Ranking Notre Dame’s top 25 football players

IRISH STEW

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Who would you rather have: Mike McGlinchey or Isaac Rochell?

Those are the kind of tough questions I asked myself when ranking Notre Dame’s top 25 players. As is tradition, Keith Arnold of NBC Sports asked several media members and Irish bloggers to comb through the Notre Dame roster and identify the best players at Brian Kelly’s disposal for the 2016 season.

The prompt is simple: Who are the best players? There are no rules other than that. It’s up to us to determine how we subjectively compare players.

Below is my complete list. The final ranking calculated from all 12 panelists can be found here.

A few observations:

• Wednesday’s news of sophomore tight end Alizé Jones missing the season came after the poll was completed. He was a polarizing player in the polls receiving a ranking as high as No. 4 and unranked by another voter. He finished ranked in the No. 13 spot. I slated Jones at No. 15, but I also predicted him to be the second-leading receiver for the Irish in our ND Insider magazine.

• My list lined up pretty evenly with the completed poll. But two players on the list received considerably higher ranks from me: safety Drue Tranquill and wide receiver C.J. Sanders. Maybe I have a soft spot for players returning from injury? But I have little doubt that Tranquill (knee) and Sanders (hip) will play significant roles for the Irish if they can stay healthy.

Tranquill, who I ranked at No. 8, is Notre Dame’s most versatile defensive player. And I’m not sure anyone’s close in the category. I think he can be a problem for opposing offenses in a number of ways. Tranquill is probably at his best if he doesn’t have to only play safety. If he can get some reliable help on the back end of the defense, Tranquill might reach the high ceiling I have for him.

Sanders, who I ranked No. 12, could be in line to be Notre Dame’s second-leading receiver behind Torii Hunter Jr. The absence of Jones should only increase that likelihood. I’m waiting to see who will step up besides Hunter at the receiver positions, and I have the most confidence in Sanders. He could be a nightmare to defend in the slot.

• Only two players made my top 25 but didn’t receive enough votes to make the final list: defensive ends Jay Hayes (No. 20) and Daelin Hayes (No.23).

Maybe both players won’t reach the expectations I have for them this season, but I believe at least one will. I’m just not certain which player it will be.

Daelin Hayes was the closest a freshman came to making the group’s top 25. He received votes from five different panelists and finished No. 28. Jay Hayes only showed up on the lists of four voters.

• Only two players made the final top 25 but didn’t appear on my ballot: center Sam Mustipher (No. 20) and wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (No. 25).

I wasn’t quite ready to put four offensive linemen in my top 25, so Mustipher didn’t make my list. But the fact that he seemingly won the center position early in spring ball could bode well for his future in 2016.

Before Jones was suspended for the season, I expected him to take away a lot of wide receiver reps away from St. Brown. Now St. Brown has a chance to make his way onto this list with a golden opportunity ahead of him.

MY TOP 25

*Group ranking in parentheses

1. OT Mike McGlinchey (1)

2. DE Isaac Rochell (4)

3. OG Quenton Nelson (3)

4. QB DeShone Kizer (2)

5. WR Torii Hunter Jr. (5)

6. CB Cole Luke (7)

7. RB Josh Adams (8)

8. S Drue Tranquill (16)

9. QB Malik Zaire (6)

10. CB Shaun Crawford (12)

11. LB Nyles Morgan (11)

12. WR C.J. Sanders (17)

13. DT Jarron Jones (9)

14. RB Tarean Folston (10)

15. TE Alizé Jones (13)

16. OL Alex Bars (14)

17. LB James Onwualu (15)

18. DT Jerry Tillery (19)

19. S Max Redfield (18)

20. DE Jay Hayes (NR)

21. DT Daniel Cage (21)

22. P Tyler Newsome (22)

23. DE Daelin Hayes (NR)

24. TE Durham Smythe (24)

25. K Justin Yoon (23)

Notre Dame’s William Fuller (7) celebrates with teammate Mike McGlinchey (68) after a touchdown during the Music City Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN