Notre Dame Football’s Top 25 Most Important Players, No. 12: Jack Kiser
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Notre Dame Football’s Top 25 Most Important Players, No. 12: Jack Kiser

Throughout July, BlueandGold.com will feature a countdown of the 25 most pivotal figures counted on to help lead Notre Dame back to the College Football Playoff in 2021.

This is not necessarily about who is the best player or the top pro prospect. It’s more along the lines of individuals that need to either emerge, remain a centerpiece or significantly elevate their production to help the Irish reach that goal.

Much is based on talent and impact, but a premium is also placed on these questions: 1) If you subtracted this individual from the roster, how much of a setback would it be? 2) If this less proven player emerges and makes an impact, how much does that raise the ceiling (or lower it, if a breakout does not happen as expected)?

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish football junior linebacker Jack Kiser
Kiser (above) is in a prime position to take over the starting rover spot vacated by All-American Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. (Notre Dame Athletics)

The players and their rankings were determined by vote from five BlueandGold.com staff members.

Next in the countdown is junior linebacker Jack Kiser, who collected 53 points in our poll.

Why Kiser Is Ranked No. 12

It is not easy to replace a Butkus Award winner, but the player poised to try certainly deserves his name fairly high up on the list of Notre Dame’s 25 most important players. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah did so much for the Irish defense last year at rover. Kiser, with just one start to his name, is tasked with attempting to do the same in 2021.

If Kiser can be the player he was in his one start last year, then Notre Dame might not be missing out on much with Owusu-Koramoah’s departure for the NFL after all. Kiser led the Irish with eight tackles, two of which were for a loss, while adding a quarterback hurry in a 52-0 victory over South Florida in September.

Those statistics were generated starting in then-sophomore Will linebacker Marist Liufau’s stead, however. Kiser rose from scout team to starting at Will in the span of roughly 24 hours and did enough against the Bulls to take home the game ball. He won’t be receiving any game balls for stepping up in a starting role in 2021. Much has changed for Kiser in the last year. He’s expected to produce in that sort of role given his advancement on Notre Dame’s depth chart.

Kiser’s Status Entering The Season

While Notre Dame no longer has the luxury of a warrior like Owusu-Koramoah at rover, the Irish still have plenty of depth at the position. Kiser could be the likely starter, but the players vying for playing time behind him could easily work their way onto the field.

Graduate student Isaiah Pryor and senior Paul Moala don’t fit in the Will or Mike linebacker spots. Even if they did, they’d be battling Liufau and senior Shayne Simon and graduate student Drew White and senior Bo Bauer, respectively, at those positions. Gunning for reps at rover is their best bet at seeing the field.

For Kiser, that means having to prove to the coaching staff that he is the best option at rover. And even if he successfully does so, unless he somehow turned into Owusu-Koramoah overnight then he is likely to share the spot with Pryor and Moala much more than Owusu-Koramoah did in his award-winning season.

What’s most probable is Kiser assuming the starting role early in the season but yielding quite a bit of snaps to those behind him on the depth chart. Each of the players provides different skill sets, too, so it could very well work out to where there is a different rover on the field for the various situations Notre Dame’s defense is set to face.

Even if that is the case, Kiser will be asked to play a very important role for the Irish. He’s both the tallest (6-2) and heaviest (227) of the trio, so when it comes down to making a key stop on the edge in short yardage situations, spying a quarterback or even locking up a tight end or running back over the middle Kiser could be the guy defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman calls upon.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish football junior linebackers Jack Kiser and Maris Liufau
Kiser (24) and fellow junior linebacker Marist Liufau (35) are poised to be starters for the Irish in 2021. (Mike Miller)

What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?

It all goes back to how much Freeman is able to trust him.

Owusu-Koramoah ranked second on the team in total tackles (62) and first in tackles for loss (11.0) last season. Kiser should not be trying to replicate those numbers. That’s simply placing too much pressure on himself. Owusu-Koramoah started 13 games and tied for the team lead in tackles in 2019. He was set for a springboard season in 2020. Kiser? He’s started one game — ever.

Therefore, a successful season for No. 24 would be to start every game. And if he doesn’t, then he should aim to start more at rover than anyone else. If that’s five starts at rover to Moala’s four and Pryor’s five, then that wouldn’t be a total loss.

Freeman is certainly searching for consistency, though. The best case scenario is Kiser proving to the first-year defensive coordinator that he is capable of making every play asked of a rover. If he does, then that will lead to more starts and a rather firm grasp on the position. It’s there for the taking. Kiser just has to go out there and take it.

Behind The Ranking

The top 25 was determined in the same manner as the Associated Press top 25. Five BlueandGold.com staff members submitted their ballots, and each position on the ballot was given a point value. The top ranking was worth 25 points, No. 2 was worth 24, No. 3 worth 23 and so on down until No. 25, which was worth one point. The players with the 25 highest point totals made the list.

Individual rankings

Patrick Engel: 11

Tyler Horka: 12

Mike Singer: 19

Todd Burlage: 21

Steve Downey: 14

Prior Top 25 Rankings

No. 25: Jonathan Doerer

No. 24: Marist Liufau

No. 23: Drew Pyne

No. 22: Braden Lenzy

No. 21: Jayson Ademilola

No. 20: Chris Tyree

No. 19: Avery Davis

No. 18: Josh Lugg

No. 17: Houston Griffith

No. 16: Cam Hart

No. 15: Zeke Correll

No. 14: Blake Fisher

No. 13: Kurt Hinish

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