Ranking Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 15, Grad Transfer Cornerback Nick McCloud
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Notre Dame’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 15, Nick McCloud

Throughout July, BlueandGold.com is counting down the 25 most pivotal figures whom Notre Dame will rely on to get back to the College Football Playoff in 2020.

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 facilitate the Fighting Irish’s goal of climbing toward championship timber.

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)? The players and their ranking were determined by vote from five BlueandGold.com writers.

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At No. 15 in the countdown is cornerback Nick McCloud, who earned 52 points in our poll.

Why McCloud Is Ranked No. 15

In four years at North Carolina State, McCloud made 19 starts. Notre Dame’s other eight cornerbacks have a combined 11, and they’re all from TaRiq Bracy and Shaun Crawford. Six of them have four years of eligibility left, either incoming freshmen or players who redshirted 2019.

Notre Dame grabbed McCloud from the graduate transfer market in May because it needed experience and help at cornerback. At 6-1, 190 pounds, he fits the boundary corner spot vacated by Troy Pride Jr. McCloud was one of two graduate transfers Notre Dame took in May, along with former Stanford running back Trevor Speights.

“We wanted maturity — player maturity as well as veteran maturity,” head coach Brian Kelly said of the graduate transfers. “These are guys we did our research on in talking to coaches. They’re well respected in their locker rooms by their teammates.

“ We’re inserting guys into a strong and winning culture we don’t have to be concerned with.”

Of the four graduate transfers Notre Dame took this offseason, McCloud has the easiest path to a starting job and significant role. He’s a proven ACC starter, and his new team has a glaring need at his position. If he can cut it for Notre Dame, he shores up a position that otherwise would have relied on redshirt freshmen KJ Wallace or Cam Hart, or pulled Bracy away from the field side.

McCloud will still need to compete, but the others behind him would need to really impress to overtake him. Hart and Wallace played in seven combined games, in mop-up duty or on special teams. Bracy may be McCloud’s primary competition to start training camp. The 5-10, 180-pound Bracy has played mostly field corner and projects best there, but plays unafraid when matched up against bigger receivers in one-on-one spots.

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McCloud’s Status Entering The Season

The 2019 season was supposed to be McCloud’s last in college. He played as a true freshman in 2016, starting the Independence Bowl. He became a full-time starter in 2017 and 2018, and was elected a team captain in 2019. But he sprained his MCL in the 2019 opener against East Carolina and missed all but one game.

It created the opportunity for him to redshirt and be a graduate transfer. Notre Dame secondary coach Terry Joseph reached out to him shortly after he entered the transfer portal in January. He committed in May without visiting as a recruit, though he played at Notre Dame as a visitor in 2017. He enrolled in June and is expected to be fully healthy for training camp.

Despite the need, Notre Dame isn’t going to hand McCloud a starting job. He’s experienced, but is not without flaw. He struggled in a 2018 game at Clemson, which looms on Notre Dame’s schedule this year. He’s physical and a good tackler, but not particularly fast. He understands he’s also not a finished product or entitled due to the circumstances.

“There were no promises being made,” McCloud told BlueandGold.com in May. “[Joseph] presented me the situation and just said to come in and work. That’s all I ever needed from the beginning, just to have the opportunity to come in and do great things.”

Notre Dame fifth-year senior cornerback Nick McCloud during his time at North Carolina State
McCloud started 19 games during his four years at North Carolina State. (gopack.com)

What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?

The best-case scenario for McCloud played out not too long ago with another graduate transfer cornerback.

The Irish brought in Cody Riggs from Florida after 2013 starting corner Bennett Jackson was drafted and backup Lo Wood took a graduate transfer. The move became more prudent when KeiVarae Russell was suspended for the 2014 season in training camp. Notre Dame was left with veteran Cole Luke and a host of unproven underclassmen. Riggs slid in and started 11 games, notching 36 tackles, three passes broken up and one interception.

McCloud making a similarly smooth transition into a starting role and bringing season-long effectiveness would boost Notre Dame’s defense. His best season came in 2018, when he had 51 tackles, eight passes broken up and two interceptions. He allowed one touchdown, a 61.5 completion percentage and a 79.6 opponent NFL passer rating. Notre Dame should be happy if he repeats those numbers.

Behind The Ranking

The top 25 was determined in the same manner as the Associated Press poll. Five BlueandGold.com writers 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: 14

Lou Somogyi: 11

Mike Singer: 11

Todd Burlage: not ranked

Andrew Mentock: 16

Burlage on his ranking: “A tough player to project, McCloud will definitely contribute immediately, and could even play his way into a starting role. But his lack of familiarity in the Irish system and minimal offseason practice time because of COVID-19 makes an impactful arrival difficult to assume.”

Prior Top 25 Profiles

No. 16: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa

No. 17: Shaun Crawford

No. 18: Houston Griffith

No. 19: Lawrence Keys III

No. 20: Chris Tyree

No. 21: Aaron Banks

No. 22: Bennett Skowronek

No. 23: Tommy Kraemer

No. 24: Isaiah Pryor

No. 25: Kurt Hinish

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