Ranking Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football’s Top 25 Most Important Players: No. 20, Running Back Chris Tyree
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Notre Dame’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 20, Chris Tyree

Over the next month, BlueandGold.com will feature a countdown of the 25 most pivotal figures 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’s goal of climbing toward championship timber.

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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.

Sixth in the countdown at No. 20 is freshman running back Chris Tyree, who collected 30 points in our poll.

Why Tyree Is Ranked No. 20

Every fiber of my mind and heart was telling me not to rank a freshman here. The approach I take 95 percent of the time is any contribution from a rookie is a luxury or bonus, not a necessity or make-or-break outcome.

Yet in this instance, I couldn’t help myself and likely overinflated his value the most in this countdown, placing him the highest at No. 15. Three of my four other colleagues also were compelled to include him.

In reality, Tyree probably should not be in this survey because of the presence of six other scholarship running backs on the roster (including former walk-on Mick Assaf at least through this summer). If one, or even two, of those other six cannot emerge in 2020, something is amiss.

However, my mind went back to a memorable line in the 1980 Sports Illustrated Pro Football Preview when it assessed the run-challenged Detroit Lions, who drafted Oklahoma’s Billy Sims with the No. 1 overall selection:

Wrote SI: “Detroit is asking only one thing of its top pick: Be great. Please be great! None of this messing around, Billy, trying to earn a position.”

Indeed, Sims became the first NFL player to score three touchdowns in his debut, made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and two years later helped the Lions to their first playoff berth in 12 years.

That, in essence, is the approach that many Notre Dame faithful might be taking with Tyree, although with vastly more tap-the-brakes projection as far as reaching the 1,000-yard rushing mark as Sims did.

The game-breaker who won the Fastest Man Competition at The Opening Finals in both 2018 (4.38 in the 40-yard dash) and 2019 (4.37) is the lone running back on the roster that was signed as a four-star prospect, and Rivals’ first top-100 prospect at the position to ink with Notre Dame since the late Greg Bryant in 2013.

The “please be great” mindset is not necessarily about just 2020, but down the road, too, especially after their No. 1 all-purpose back target Will Shipley, chose Clemson over the Fighting Irish this spring.

With such publicity come expectations to “not just earn a position,” but have at least some impact. Or as folksy former Texas legendary coach Darrell Royal said, “If a dog’s gonna bite you, he’ll do it as a pup.”

Notre Dame freshman running back Chris Tyree
Can Tyree — a top-100 recruit — provide the explosiveness at running back in 2020? (Rivals.com)

Tyree’s Status Entering The Season

As noted, there are a half-dozen other scholarship prospects on the 2020 roster (including Assaf), although each comes with the “yeah, but …” caveat.

• Former receiver recruit and senior Jafar Armstrong is the front-runner with his 505 career rushing yards and 27 catches … but he’s had several health setbacks the past two years and averaged only 2.7 yards per carry last year on his 46 attempts.

• Junior C’Bo Flemister has the most returning touchdowns from last year (five) … but his 162 yards on the ground averaged only 3.4 yards.

• Junior Jahmir Smith’s 180 rushing yards in 2019 are the most among a returning running back from 2019 … but in the last four games he totaled zero yards on seven carries.

• The staff wanted to get 5-9, 204-pound Kyren Williams involved much more last year … but after four games decided he wasn’t primed for extensive action yet and opted to redshirt him.

• Stanford graduate transfer Trevor Speights was added in May, but he did not play in two of his four seasons with the Cardinal (2019 among them) and averaged a modest 3.8 yards per carry on his 363 rushing yards.

The quantity is vast, but the lack of proven star power or consistent performance is what prompts the “please be great” yearning with Tyree.

Regardless, at a listed 5-9½, 179 pounds, Tyree will have plenty to prove himself while adjusting to a much higher level of competition and attempting to demonstrate he can be durable enough to perform most of the season if needed.

As a high school senior, he was sidelined in four games because of a high ankle sprain and carried only 71 times for 655 yards. Can he distinguish himself enough in August camp to make himself a viable option in the backfield rotation?

What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?

First would be the coaching staff classifying hm as impactful enough to not redshirt (19 of Notre Dame’s 22 freshmen last year did), and play more than four games beyond mop-up duty.

Second would be to be among the top three backs to where his speed can be resourcefully utilized for at least five touches per game (if not deployed also as a decoy who a defense must account for anywhere).

Possibly, Tyree could be used the way current junior wideout Braden Lenzy was last year to get him the ball while on the move and in space. Lenzy, who would rival Tyree as the fastest player on the team, had 24 touches last year as a receiver or runner (mainly on jet sweeps) that totaled 454 yards (18.9 yards per touch) and four touchdowns.

At about 160-165 pounds as a freshman, Lenzy was too underdeveloped and had to wait until he was a stronger 180 as a sophomore to help. Tyree might be able to help sooner. If he could complement the offense with at least 450-500 yards rushing and receiving on about 50-60 touches, that could go a long way toward aiding a backfield in need of much more oomph.

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: 17

Lou Somogyi: 15

Mike Singer: 22

Todd Burlage: Not ranked

Andrew Mentock: 20

Prior Top 25 Profiles

No. 21 Aaron Banks

No. 22: Bennett Skowronek

No. 23: Tommy Kraemer

No. 24: Isaiah Pryor

No. 25: Kurt Hinish


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