Ranking Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 24, Safety Isaiah Pryor
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Notre Dame’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 24, Isaiah Pryor

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’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.

Second in the countdown is Ohio State graduate transfer Isaiah Pryor, who collected 20 points in our poll.

Why Pryor Is Ranked No. 24

When one breaks down all of Notre Dame’s position groups on offense and defense, including both interiors along the lines, the one area that entered spring drills in March without three full teams of scholarship players was safety.

Only five scholarship safeties are on the 2020 roster, and thankfully the fifth one added this winter was Pryor, who has two years of eligibility remaining through 2021. The low numbers are a result of three factors. First, both starters — and captains — from last year, Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman, have graduated and are off to the NFL.

Second, Notre Dame did not sign a safety in the 2020 recruiting cycle, although it’s not out of the question that one of the three corner prospects could shift there, as junior DJ Brown did last year.

Third, of the three safeties signed in 2018, one is now at rover (Paul Moala) and another transferred to Georgia Tech (Derrik Allen). Even the third, Houston Griffith, played mainly nickel as a safety and had an audition at boundary corner last year that did not work out.

Adding Pryor to the roster is significant, not only to supply legitimate competition to Griffith at strong safety opposite 2020 Freshman All-American Kyle Hamilton, but to provide much needed experience and depth to the unit from someone who is used to the big-time scene.

At superpower IMG Academy in Florida, the Georgia native was Rivals’ No. 106 overall player (and high as No. 45 by ESPN), and started seven games as a sophomore for the 2018 Ohio State Buckeyes that finished 13-1.

In many ways the 6-1½, 199-pound Pryor can provide the kind of oomph for the position group that Navy transfer Gilman did when he enrolled in 2017 before becoming eligible in 2018. In both cases, the work ethic and drive of those two were/are unquestioned.

Pryor’s Status Entering The Season

Graduate transfers, especially from a superpower such as Ohio State, do not switch schools to have a reserve role.

Yet in the lone spring practice held on March 5, Griffith was ahead of Pryor at strong safety when the lineups took the field. That should not be a great surprise, either, because Griffith was Rivals’ top-rated recruit in Notre Dame’s 2018 recruiting harvest (No. 43 nationally), and junior year is often the time to blossom.

Regardless, Hamilton demonstrated last year that if the chops and ability are evident, one will find his way on the field. Defensive coordinator Clark Lea was resourceful last year at employing some three-safety looks (especially against USC) that put freshman sensation Hamilton on the field for 421 defensive snaps (about 32 per game) despite the presence of two senior captains at safety.

Pryor is a far different safety than Hamilton. Whereas Hamilton and his rangy 6-4 frame is the archetype to be the center fielder on the back end while covering a vast amount of ground and maybe even help erase the mistakes of others, Pryor is more of a downhill in-the-box safety in the mold of Gilman. Griffith would appear to be a hybrid of the two, which is why his first two seasons he was utilized at nickel and experimented with at corner.

An argument can be made that the disparity in talent between Ohio State and Notre Dame is evident by the fact that whereas Pryor had a hard time getting on the field for the ultra-talented Buckeyes secondary, with the Fighting Irish he can be an integral piece to the safety puzzle.

The flip side is Gilman was a two-star recruit who thrived at Notre Dame. There is no reason to believe that Pryor can’t do the same, albeit not necessarily in a full-time starting role.

Notre Dame safety Isaiah Pryor during practice in March
Pryor’s physicality and tackling skills make him more of an in-the-box safety like the recently graduated Alohi Gilman. (Mike Miller)

What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?

This would be more collective than based on individual stats.

Elliott and Gilman were fantastic leaders on defense the past two seasons while the Irish posted a 23-3 ledger, but the trio of Hamilton, Griffith and Pryor might be even more gifted athletically. All three were ranked as top-50 prospects by at least one service, and even Lea contends it could be “a special group” at safety this year.

“[It’s] more belief in the fact that we have guys who are going to step in at the safety position and enhance that depth and allow us the flexibility to play multiple safeties on the field,” Lea said. “Part of that is also an adaptation to modern football.

“You want to have enough skill in that room to where you can line up against these teams that are going four wide and spreading the field out. We know a little less about this squad than we do about the one last year, but I’ve got a lot of confidence.”

Pryor’s presence helped enhance it, even if it will be in more of a co-starting role.

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: Not ranked

Lou Somogyi: 17

Mike Singer: 15

Todd Burlage: Not ranked

Andrew Mentock: Not ranked

Singer on his Pryor ranking: Notre Dame doesn't have great depth at the safety spot. Take Pryor away and it leaves a void. I’m also very high on Pryor’s talents and believe he can contribute in multiple ways. I’m surprised three of my colleagues didn’t have Pryor on their list.

Previous Top 25 Profiles

No. 25: Kurt Hinish

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