Notre Dame’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 8, Daelin Hayes
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 indeed 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.
No. 8 is fifth-year senior vyper end Daelin Hayes, who collected 83 points in our poll.
Why Hayes Is Ranked No. 8
To achieve championship-level status Notre Dame has in the past, the three most common personnel necessities are a Hall of Fame head coach, supreme leadership and clutch play from a quarterback who can beat you with his arm, legs and resourcefulness, and a holy terror on the edge of the defense.
While sealing off the perimeter on the rush is vital in the latter’s job description, in today’s game especially a pass rush is mandatory. Perhaps nobody on the 2020 roster can bring a stronger skill set in those areas than the 6-4, 270-pound Hayes.
So far in the 21st century, the single-best pass-rushing force or edge player at Notre Dame was Justin Tuck (2002-04), who later was a vital component in two Super Bowl titles for the New York Giants over New England. How many times have we heard “if Tuck would have returned for his final year of eligibility in 2005, he might have been the difference in the 44-41 and 34-31 losses to Michigan State and USC, and Notre Dame would have played for the national title”?
Future second-round pick Stephon Tuitt had 12 sacks plus three forced fumbles as a sophomore end during the 12-0 regular season in 2012, and Julian Okwara’s impact during the CFP run in 2018 made him a projected first-round pick his senior year before a fractured fibula dropped him to the third round.
Going much further back to glory days, luminary defensive ends such as Leon Hart, Alan Page and Ross Browner were first-round choices from multiple national title outfits, while Walt Patulski was the No. 1 overall pick from a No. 2 team in 1970, and first-rounder Renaldo Wynn started on the No. 2 finisher in 1993 as a sophomore.
Consensus All-American Frank Stams was “only” a second-round pick, but he came out of nowhere for the 1988 national champs with a magnificent fifth year in which he repeatedly starred against the top opposition.
Get the point? A dominant edge player and “sack man” on defense has been generally a mandate to achieve championship-level status.
Hayes always has passed the proverbial eye test with a stature to hold the edge combined with fluidity to rush the passer and drop into coverage. That’s why he was a five-star prospect coming out of high school, joining sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton as the lone such figures on the Notre Dame defense.
Hayes returns with more career tackles (78), tackles for loss (14.5) and sacks (6.0) than anyone on this year’s roster, but he acknowledged that through most of his first three years the five-star status became somewhat of a burden.
“I have always had this cloud of expectation,” he admitted during his junior year in 2018. “If I play with that over my head, that mental baggage, it takes away from my game. That is something that I’ve had to overcome.”
In the closing month during the run to the 2018 CFP, Hayes began playing up to his immense potential, and last year through the first three games he was playing the best football of his career — until a torn labrum on his first series in game four versus Virginia sidelined him for the season, giving him the fifth-year medical redshirt in 2020.
Hayes has had multiple surgeries on his shoulder going back to his high school days that resulted in him missing two seasons there. He had been healthy most of his career with the Irish until last year.
Hayes’ Status Entering The Season
With Okwara and 2018-19 starting strong-side end and Team MVP Khalid Kareem both off to the NFL, fifth-year seniors and fellow Michigan natives Hayes and Ade Ogundeji will be leaned on heavily as bookend playmakers.
Even though he missed the final 10 games last year, Hayes was accorded preseason second-team All-America honors this summer by Sporting News. A lot of that is based on his five-star reputation coming into college, with a final chance to fulfill such promise.
Unlike Hayes, Ogundeji came in with much less fanfare, having originally committed to Mid-American Conference school Western Michigan before jumping at the opportunity to play at Notre Dame.
Ogundeji’s career arc has prospered to the point where he too now is a bona fide NFL prospect, recording seven tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last season.
The 2019 unit had an embarrassment of riches at defensive end, which is why despite losing Hayes and Okwara along the way there was little to no drop-off with the likes of Ogundeji and another senior in Jamir Jones, who was supposed to be redshirted before Hayes’ injury, stepping in.
There is not as much seasoned experience this year behind Hayes and Ogundeji, which is what makes their durability and consistent production all the more crucial in 2020.
If Hayes especially can live up to his ability, Notre Dame will be a serious contender to reach the CFP for the second time in three years.
What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season
Staying healthy enough to match, if not surpass, the third-round selection of Okwara this past spring.
On and off the field, Hayes has all the makings of a team captain with his combination of leadership, talent, smarts, work ethic, perseverance and oratory skills.
He arrived with huge on-field expectations that have not yet been quite fulfilled, but in the final month of 2018 and start of 2019 began rising more to the forefront.
Hayes selected Notre Dame in part because he learned in high school through his numerous setbacks and injuries that football can be taken away at any time — and it could be again in 2020 beyond just another injury. If it isn’t, he should be one of the team’s linchpins.
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: 18
Lou Somogyi: 4
Mike Singer: 9
Todd Burlage: 6
Andrew Mentock: 10
Engel on his ranking: “Ideally, the vyper spot is home to a team’s best pass rusher and someone who can provide steady pressure. Hayes’ physical tools are clear, but they haven’t translated into pass-rush consistency. He’s a plus run defender and deserves the starting role, but I’m still in wait-and-see mode with him as a standout rusher.
“Perhaps Hayes has a fifth-year breakout in store, but I’m expecting Ogundeji to be Notre Dame’s sacks leader. And Hayes’ backups, Ovie Oghoufo and Isaiah Foskey, can also bring pressure. The position’s depth played a part here. The most irreplaceable part of Hayes’ presence may be his leadership.”