Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 5, Cornerback TaRiq Bracy
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Notre Dame’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 5, TaRiq Bracy

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, if the season is held.

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.

At No. 5 in the countdown is defensive end TaRiq Bracy, who earned 100 points in our poll.

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Why Bracy Is Ranked No. 5

At the onset of the spring, Bracy may as well have been Will Smith in the final scene of “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” gazing around an empty room — but instead looking for experienced cornerbacks.

It’s not quite that desolate, but Bracy is one of two returning Irish corners who has played a full season. Sixth-year senior Shaun Crawford is the other, though he has finished a season just twice. The other six returning scholarship corners are barely unwrapped freshmen or sophomores with four years of eligibility left. To provide some help, Notre Dame brought in grad transfer Nick McCloud from North Carolina State.

McCloud will push Bracy for a starting spot and is a better fit at the boundary position than Bracy, who at 5-10 is more of a field or nickel corner. But that spot was Bracy’s on the first day of spring practice. McCloud won’t be gifted it. He still has to prove he can handle the job, and Bracy has been steady since earning a true freshman role as an unheralded member of Notre Dame’s 2018 class who held just four Power Five offers out of high school and who Rivals tabbed as an “athlete.”

“Speed was the first thing that attracted us, and then ball skills,” Brian Kelly said of Bracy in October. “Playing the running back position, we felt like he wasn't physically developed yet. He's still not physically developed to the level we want him to be. I think once he gets to that level, I think he can work towards being much more of an elite corner.”

With only a grad transfer and a skilled but oft-injured 5-9 corner as the veterans, Bracy is ranked here because he provides a level of reliability the others can’t. His floor is high and he has proven he can stay on the field. He hasn’t backed down from challenges or tough assignments. He was a rotation player last year, but still finished with a team-high seven passes broken up and was ninth with 34 tackles. Pro Football Focus credited him with zero missed tackles.

Bracy’s Status Entering The Season

With McCloud’s addition, a near-certain starting role is now muddied. Even if Bracy does not start, Notre Dame is going to need him. At worst, he’s a nickel and dime mainstay. His overall skill set and toughness, though, should warrant much more.

Any injury to McCloud, if he ends up as a starter, should slot Bracy in as the boundary corner instead of having to rely on a younger player such as Cam Hart or KJ Wallace to play Notre Dame’s most important corner spot. He and Crawford can play at the same time on the field side in nickel packages. Both should earn snaps in base defense.

Bracy’s slender 170-pound build may limit his upside, but he broke up two passes in one-on-one matchups with bigger Georgia receivers in a Sept. 21 loss. No Irish player had a higher PFF tackling grade than Bracy’s 90.8. He had a strong 81.6 run defense grade and had nine individual “stops” (a play that means a failure for the offense). Even before the season, teammates went out of their way to prop him up.

"He's a little rangy, crazy guy," former Irish corner Troy Pride Jr. said last August. "It's funny about TaRiq, because when you look at him, when I first got here, I was like, 'Gollee, he moves weird.' Long feet, something kind of crazy. But, man, this dude started breaking up routes and playing over the top and using some length…It's fun to see him make plays."

TaRiq Bracy is Notre Dame's surest thing at cornerback.
TaRiq Bracy is Notre Dame's surest thing at cornerback. (James Gilbert)

What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?

McCloud winning a starting job won’t be an indication that Bracy struggled. Starter or not, Bracy is poised to see his 467 snaps from last season grow. Another strong year in run defense and finishing in the top two or three in pass breakups in a larger sample would be a success.

Adding more bulk and improving ball skills would help him beat out McCloud, though. Bracy could hold up fine in downfield matchups, but most of his work was in the slot or field side against shorter routes. There, he could keep things in front of him and use his speed to break on the ball and knock it away.

There’s value in that role, but with more strength and technical discipline, Bracy could find himself in more one-on-one vertical situations with a chance to go make a play on the ball and take it away. He does not have an interception through two years. He has fallen victim to double moves and struggled in contested-catch situations.

A couple games last year illustrated the physical strides Bracy still need to make. He allowed nine catches Sept. 28 against Virginia, including a 16-yard touchdown on fade. He did not play in the Nov. 3 win over Virginia Tech because Kelly wanted bigger corners who could handle extended individual work that would be a product of Notre Dame’s defensive game plan.

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.

Patrick Engel: 10

Lou Somogyi: 5

Mike Singer: 5

Andrew Mentock: 6

Todd Burlage: 4

Prior Top 25 Profiles

No. 6: Tommy Tremble

No. 7: Ade Ogundeji

No. 8: Daelin Hayes

No. 9 Braden Lenzy

No. 10: Drew White

No. 11 : Robert Hainsey

No. 12: Kevin Austin

No. 13: Jarrett Patterson

No. 14: Jafar Armstrong

No. 15: Nick McCloud

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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