Revisiting The BGI Top 25 Most Important Notre Dame Players, Nos. 15-6
Our staff’s self-applause and self-owns continue for a second day.
If you missed part one, it’s here.
A synopsis: Back in the summer, the BlueandGold.com staff unveiled our preseason ranking of Notre Dame’s 25 most important players for the 2020 season. Much was based on talent and impact, but also these questions: 1) How much of a setback would losing this player be? 2) If this less proven player emerges, how much does that raise the ceiling (or lower it, if a breakout does not happen as expected)?
Now with the season over, we’re revisiting our list from the summer over a three-day span to see how it held up in hindsight. Today, the players we ranked Nos. 15-6.
15. CB Nick McCloud
It seems like we underestimated the importance despite a clear understanding of said importance this summer. McCloud was Notre Dame’s most consistent option at a position filled with youngsters and bumps.
He led the team in passes broken up and allowed catches on only 53.6 percent of his targets. Remove him, and the corner position is a clear liability.
14. RB Jafar Armstrong
In hindsight: Whoops. Armstrong had 17 carries, mostly in garbage time, and three early season catches before falling out of the rotation and moving to wide receiver, where he barely saw the field.
Same time, though, some running back had to be ranked around here, right? Somebody was going to get 150-plus carries. And back when we did these, sophomore Kyren Williams’ only sample was a two-game stint where he wasn’t ready and admittedly a bit heavy.
But Armstrong also wasn’t widely inspiring because of his injury history and limited explosiveness and burst. I ranked him below freshman Chris Tyree. But none of us ranked Williams.
13. C Jarrett Patterson
For a while, this felt exactly right. Then his injury made a case for top-10 status. Sophomore Zeke Correll performed fine in his place, but the line did miss Patterson’s agility, athleticism and consistency. He allowed one quarterback hit and nine total pressures in eight games.
He was one of four starters with a Pro Football Focus run-blocking grade of 82 or higher.
12. WR Kevin Austin Jr.
We wouldn’t rank him in a postseason top 25, but in a way I think we got this right in the preseason when looking at our selection criteria. Notre Dame’s wide receivers were solid. Not elite. Austin’s upside was clear in 2018 and briefly displayed in his two games this year. One wonders what the receivers’ ceiling would've been if he was healthy.
Look at it another way, though, and our evaluation widely missed the mark.
The main beneficiary of Austin’s foot injury was fifth-year senior Javon McKinley. A healthy Austin presumably limits McKinley’s chances. If we were told this summer Austin would post McKinley’s stat line of 42 catches, 717 yards, 12 catches of at least 20 yards and 17.1 yards per catch this year, we (and probably most fans) would’ve said that’s a really good year for Austin.
So maybe Austin’s impact wouldn’t have been that different than what McKinley gave. You can go multiple ways with this one. McKinley was a bit streaky, with five games of more than 100 yards but four with fewer than 40.
11. RT Robert Hainsey
By some numbers and eye test, Hainsey was one of Notre Dame’s lesser pass protectors, with two sacks and a team-high 17 pressures allowed. But he was still effective, a run-game asset with his athleticism and second-level ability, and a respected leader.
His run-blocking grade was 17th among Football Bowl Subdivision tackles. A spot in the top 15 feels deserved.
10. MLB Drew White
My co-choice, along with senior defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, for Notre Dame’s least appreciated starter. White finished second in my individual defensive wins stat, which measures playmaking production. He improved in coverage, allowing only 8.3 yards per reception on 12 catches. He tied for the team lead with 29 PFF run stops.
White had 9.0 tackles for loss, one more than 2019 and second-most on the team, 1.5 sacks and two passes broken up (a third was not officially credited because it led to a Kyle Hamilton interception).
9. WR Braden Lenzy
The same things said about Austin apply here. Lenzy’s speed and run-after-catch ability would’ve helped Notre Dame’s receiving corps, which was rich in neither.
He just never got off the ground in 2020 and made next to no impact.
8. DE Daelin Hayes
A productive team leader and one we definitely got right. Hayes had played well in 2019 before an injury in his fourth game, but Notre Dame needed some more from him as a pass-rusher given who he was replacing (Julian Okwara).
He was solid there, with 33 pressures, 3.0 sacks and 6.0 tackles for loss.
7. DE Ade Ogundeji
Expectations were high, but Ogundeji largely met them. He led the team with seven sacks and 37 pressures. His run defense was strong. Fan visions of double-digit sacks were a bit extreme, and disappointment relative to that is missing the point.
The former Western Michigan commit put himself in position to be drafted and is a shining example of Notre Dame’s player development.
6. TE Tommy Tremble
Had we been told Tremble would leave for NFL at season’s end when doing these rankings, I would’ve said this is too low. Turns out, it’s a bit high — but not way off the mark.
The receiving breakout we all had in mind with this ranking didn’t quite materialize for Tremble, who entered the year with the most career catches among any returning Notre Dame receiver or tight end. Tremble ended 2020 with 19 receptions for 218 yards and no touchdowns. The speed and fluidity he offered as a receiver were enticing. Those tools weren’t on display as often as we expected, though.
But his physicality was.
Tremble’s emergence came mostly as an invaluable run blocker who could crush defensive ends, linebackers and safeties. Wherever he lined up, Notre Dame was likely running that way. He was a lead blocker, an in-line punisher and fast enough to get to edge players on trap blocks. I’m not sure that’s enough to be No. 6 in a do-over, but he was a crucial piece of a ground game Notre Dame leaned on all year.
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