Instant Impacts

Which freshmen will play the biggest parts next fall? Irish Illustrated votes on our Top 10 rookies who can improve Notre Dame’s roster as first-year players. Our rankings don’t follow star patterns.

Talent alone won’t get a freshman on the field.

It takes opportunity too.

With another recruiting class signed by Notre Dame today, the Irish Illustrated staff put our collective heads together to vote on who we think will be the first-year story of 2015.

Our voting process was simple. Our six staffers – Tim Prister, Tim O’Malley, Anna Hickey, Steve Hare, Jake Brown and myself – each ranked the Top 10 freshmen we think will impact next season for Notre Dame. A first-place vote earned a player 10 points, a second-place vote represented nine points, all the way down to a 10th place vote translating to one point. First-place votes are in parentheses.

Here’s the final tally.

1. Justin Yoon – 54 (4)
Meet the new kicker. If Yoon doesn’t finish at the top of this list next season (or close to it), Notre Dame had a Russell Athletic Bowl kind of year. The first five seasons of Brian Kelly have averaged 23.6 field goal attempts. Based on that track record, Yoon should factor into at least three games that are in doubt into the fourth quarter. – Tim O’Malley

2. Alize Jones – 53 (2)
Jones will enter a crowded but unproven depth chart of Durham Smythe, Tyler Luatua, Mike Heuerman and Nic Weishar. Smythe brings back the most experience with 13 appearances but just one catch while Luatua has been featured more as an h-back. Jones will be the most talented pass catcher in the bunch as soon as he sets foot on campus. – Jake Brown

3. Shaun Crawford – 41
Maybe not the biggest talent in this class, but Crawford is my pick for the best bet to thrive at Notre Dame. He’s stood out at every camp, combine and all-star game with explosive closing speed that makes up for his lack of size. The Irish could be just one injury away from relying on Crawford in the secondary. Special teams should click instantly. – Pete Sampson

4. Mykelti Williams – 37
With safety depth an obvious concern, Williams will be asked to help right away. Given his 6-foot, 200-pound frame, he’s physically ready to compete. Mentally, he’s as mature as they come. Williams even got word from Brian Kelly that he expects the in-state athlete to step on campus able and willing to contribute.  – Anna Hickey

5. Dexter Williams – 30
Totals for the No. 3 back under Brian Kelly: 299 carries, 1,645 yards and 14 touchdowns. That's nearly 60 carries, 530 yards and three scores per season from a so-called "backup." Williams earns our pre-arrival nod over fellow running back pledge Josh Adams for the undervalued role as Kelly's No. 3 at a volatile position. – O’Malley

6. C.J. Sanders – 24
Sanders isn’t the flashiest of wide receivers but he’s consistent. He’s got sneaky speed and is a diligent route runner with reliable hands. He could see time in the rotation at slot receiver and also contribute on special teams. He was a dangerous return man in high school and could kick start the Irish’s special teams unit. – Steve Hare

7. Josh Barajas – 22
Don’t know how linebacker shakes out, but this is the best player in the class. Notre Dame can’t keep this mature football player off the field. He could play any of the three linebacker positions, which Asmar Bilal and Tevon Coney cannot based on their dimensions. – Tim Prister

8. Asmar Bilal – 15
He won’t see the field often as Jaylon Smith’s backup, but it would be wise to get him some live snaps in preparation for 2016. He’s as physically gifted as any of the true freshmen. Comfortable in space and owns solid pass coverage skills, there’s reason to think Bilal won’t receive a redshirt. – Hickey

9. Miles Boykin – 13
When Brian Kelly wants to overwhelm the opposition with size, he’ll turn to the 6-foot-4 rookie to pair with Corey Robinson on the edge. Boykin proved himself on the national combine circuit last summer. – Prister

10. Nicco Fertitta – 10
It’s not premature to project Fertitta as a special teams stud early in his career at Notre Dame. Fast, explosive and team-first mentality, he’s capable of delivering crushing blows. Despite his 5-foot-9 height, Fertitta could be fixture on return teams in 2015. – Hickey

Also receiving votes:
Equanimeous St. Brown: 9, Josh Adams: 7, Jerry Tillery: 4, Elijah Taylor: 3, Brandon Wimbush: 3, Jalen Guyton: 2, Tristen Hoge: 2, Nick Coleman: 1


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