Notre Dame Football's Top 25 Most Important Players, No. 17: Houston Griffith
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Notre Dame’s Top 25 Most Important Players, No. 17: Houston Griffith

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 the 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 senior safety Houston Griffith
Griffith has a solid chance to earn a starting job for the Irish this season. (BGI/Angela Driskell)

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

Next in the countdown is senior safety Houston Griffith, who collected 45 points in our poll. Griffith won a tiebreaker over graduate student offensive lineman Josh Lugg because he appeared on more ballots.

Why Griffith Is Ranked No. 17

Seldom do players enter the NCAA transfer portal only to walk that decision back and return to the program they were trying to move away from, but that’s just what Griffith did — and it could pay huge dividends in 2021. Griffith is very much in the running to start at the second safety spot opposite junior Kyle Hamilton for defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said during spring practices he has confidence in Griffith as a starting stud safety. He also said Griffith has evolved into a true leader. His trust in Griffith was evident in declaring him a team captain for Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold Game May 1. Kelly said Griffith merited the designation through consistent production in spring practices.

Griffith is glad he made the decision to stay in South Bend.

“I’ve never been afraid of competition,” Griffith said in April. “Having that conversation with Coach Freeman and Coach Kelly, and just knowing I have a home, it’s something that they just wanted me to come here and compete. I couldn’t turn that down.

“And to have the opportunity to finish up my degree at Notre Dame is just something I couldn’t pass up.”

Griffith’s Status Entering The Season

Griffith and senior DJ Brown are vying for the starting stud safety job. Both could stand to make big jumps from their production — or lack thereof — a season ago. Griffith lands on this list because it’s believed by coaches and media alike that it’ll be him who grabs hold of the position and runs with it.

Based on coaches’ comments from spring ball, Griffith is a much better player than the one who allowed opposing quarterbacks to score a passer rating of 149.5 when throwing his way last season. That was the worst mark among qualifying Irish defenders according to Pro Football Focus.

Griffith has worked tirelessly to put that statistic behind him.

“Houston has done it in the weight room,” Kelly said in the spring. “He's done it in spring ball. He solidified his position.”

There is only one thing left for Griffith: to do it during games that count.

What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?

There are a few things Griffith didn’t accomplish in 2020. He didn’t start more than two consecutive games. In fact, he only started two games. Total. All season. If Griffith manages to remain the starter at stud safety for the entirety of the season, that alone would make it a successful individual season for the Chicago native.

Secondly, Griffith did not record a single pass broken up in 215 snaps. He recorded 14 tackles. He needs to find himself involved in more plays on the football, especially if he emerges as a starter. As good as he is and as poised for success he may be in an NFL Draft eligible season, Hamilton can’t make every play for the Notre Dame defense. Some help would be welcomed by Hamilton, especially on the back end.

Griffith will find himself in plenty of situations to provide it.

“Coach Freeman’s defense allows us to play in multiple fronts and multiple coverages, and that’s something we really enjoy,” Griffith said. “Everybody is going to be able to go out there and utilize their skill set and just go out there and play fast and play with an edge and a lot of effort and attitude.

“We talk swarming to the football and playing with a nasty attitude because we want teams to feel us every time. We’re going to bring a lot of pressure, and we’re going to be about that action at the end of the day.”

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: 21

Tyler Horka: 22

Mike Singer: 11

Todd Burlage: 19

Steve Downey: 12

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

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