Notre Dame Football’s Top 25 Most Important Players For The 2021 Season, No. 21: Jayson Ademilola
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Notre Dame’s Top 25 Most Important Players, No. 21: Jayson Ademilola

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 senior defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola
Ademilola (57) is Notre Dame’s starter at three-technique defensive tackle in 2021. (Robert Franklin/AP)

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

Next in the countdown is senior defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola, who collected 36 points in our poll.

Why Ademilola Is Ranked No. 21

Even on a deep defensive line, Ademilola stands out because of his interior pressure ability. His 11.5 pass-rush win rate ranked 49th among 200 defensive tackles with at least 140 pass-rush snaps, per Pro Football Focus. That was just .2 percent lower than the man he played behind at three-technique tackle, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa.

Those pressures netted just 0.5 sacks, but they’re a better illustration of his pass-rushing skill than the sack total. All told, Ademilola moves into a starting role that should allow him to play 300 to 350 snaps in 2021. That’s a lot of playing time, and he’s expected to be impactful in it after a strong finish to his 2020 season.

Notre Dame seems equipped to withstand a potential absence, though. Ademilola’s backup, sophomore Rylie Mills, impressed as a freshman last year with his quickness and pass-rushing acumen. The drop-off likely would not be pronounced if he were the starter.

At the same time, though, defensive tackles who can generate pressure are valuable commodities. That makes Ademilola an easy inclusion in the top 25.

Ademilola’s Status Entering The Season

Moving Tagovailoa-Amosa from defensive tackle to “big end” may strengthen two positions. It fills 2020 Irish sacks leader Ade Ogundeji’s vacated edge spot and opens the door for Ademilola, who provided starter-level play the last two years, to slide up to first-string at three-technique.

Notre Dame will rotate between three- and four-man fronts under first-year defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman after playing exclusively four-down under predecessor Clark Lea. The three-man fronts and depth behind Ademilola could keep his snap count slightly lower than Tagovailoa-Amosa’s 28.3 per game in 2020, but Notre Dame is going to get him on the field because of his disruptive ability.

“He doesn’t stay blocked and he makes plays, makes tackles,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “That’s a mark of a good player. He’s a guy who grades out very high. When he’s in there, he has been very, very efficient as a football player.

“Sometimes we kid about how to get gets off blocks, you just yell louder. It’s almost an innate ability to do it. Some guys are good at it, some guys not quite as good. It’s a natural ability, and he has natural ability.”

What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?

If the 6-3, 279-pound Ademilola ends his senior year as a clearly draftable player, it’ll be a good outcome for individual and team. He ended 2020 by putting forth arguably the best two games of his career. In postseason losses to Clemson and Alabama, Ademilola totaled six quarterback pressures, three run stuffs and 1.5 tackles for loss.

Notre Dame is looking for more of that from him as a starter. In eight games last year, he totaled 11 tackles and did not make a tackle for loss until his seventh appearance. That’s not to say he wasn’t disruptive, but he has room to grow his production. His 2019 numbers (25 tackles, 4.0 for loss in 11 games) were more impressive in that regard.

Ademilola’s frequent visits to the backfield toward the end of 2020 evoke visions of a robust stat line in a starter’s workload. Clearing 30 total tackles to go with about 8.0 tackles for loss and a couple sacks feels within reach if he generates pressure and slips past blockers with the same frequency.

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: 15

Tyler Horka: 18

Mike Singer: 25

Todd Burlage: 20

Steve Downey: 16

Prior Top 25 Rankings

No. 25: Jonathan Doerer

No. 24: Marist Liufau

No. 23: Drew Pyne

No. 22: Braden Lenzy

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