Four classes, three opinions -- the best-of-the-best heading into 2015 for Brian Kelly's Irish. In terms of pre-season rankings, impact for NEXT season was to be the decisive factor, though the incoming class allowed for some leeway with future projections.
Of note, none of the three of us included DaVaris Daniels as a likely addition to the 2015 fray prior to his announced departure. (I'd have had him No. 6.)
1. Sheldon Day -- Top player through our Eye in the Sky film reviews last fall.
2. Ronnie Stanley -- Dominant early-season, then again in the bowl game, Stanley should take his game to an All-American level next fall.
3. Everett Golson -- If I had to guess, I'd project Golson plays elsewhere next season.If not,he fits nicely at No. 3 with a ceiling for No. 1 and a basement somewhere between Northwestern and USC.
4. KeiVarae Russell -- I felt Cole Luke, at his best, was better in 2014 than was Russell at his peak in 2013. But Russell will return with a vengeance in this scheme.
5. Joe Schmidt -- Wary that he'll recover his pre-injury form, but not including Schmidt seems nonsensical at this point.
1. KeiVarae Russell -- Brings back fiery temperament, personality, and an I-can-do-it-all attitude.
2. Sheldon Day -- The stabilizing force up front and now a vocal leader, too.
3. Joe Schmidt -- Where would the Irish be without him? Well, 1-4, to be honest.
4. Jarron Jones -- His improvement, ability to hold the point of attack are off the chart.
5. Ronnie Stanley -- A proven right tackle; still much to accomplish on the left side.
1. KeiVarae Russell -- A lockdown corner who will be an upgrade over both starters last season in talent and leadership.
2. Sheldon Day -- Notre Dame’s only true pass rush threat on the defensive line. Can be an early draft pick if he stays healthy.
3. Ronnie Stanley -- In terms of talent relative to his position, Stanley might be No. 1 in any class. Needs a strength boost.
4. Jarron Jones -- Arguably the program’s most improved player last year, but needs to take another step in the weight room.
5. Joe Schmidt -- Team MVP despite missing November, which says plenty. Leadership and instincts are off the charts.
The program's most powerful class, both from top to bottom and in terms of star power, the recruiting haul of 2013 will ultimately decide if Kelly's sixth-edition Irish qualify for the second annual college football playoffs.
1. Jaylon Smith -- I'm intrigued by a potential move back to SLB, but he's the top dog regardless of position. Was overwhelmed by power plays at times last fall inside.
2. Will Fuller -- Was a poor man's DeSean Jackson last season. We might be able to remove the qualifier after his junior season concludes.
3. Isaac Rochell -- Undervalued among Irish fans and media throughout 2014, Rochell's versatility will prove invaluable next season.
4. Cole Luke -- The USC game was an aberration, Luke is a star-in-waiting. (Now keep him on the right side.) One of the few bright spots in November before the squad flew west to Los Angeles.
5. Tarean Folston -- Lacks only breakaway speed, but is magic in short space and can get the tough yards as well.
1. Jaylon Smith -- As good as he is, he's still just scratched the surface of his potential.
2. Will Fuller -- Remarkable sophomore season when the Irish receiving corps needed it most.
3. Tarean Folston -- Two years in a row where by the second half of the season, he's a true standout.
4. Isaac Rochell -- One of the more underrated, necessary performances of the 2014 season.
5. Cole Luke -- Put on the spot without KeiVarae Russell, he got better each week -- until USC.
1. Jaylon Smith -- If Smith can learn Brian VanGorder’s defense from the inside position, he could be a three-and-out player.
2. Will Fuller -- The best wheels on the roster and as close as the Irish can get to replicating Golden Tate.
3. Tarean Folston -- Has the look of an 1,000-yard back next fall. Coaches believe he’s a high football IQ player.
4. Cole Luke -- A surprising sophomore season could be the first step in Luke’s rise up the ranks now that he pairs with Russell.
5. Isaac Rochell -- Notre Dame doesn’t have many underrated players, but Rochell was one last season. He’s better than just reliable.
Pressed into far too many crucial spots last fall, the class of 2014 is likely to have three handful of regular competitors among the team's two deep next season. Expect a few redshirt-freshmen to shine as noted below.
1. Andrew Trumbetti -- Speed, quickness, tenacity, aggression…A little more ballast and he'll be a force.
2. Nyles Morgan -- Dropped him below Trumbetti at the last moment. I'm anxious to see him attack the run when he sees the play develop consistently.
3. Jonathan Bonner -- Takes over as Isaac Rochell's backup and will provide timely aid up front.
4. Quenton Nelson -- LIkely to serve as the first guard off the bench in 2015 but the line's top sub is likely to be called upon at some point over the 13-game stretch.
5. Drue Tranquill -- Assumes a full recovery from ACL surgery.
1. Andrew Trumbetti -- Made an impact in the pre-season and never relinquished his spot in the rotation.
2. Quenton Nelson -- He's yet to take a snap, but there's no reason to believe he's anything other than a five-star prospect.
3. Nyles Morgan -- The room for growth is huge, but there's a world of potential if he can just find the run fits.
4. Drue Tranquill -- Has his limitations on the back end, but at the end of the day, he's a true football player.
5. Jay Hayes -- The staff likes everything about him. Would he be better served at defensive end?
1. Nyles Morgan -- The stats say Morgan produced despite the inefficiencies in his game. Still, he’s the best in his class.
2. Andrew Trumbetti -- Might not have star potential, but hard to imagine any of his classmates ever beating him out.
3. Jay Hayes -- Athleticism for his size at defensive tackle and should be a key contributor up front as a sophomore.
4. Alex Bars -- Kelly’s hype of Bars is echoed both others around the program. Could play tackle or guard next year.
5. Drue Tranquill -- Assuming he returns from his ACL tear, Tranquill can be a more athletic nickel back over slot receivers.
A pair of playmaking, productive classes in front of this incoming crop could mitigate the 2015 class's collective first-season opportunities. (That's generally a good thing.)
1. Justin Yoon -- Inherits the role that proved instrumental in a combined 11 Irish victories in 2012-13 -- and three of five defeats last fall.
2. Alize Jones -- Notre Dame has ample pass-catching targets on hand for 2015 -- none of them could do the damage down the seam that could the preternaturally gifted Jones.
3. Shaun Crawford -- Staff expects him to contend for the nickel role upon arrival. Expect him to work as part of a quality tandem in that role, early.
4. Josh Barajas -- His rugged game will help the freshman forge a backup role inside and start on multiple special teams.
5. Asmar Bilal -- Coverage Teams Newcomer of the Year, 2015.
1. Josh Barajas -- Carried himself like a man on the prep gridiron; more of the same coming up.
2. Justin Yoon -- No Irish recruit has a better chance of being a four-year starter than this disciplined kicker.
3. Alize Jones -- A wide receiver in a tight end's frame. Likely an instant contributor.
4. Brandon Wimbush -- A winning combination of passing prowess and running ability.
5. Shaun Crawford -- A gifted, both-feet-in Notre Dame recruit whose only limiting factor is size.
1. Alize Jones -- Elite talent for his position and should play early next season. The Irish haven’t had many with Jones’ speed.
2. Shaun Crawford -- Ultra-productive at every chance to showcase himself. Won’t be a surprise if he’s the best of this class.
3. C.J. Sanders -- Notre Dame isn’t rich with pure slot receivers, which is why Sanders is critical to this class. Good speed, better feel for the game
4. Brandon Wimbush -- Will be the most natural fit for Brian Kelly’s offense among all quarterbacks, even if he’s unlikely to play.
5. Josh Barajas -- His performance at the Army Bowl answered some questions about competition level. Owns outstanding measurables.