Notre Dame Football's Top 25 Most Important Players For 2021, No. 16: Cornerback Cam Hart
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Notre Dame’s Top 25 Most Important Players, No. 16: Cam Hart

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 junior cornerback Cam Hart
Hart is the expected starter at boundary cornerback this year. (Notre Dame Athletics)

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

Next in the countdown is junior cornerback Cam Hart, who collected 46 points in our poll.

Why Hart Is Ranked No. 16

The quality of receivers and explosiveness at that position feels like it’s at an all-time high in college football.

Someone has to cover them. Hart, at 6-2½ and 207 pounds, looks the part. Length always has a place at cornerback. The same goes for ball skills. Hart’s 91 career snaps haven’t afforded many opportunities for judging him in that area, but he’s a converted receiver who in theory should be well-equipped with them.

Hart is the favorite to start at boundary corner for Notre Dame this year. His tools make him an enticing on-paper choice. His spring season was intriguing and a good start to his offseason development. Notre Dame needs a strong finish to it in fall camp.

Notre Dame hasn’t had a multi-year starter at boundary corner since Julian Love from 2016-18. The Irish plugged grad transfer Nick McCloud in this spot last year. The year before, they moved Troy Pride Jr. there for his final season. They pursued Tulsa grad transfer Akayleb Evans this offseason, but did not land him.

Recruiting misses and average results in recent classes have hurt the position, though second-year cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens appears to have it pointed in the right direction. It’s still inexperienced, with eight of the nine scholarship players claiming four years of remaining eligibility.

McCloud helped cover the cracks last year. Hart can do the same in 2021, and perhaps beyond, if he can claim and excel in the job.

Hart’s Status Entering The Season

Without Evans or another grad transfer on the roster, a starting job is Hart’s to lose. He’s healthy after a nagging shoulder issue hampered him last fall. He has season-ending shoulder surgery in 2019.

Hart’s competition is 6-1 sophomore Ramon Henderson, who played 19 snaps in mop-up duty last year. Hart was McCloud’s backup, but the role didn’t give him much opportunity for work. When McCloud was healthy, he was on the field. Hart played just 88 snaps.

Sophomore Clarence Lewis and senior TaRiq Bracy are Notre Dame’s only corners with meaningful experience, but they’re not boundary candidates. Behind Hart and Henderson, Notre Dame has freshmen Philip Riley, Chance Tucker and Ryan Barnes.

What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?

Claiming and keeping the starting job is the expectation. His skill set fits defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman’s style well. Freeman wants to play man coverage more than predecessor Clark Lea did, and Hart’s physicality should help there.

“He’s got the skills, has length,” head coach Brian Kelly said in April. “He’s one of our strongest, if not our strongest defensive back.”

Freeman’s Cincinnati defenses also had active, ball-seeking corners. If Hart can make an impact there, it would give Notre Dame’s defense something it hasn’t had in large supply at cornerback lately: plays on the ball.

In 2020, Notre Dame cornerbacks had just one interception and 20 pass breakups. McCloud had eight of them and snagged the lone interception. The year before, they also broke up 20 passes and grabbed two interceptions.

Hart having a similar season to McCloud would be good. Notching double-digit pass breakups and multiple interceptions would be even more impactful.

“What we’ll continue to build on is he will continue to get stronger, continue to work on technique and his mindset: ‘Go get the ball. It’s yours,’” Kelly said.

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: 14

Tyler Horka: 19

Mike Singer: 9

Todd Burlage: 25

Steve Downey: 17

Burlage on his ranking: “With sophomore Clarence Lewis back as the starter at the field corner and senior Tariq Bracy trying to put a rough finish to 2020 behind him in the cornerback unit, Notre Dame enters this season with more pieces and answers here compared to this time last year. Hart is the favorite to start boundary cornerback position and will carry an important role in the Irish secondary, but Hart is only one piece in this deep position group.”

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

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