Notre Dame Football’s Top 25 Most Important Players For 2021, No. 11: Linebacker Drew White
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Notre Dame’s Top 25 Most Important Players, No. 11: Drew White

Throughout July, 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 2021.

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 help Irish reach that goal.

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)?

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish football graduate student linebacker Drew White
White totaled 137 total stops, 17.0 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in his first two seasons as a starter. (Associated Press)

The players and their rankings were determined by vote from five BlueandGold.com staff members.

Next in the countdown is fifth-year senior middle linebacker Drew White, who collected 68 points in our poll.

Why White Is Ranked No. 11

Notre Dame’s third-year starting middle linebacker is a good bet to be a team captain this year. He’s one of three graduate student starters on a defense that loses several leaders from last season. More importantly, he has been steadily productive since stepping into his role at the start of 2019.

White has amassed 137 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and three passes broken up in his first two seasons as a starter. He is one of Notre Dame’s better run defenders and had more run stops the last two seasons (72) than 2020 Butkus Award winner Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (63), per Pro Football Focus.

As a blitzer, White is quietly effective. PFF credited him with 13 pressures on 38 pass-rush snaps a year ago. That’s despite not playing much on third down or in sub packages.

White has been a two-down linebacker — a species that lacks premium value in the NFL. His coverage duties are mostly underneath in zone and not in man-to-man against tight ends or running backs. But his strength and his instincts are assets at middle linebacker. It’s not a fluke he has produced and usually finds himself around the ball.

“There’s a reason why Drew White has started the games he has,” Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman told BlueandGold.com this month. “I remember seeing Drew White and saying, ‘No way this guy has started at middle linebacker over Bo Bauer, Marist [Liufau], Shayne [Simon].’

“Then I look at him after two practices and I’m like, ‘I’m good. I see why.’”

White’s Status Entering The Season

An ankle sprain that kept White out most of spring didn’t undermine his status as Notre Dame’s top middle linebacker. As long as he’s healthy, he figures to remain ahead of Bauer and junior JD Bertrand.

White has averaged 43 snaps per game the last two years while ceding sub-package duty to Bauer. Will he earn more third-down reps this year and therein increase his snap count? His effectiveness as a rusher begs the question, though Bauer’s own production in that role last year and his blitzing skills make him hard to bump.

Freeman has emphasized the need for linebackers to know multiple positions in his defense and says the best three will start. That trio could include Simon and Liufau, who are battling at Will linebacker. It could include multiple rovers, with one moving to Will. It could even include White and Bauer. Freeman is open to many possibilities.

It’s impossible not to see White in that group of the best three, though, and it’s unlikely he would play somewhere other than the middle.

What Would Be A Successful Individual Season?

If White averages around six tackles per game, pushes for 10.0 tackles for loss and is the team’s leading run stuffer, he will put forth another impactful and important season. He has done all of those before. In short, White will have a successful 2021 if he simply replicates his prior play.

White would help his professional outlook by proving he can play on third downs, but with Bauer around, Notre Dame will be fine with White’s 2021 role resembling his 2019-20 one. His instincts fit well in former defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s complex, read-and-react scheme. They should mesh with Freeman’s freer one, too.

Behind The Ranking

The top 25 was determined in the same manner as the Associated Press top 25. Five BlueandGold.com staff members 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: 8

Tyler Horka: 10

Mike Singer: 18

Todd Burlage: 18

Steve Downey: 8

Prior Top 25 Rankings

No. 25: Jonathan Doerer

No. 24: Marist Liufau

No. 23: Drew Pyne

No. 22: Braden Lenzy

No. 21: Jayson Ademilola

No. 20: Chris Tyree

No. 19: Avery Davis

No. 18: Josh Lugg

No. 17: Houston Griffith

No. 16: Cam Hart

No. 15: Zeke Correll

No. 14: Blake Fisher

No. 13: Kurt Hinish

No. 12: Jack Kiser

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