In this case, "best" is defined by past accomplishments, not NFL potential or likelihood of ascent in 2013.
QuarterbacksNot exactly a mind-bender to start the column...
Best Player: Senior Tommy Rees
Breakout Candidate: Freshman Malik Zaire
On The Spot: Senior Andrew Hendrix
Notes: I suppose anyone with a roster and stat sheet could have arrived to the same conclusion…Had Notre Dame not suffered two personnel losses at the position over the last four months, none of the players above would occupy his current slotting.
Running BacksFor the first time in the four-season Brian Kelly era, a Charlie Weis holdover won't carry the load from the offensive backfield.
Best Player: Junior George Atkinson
Breakout Candidate: Junior Amir Carlisle
On The Spot: Sophomore Will Mahone
Notes: Still only a redshirt-freshman, Mahone must nonetheless prove he belongs in the mix against five other 'backs -- three older, two younger, but all eligible through at least 2014 -- able of competing for serious playing time…Atkinson led the team with a gaudy 7.1 yards-per-carry average last season, the bulk of which was the result of three long runs…Two injuries removed from the playing field, Carlisle could have filled the "On the Spot" category as well.
Wide ReceiversJust three of the expected regulars are upperclassmen, only Jones has scored a collegiate touchdown from the group.
Best Player: Senior T.J. Jones
Breakout Candidate: Junior DaVaris Daniels
On The Spot: Sophomore Chris Brown
Notes: Daniels qualifies as a player on the spot as well, but in good health, it seems implausible he won't emerge as a top 15 Irish player (at worst) with top 10 status well within his reach...Brown exited spring ball behind senior Daniel Smith in the pecking order, largely because Smith is A.) the team's best blocking receiver, and B.) more reliable per his offensive coordinator Chuck Martin. It's up to the speedster Brown -- a potential difference-maker -- to turn his two-catch 2012 campaign into a weekly effort this fall…Between four incoming freshmen, a redshirt-freshman in C.J. Prosise, and senior (former quarterback) Luke Massa, 60 percent of the 10-man unit has never played a meaningful collegiate down.
Tight EndsCan the trio (or quartet) combine for half as many catches as did they predecessor Tyler Eifert (50) last season? Because they won't approach his total targets, an impressive (some would say "reliant") 96 in 13 games.
Best Player: Junior Troy Niklas
Breakout Candidate: Junior Ben Koyack
On The Spot: Senior Alex Welch
Notes: Welch is one of the undervalued keys to the offense, a unit that needs him to secure the edge in the run game as well as become a viable receiver in the middle zones, both skill sets he possessed pre-torn ACL of August 2012…Koyack made a few pre-season lists as a potential breakout player nationally, though that's likely a result of his five-star billing exiting high school…Freshmen Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe could be withheld from action as was Eifert and fellow NFL'ers John Carlson and Anthony Fasano, prior…None of the unit's players exhaust eligibility at season's end.
Offensive LinemenNotre Dame will begin camp with 14 scholarship offensive linemen after ending last season with just nine able to practice during bowl preparations.
Best Player: 5th-year senior Zack Martin
Breakout Candidate: Senior Christian Lombard
On The Spot: Junior Nick Martin
Notes: Senior Chris Watt is too good to be considered a breakout candidate…The younger Martin was a no-brainer selection as the team's starting center and a player with no prior starting experience, not to mention one with all limited game experience coming at different positions (guard and tackle)…From the 14-player group, only Watt and the elder Martin enter their final season of eligibility.
Note: Part II will examine, you guessed it, the defense.