field and belong out there with the big boys immediately. Second, he’s got the physical tools and the raw ability to make plays even if his route running is a little bit raw. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good route runner, but there is always an adjustment to the college game. But, he has fantastic burst and very good long speed, and he plucks the ball out of the air like he has velcro on his gloves. He might possess the best hands on the team as soon as he steps onto the field.
Notre Dame’s top two receivers are gone, and Chase Claypool is likely to be limited in the spring, so there will be opportunities for Austin to make a mark on the offense upon his arrival in the summer.
2.) Houston Griffith, Defensive Back
It was a tough choice between Griffith and Derrik Allen in this spot, but Griffith is the early enrollee so he gets the nod. He’ll have a head start into the system, he’s already on campus going through workouts and strength training, and he’ll have been able to go through a spring finding a comfortable spot in the secondary. He could be similar to Bobby Taylor–who started at free safety as a freshman, then moved to corner as a sophomore and junior–and start his career in the back of the defense, then move to corner as an upperclassman.
He came from IMG Academy, so he used to playing elite competition, and he is a highly skilled player, as the highest ranked player in the Notre Dame class.
3.) Jahmir Smith, Running Back
This is mostly just a numbers thing. He’s on campus now, and he’s the third team running back right out of the gate, as he’s the third scholarship running back on the roster. Judging from the amount of work Notre Dame’s third and fourth team backs got last year, and the injury history of Tony Jones Jr. and Dexter Williams, Smith is going to get meaningful carries next season.
4.) Derrik Allen, Safety
Allen is better than Smith, but if I’m picking Griffith to play a lot, it makes it harder for Allen to play a ton also. I’m hedging a little bit because there is a good chance Allen approaches the spring and summer extra motivated because of a drop in the national rankings over the last couple of months, and is ready to go in the fall. The thing about Allen is if he builds that body a bit, it might be hard to keep him off the field, because he has a crazy skill set. He has great feet while playing man coverage, displays fantastic ball skills, and is excellent against the run. He has the highest ceiling of any of the defensive recruits because of the way this defense relies on its safeties and Allen can do it all.
5.) Shayne Simon, Rover
He is either just right at #5 or way too low and should be around #1 or #2. If they move Tranquill to the Buck position and Coney to the Mike, then suddenly the Rover spot is wide open and Simon can just win it outright and become the starter. I’d say it’s more likely he would platoon with another player (probably Jermiah Owusu-Karamoah) instead of being the full time player at the spot, but he could see the field a ton. Or Tranquill could stay at Rover and Simon plays mostly on special teams.
6.) Jayson Ademilola, Defensive Tackle
Sheldon Day registered 23 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks as a freshman. I think Ademilola is the same type of guy and we could see similar production from him in his first season. He’s best as a pass rusher, so I think some pass rush reps next to Daelin Hayes, Julian Okwara, and Jerry Tillery makes a lot of sense.
7.) Braden Lenzy, Wide Receiver
At the very least he’s going to return kickoffs, which puts him in line for a couple of touches a game. I could also see him getting some run in the slot on reverses and jet sweeps. Pretty much wouldn’t expect a redshirt, not sure there is any chance of that.
8.) Phil Jurkovec, Quarterback
He either redshirts or he somehow wins the job in the summer and fall and starts every game. There is no in between.