Ranking the top 25 players on Notre Dame's roster for 2018


Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Before last season, I didn’t include Te’von Coney on my list.

In the annual poll of Notre Dame reporters and bloggers conducted by the Inside the Irish blog for NBC Sports, I passed on putting the backup linebacker on my list of the most impactful players on Notre Dame’s roster for the 2017 season.

Despite that error, perhaps my most egregious projection of a Notre Dame football player or recruit in my career, Douglas Farmer invited me back to take part in the rankings poll once again.

Farmer asked 12 reporters and bloggers to rank the top 25 players on the roster for the 2018 season. As with any player rankings, the exercise is a subjective one. It’s up to each of us to figure out how we want to establish the value of each player.

The final poll was released Friday and can be found here. Below is my submission with the final poll ranking listed in parentheses. After that, I’ve added some notes on where my poll differs from others.

1. LB Te'von Coney (1)

2. CB Julian Love (4)

3. OL Sam Mustipher (3)

4. DT Jerry Tillery (2)

5. LB Drue Tranquill (5)

6. K Justin Yoon (21)

7. DE Daelin Hayes (8)

8. OG Alex Bars (7)

9. DE Julian Okwara (20)

10. QB Brandon Wimbush (6)

11. RB Dexter Williams (19)

12. CB Shaun Crawford (16)

13. WR Chase Claypool (11)

14. OL Robert Hainsey (14)

15. DE Khalid Kareem (10)

16. CB Troy Pride (13)

17. WR Miles Boykin (9)

18. OL Tommy Kraemer (22)

19. P Tyler Newsome (24)

20. S Alohi Gilman (12)

21. TE Cole Kmet (15)

22. TE Alizé Mack (18)

23. RB Tony Jones Jr. (17)

24. S Houston Griffith (NR)

25. RB Jafar Armstrong (NR)

• I promise, I didn’t include Coney at No. 1 just to make amends for last year’s mistake. He’s the most dominant player on the roster and losing him would really leave the Irish in a bind. He finished No. 1 on the final poll and received a No. 1 ranking from seven of us.

I will take this one paragraph to explain why I left Coney off the list last year. From what we had seen in the spring, I wasn’t sure if Coney would be able to find much playing time behind Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini. A year later, head coach Brian Kelly said Coney was “missing in action” during the 2017 spring session.

Now you’re free to resume mocking me. My 2017 rankings can be found here.

• I logged the highest rankings for two players: kicker Justin Yoon and defensive end Julian Okwara. Both made my top 10, but they finished in the 20s in the group rankings.

I figured my ranking of Yoon would be higher than most. I’m not sure there are many people on Notre Dame’s roster that do their job better than he does. I found that the top five players clearly separated themselves from the rest of the roster, so No. 6 felt like the most appropriate spot for Yoon. Watching him hit a 50-yard field goal in Notre Dame Stadium during Saturday’s practice certainly made me feel good about my Yoon projection.

As for Okwara, I just don’t see that big of a gap between him and Daelin Hayes. I think they’re going to both be productive, and I expect Notre Dame to find ways to get them both on the field at the same time to rush the passer.

• I ended up with the lowest ranking for Alohi Gilman at No. 20. He finished at No. 12, which I don’t think is unreasonable. He could certainly outplay my projection, but I didn’t want to go too high on any of the safeties in this defense yet.

• Only two players that made the final rankings weren’t included in my top 25: left tackle Liam Eichenberg (No. 23) and nose guard Jonathan Bonner (No. 25). Both players likely would have landed in my top 30. But they’re also the players I have the least confidence in on both lines.

I think Eichenberg should succeed in the long run, but I expect him to take his lumps in his first season as a starter. Will Notre Dame be patient with him, or will offensive line coach Jeff Quinn shuffle his lineup if there’s trouble early in the season? That uncertainty left Eichenberg off my list.

As for Bonner, I’m not sure what to expect from him at nose guard. Is he strong enough to hold his ground? There’s certainly not a lot of flash there, but he can be a productive part of the defense. Even if he is, it will likely go unnoticed.

• We submitted our ballots before Notre Dame opened preseason practice. Now that we’ve seen three full practices, I would consider adding safety Nick Coleman and running back Avery Davis to the list. Coleman has been playing as a starting safety, and Davis appears to be a bit more than a gadget player.

However, I still like Houston Griffith (No. 24) and Jafar Armstrong (No. 25) ahead of those players at their respective positions by the end of the season. Neither Griffith nor Armstrong made the group rankings.

I would also consider moving wide receiver Miles Boykin and running back Tony Jones Jr. slightly higher up the list.

Te'von Coney would probably react this way if he saw where I ranked him before the 2017 season.