Ranking the top 25 players on Notre Dame's roster for 2017

IRISH STEW

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Think long and hard about it. I know I did.

Who is the best player on Notre Dame’s 2017 roster?

For most, the conversation primarily includes two offensive linemen: left tackle Mike McGlinchey and left guard Quenton Nelson. Separating the two is like splitting hairs.

Now extend this exercise to the rest of the roster. That’s the prompt we were given from Douglas Farmer, who carried on the annual tradition started by Keith Arnold for the NBC Sports blog on the Irish. In total, 12 reporters and bloggers took our best shot at ranking the top 25 players for the season.

The ranking criterion is simple in theory but certainly hard to parse in reality. Farmer asked us to rank the players on the basis of “most-impactful contributions in 2017.”

My complete list can be found below. The final list compiled through our votes can be found here.

A few observations:

• Only two other voters made the same decision as me in putting McGlinchey over Nelson. Yet the two were only separated by one point in the final tally. I don’t think you can have a wrong answer in this debate. McGlinchey’s responsibility on the edge in pass protection gave him the edge in my mind.

• Other than McGlinchey, I casted the highest votes for three different players: tight end Durham Smythe, wide receiver Chase Claypool and cornerback Julian Love (with two other voters).

I wasn’t surprised at all that I was the highest on Claypool and Love. I might be too high on Claypool, but I still can’t see many defenders stopping him in man coverage when at his best. I believe Love is the best defensive back on the roster, so I’m fairly confident in that vote.

I was surprised that my vote for Smythe at No. 15 ended up being the highest. It seemed like a reasonable spot for him. Perhaps he’s being overshadowed by Alizé Mack, and that lowered him on the list. Smythe certainly didn’t have a great 2016 season, but I believe he can be used better this year.

• It doesn’t make much sense to me that punter Tyler Newsome didn’t make the top 25. Kicker Justin Yoon made the list at No. 24, wide receiver/returner C.J. Sanders came in at No. 21, but Newsome didn’t get enough love.

In my mind, Newsome is better at his position than both Yoon and Sanders, which is why I ranked Newsome at No. 17, Sanders at No. 23 and left Yoon off my list.

Last season, Newsome averaged 43.5 yards per punt. Only 25 FBS punters had a better average in 2016.

On the other hand, Yoon had a rocky 2016 season and missed the spring with injury issues. I’m in the wait-and-see camp for the Irish kicker.

• After Newsome, I only had two other players on my ballot that didn’t make the group’s top 25: safeties Alohi Gilman (No. 24) and Nick Coleman (No. 25).

Gilman is certainly a wild card as we don’t know if he’ll be eligible to play this season. But his placement came on reputation alone.

My Coleman selection was derided by at least one Twitter user, who claimed he would rank 40 players ahead of Coleman on his own personal list. Coleman struggled mightily to start last season, so I understand it’s hard to erase those images. But I believe he will be better suited at safety and won’t be put in the situations that exposed him last season.

I felt the end of my list needed some safety representation, as someone back there is going to make an impact this season. If I knew for sure Gilman’s status, I probably would have only included one safety.

• My biggest mistake may have been leaving running back Dexter Williams off my list. He finished at No. 15 in the final vote, which seems awfully high, but he probably deserves a spot in the top 25.

My biggest reason for leaving Williams off the list was an uncertainty in the gap between him and Tony Jones Jr. I think Jones could take some opportunities away from Williams, so I left them both off the list. But I believe both are talented and could be valuable assets for the Irish offense.

• Because our lists are created before preseason camp, there always seems to be someone left off the list that would have made it if we waited a couple of weeks. Wide receiver Cameron Smith would probably be that guy this season.

Head coach Brian Kelly has called Smith the most consistent receiver after St. Brown so far in camp, and it sounds like it’s going to be hard to keep him off the field. In retrospect, I would swap Smith in my list for wide receiver Kevin Stepherson, who has continued his stint as the lost man in Notre Dame’s wide receiver corps. Stepherson’s offseason hasn’t had many highlights, and Smith is the brand new toy.

MY TOP 25

*Final poll ranking in parentheses.

1. OT Mike McGlinchey (2)

2. OG Quenton Nelson (1)

3. LB Nyles Morgan (3)

4. WR Equanimeous St. Brown (5)

5. RB Josh Adams (4)

6. S Drue Tranquill (7)

7. QB Brandon Wimbush (6)

8. CB Julian Love (12)

9. WR Chase Claypool (18)

10. CB Shaun Crawford (10)

11. DE Daelin Hayes (9)

12. C Sam Mustipher (14)

13. TE Alizé Mack (8)

14. LB Greer Martini (13)

15. TE Durham Smythe (22)

16. CB Nick Watkins (16)

17. P Tyler Newsome (NR)

18. DT Jerry Tillery (11)

19. WR Kevin Stepherson (19)

20. OG Alex Bars (17)

21. DE Jay Hayes (20)

22. CB Donte Vaughn (25)

23. WR C.J. Sanders (21)

24. S Alohi Gilman (NR)

25. S Nick Coleman (NR)

Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey runs drills during practice, Friday, April 7, 2017, in South Bend. Tribune Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ