Ranking Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 17, Cornerback Shaun Crawford
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Notre Dame’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 17, Shaun Crawford

Over the next month, 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 2020.

This is not necessarily about who is the best player or the top pro prospect. It’s more along the lines of individuals who need to either emerge, remain a centerpiece or significantly elevate their production to facilitate the Fighting Irish 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. 17 in the countdown is cornerback Shaun Crawford, who earned 42 points in our poll.

Why Crawford Is Ranked No. 17

Notre Dame is thin on experienced corners, and Crawford is a sixth-year senior who has been a starter or sub-package player whenever he has been healthy.

That is, of course, the major question. Crawford has finished only two of his five seasons. He has suffered two ACL tears and a torn Achilles tendon. The injury history is the main reason he isn’t ranked higher. But when he has played, he has been an effective field corner and slot corner.

Crawford won the starting field cornerback job last fall and held it until he dislocated his elbow in Notre Dame’s win over Virginia Sept. 28. He missed only two games, though, and ended the season with 28 tackles, two passes broken up and an interception.

A healthy Crawford means Notre Dame won’t have to rely on its pool of six corners with four years of eligibility left to play important snaps. One of them, perhaps KJ Wallace, Isaiah Rutherford or Cam Hart, seems likely to crack the rotation anyway because playing only three corners is rare, but it won’t be a necessity.

Crawford announced his return for a sixth year in January after his waiver was approved. A denial would have been a shock.

“Every single time you step out on the field, you’re getting closer to your last one,” Crawford said in a social media video announcing his return. “Knowing that, you take advantage of it.

“At the end of the day I felt that this was the right decision. I could only better myself, help the team.”

Crawford’s Status Entering The Season

If Crawford is healthy, he’s going to start. He won a job last year out of camp and was re-inserted right back into the lineup after his injury. Notre Dame wouldn’t have welcomed him back for a sixth year if he was going to sit on the bench.

He’s also a coaches’ favorite. Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame defensive staff was impressed with Crawford the moment he came on campus in 2015. He picked up the defense faster than any of his classmates and was taking first-team reps in training camp before an ACL tear in late August wiped out his freshman season.

Crawford will work with TaRiq Bracy at field corner and can play in the slot in nickel packages. If Bracy ends up starting at boundary over North Carolina State graduate transfer Nick McCloud, though, the field corner is all his. Notre Dame brought in McCloud because he fits the mold of a boundary corner, but he won’t walk into the starting job.

At 5-9 and 180 pounds, Crawford is not a true boundary corner candidate. He could, though, play safety in a bind or in sub packages. He’s a strong tackler with good instincts.

Notre Dame sixth-year senior cornerback Shaun Crawford
Crawford has missed three seasons due to injury, but Notre Dame will count on him in 2020. (Photo by Angela Driskell)

What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?

Playing the whole season, above all else. Crawford has done so just once, in 2017. Availability is the main task for him.

In two (mostly) healthy seasons, Crawford has combined for 60 tackles, seven passes broken up and three interceptions. He played similar field and slot corner roles, as he should in 2020. A season like those others — around 30 tackles and three or four passes broken up — would help Notre Dame.

Crawford’s coverage numbers may be a better way to judge him. Opponents have thrown at him 92 times, and he has allowed 50 catches for 695 yards, per Pro Football Focus. He has allowed four touchdowns and three interceptions, and opponents have a 75.2 NFL passer rating against him.

In 2019, that opponent rating was 67.1. He allowed a career-best 11.5 yards per reception and a 51.5 reception percentage.

Behind The Ranking

The top 25 was determined in the same manner as the Associated Press top 25. 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: 22

Lou Somogyi: 23

Mike Singer: 17

Todd Burlage: 11

Andrew Mentock: 15

Prior Top 25 Profiles

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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