Each enters the ambiguous equation of what makes a player indispensable to Brian Kelly's 2012 Notre Dame team. Considering the head coach's Next Man In philosophy and its remarkable success of 2010 (and to a lesser extent last fall), I hesitate to refer to a complete selection of 10 to populate this list. But after careful deliberation, 10 is the appropriate number (I could have stretched it to 12 or 13 both of the last two pre-seasons).
Before we kick off the Top 10, a look at five that just missed the cut, often for disparate reasons.
Redshirt-freshman Wide Receiver DaVaris Daniels: Why was he considered? Daniels, who'll make his field debut this fall, might not lead the receiving corps in yards, receptions, touchdowns, starts, or participation, but if the Irish offense is to improve over a shaky 2011, the 6'2" 195-pound athlete will likely pace the squad in one crucial category: big plays.
Look for Daniels to hit several routes of 15, 20, and 25+ yards next fall in his effort to carve a certain spot in the game day rotation.
Why didn't Daniels make the cut? He's never played a down and he didn't crack what was an altogether uninspiring four-man receiver rotation last fall. Let's see some proof outside the practice complex.
Redshirt-freshman Running Back George Atkinson: Cierre Wood is unquestionably No. 1, but Theo Riddick isn't technically No. 1A or No. 2 – he's more of a jack-of-all-trades, lending his quickness and experience all over scrimmage and probably special teams next fall. Atkinson brings too enticing a combination of speed, power, and game-breaking skill to waste away as a backup earning time only in mop-up duty or against the likes of Navy and Purdue (no offense) next fall. He, like Daniels and the player listed just below, are among the team's most exciting prospects for the upcoming season.
Why didn't Atkinson make the cut? Because I almost used the words "Blue Gold Game" in his write-up. That negates all reasonable analysis. That game doesn't matter; it's a scrimmage between the unproven and younger players on the football team. It's over. Stop thinking about it.
Redshirt-freshman Quarterback Everett Golson: He was my admittedly shaky choice to start the season opener prior to Tommy Rees' arrest last week. Now he's firmly in my crosshairs as not only the best, but logical choice to run the operation. Arm strength, quickness, speed, and he even makes a bunch of mistakes just to show that he's like-minded with the rest of the offense over the last two seasons.
Why didn't Golson make the cut? My cross-hairs and Brian Kelly's cross-hairs are heretofore unrelated…
Senior left guard Chris Watt: Easily one of the team's 10 best players, Watt brings a tenacity and element of power to the field not seen at the position since Charlie Weis' first year at the helm, 2005. The ground game would suffer without him, period.
Why didn't Watt make the cut? New offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has two future gems in Nick Martin and Conor Hanratty. Along with 5th-year senior Mike Golic, the Irish could find a tag team that would allow the line to survive in Watt's absence. He was on my initial list, but there's no scarcity of options behind him.
Senior RB/Slot Theo Riddick: One of my predictions this summer is that Theo Riddick will rank second on the team in total touches (behind Cierre Wood). He'll likely rank among the top 2-3 in receptions, receiving yards, total touchdowns, and breathtaking open field moves.
So why didn't Riddick make the cut? Because maybe USC transfer Amir Carlisle can capably fill his role? Maybe Robby Toma, Keivarae Russell, Davonte' Neal, and Atkinson can combine to do the same. Maybe there's a reason Riddick has once gained more than 40 yards on a single play from scrimmage during the Kelly era, and it was in garbage time?
Notre Dame needs Theo Riddick to be indispensable in 2012. In fact, I think he'll prove to be. He just hasn't been yet.
Next: The Top 10, with a member of the defense kicking off our official list…