The Indispensables

In a staff-wide vote, Irish Illustrated discusses the players Notre Dame can least afford to lose in 2015.

As with our previously published “Best of the Brian Kelly Era” choices (click here), each writer had his or her own set of criteria for the ballot, whether it be based on personal expectations for a player, his or her view of the importance of a given position, or simply related to positional depth – or in the case of the “Indispensables,” the lack thereof.

The voters: Jake Brown, Jack Freeman, Steve Hare, Anna Hickey, Tim O’Malley, Tim Prister and Pete Sampson.

Sixteen total players (two write-ins) received votes among the seven ballots with the results as follows:

1. Malik Zaire (QB) – Irish can still win double digits without Golson. Without Zaire, it’s a different ball game unless Brandon Wimbush hits the ground running as a true freshman, and that’s tough in Kelly’s offense. – Tim Prister
-- Highest Vote: #1 (Six ballots)
-- Lowest Vote: #3 (One ballot)
-- Of note: Could DeShone Kizer or Wimbush (or both) succeed? Sure, but Notre Dame would be unlikely to reach its goal in 2015 without Captain Jack Sparrow at the helm.  

2. Jaylon Smith (LB) – Notre Dame doesn’t have another player like him and probably won’t for another decade, maybe longer. The Irish have linebacker depth, but nothing close to Smith. – Pete Sampson
-- Highest Vote: #2 (two ballots)
-- Lowest Vote: #7 (one ballot)
-- Of note: Only three players appeared on all seven staff ballots, Zaire, Smith, and Sheldon Day. I’m the culprit that ranked Smith the lowest at #7 on the theory that Nyles Morgan/Jarrett Grace, Joe Schmidt, and James Onwualu could hold the fort.

3. Sheldon Day (DL) – Most valuable player in a unit thin on true impact players. Notre Dame can't afford to be without him for any length of time. – Jake Brown.  
-- Highest Vote: #2 (Two Ballots)
-- Lowest Vote: #10 (Two Ballots)
-- In Summation: Better on tape than on paper last season, but Notre Dame could use a little more pass-rushing punch from Day, a four-season regular up front.

4. Isaac Rochell (DL) – After an impressive spring, expectations are high for Rochell as he enters his junior year. Relying on Blankenship or Bonner as consistent starters could spell trouble. – Anna Hickey
-- Highest Vote: #3 (Two Ballots)
-- Lowest Vote: Unranked (One)
-- In Summation: Showed what he’s capable of inside in the win over LSU and he took a shine to the defensive interior that afternoon in Nashville. You’re likely to see more this fall.

5. Justin Yoon (K) – Who else can even do the place kicking job if not Yoon? Seriously. He should probably be higher up the list than this spot. – Jake Brown
-- Highest Vote: #2 (One Ballot)
-- Lowest Vote: Unranked (Two Ballots)
-- In Summation: I was one of the two to leave him off my ballot. Somebody on that campus can kick, right? Paging Kevin Pendergast?

6. Nick Martin (C) – Redshirt-freshman Sam Mustipher isn’t ready to be a full-time center; classmates Alex Bars or Quenton Nelson would have to make the switch. No way of knowing how they would handle the tricky position. – Tim Prister
-- Highest Vote: #2 (One Ballot)
-- Lowest Vote: Unranked (Three Ballots)
-- In Summation: In general, a rookie quarterback benefits greatly from a veteran presence in the pivot.

7. Joe Schmidt (LB) – Indispensable to the media. – Jack Freeman
-- Highest Vote: #1 (One Ballot)
-- Lowest Vote: Unranked (Three Ballots)
-- In Summation: In short, it’s not 2014, and the prevailing staff theory was that a combination of Morgan and Grace in the middle would lessen the loss of last year’s on field captain and standout second level defender.

8. Max Redfield (S) – Notre Dame is blessed with safety talent – strong safety talent, that is. Redfield is the only natural free safety, a player that can roam sideline to sideline against modern offenses and keep the top tier passing teams in check. – Tim O’Malley
-- Highest Vote: #4 (One Ballot)
-- Lowest Vote: Unranked (One Ballot)
-- In Summation: I like Drue Tranquill, Elijah Shumate, and Avery Sebastian as box safeties, but it’s a different world in space, one in which only Redfield can thrive.

9. Jarron Jones (NT) – As Schmidt noted at the program’s Awards Ceremony of the team’s November collapse, “I wasn’t the only leak in the building.” The loss of Jones was too much to overcome late last season and it would spell trouble again this fall. – Tim O’Malley
-- Highest Vote: #3 (One Ballot)
-- Lowest Vote: Unranked (Three Ballots)
-- In Summation: Total touchdowns yielded with Jones out of the lineup for four games (the bulk of Northwestern, all of Louisville, USC, LSU): 18. Total yards allowed: 1,969

10. Ronnie Stanley – Might be the best NFL talent on the team, but Notre Dame has other offensive line depth to survive if he misses time. – Pete Sampson
-- Highest Vote: #4 (Two Ballots)
-- Lowest Vote: Unranked (Two Ballots)
-- In Summation: If every game can be like the Music City Bowl for Stanley, he could be voted Team MVP at season’s end.

OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES
-- WR Will Fuller and CB KeiVarae Russell tied for 11th in our balloting with Russell appearing on five of seven ballots and Fuller four. Fuller placed fifth on one ballot and Russell was as high as sixth.

Said Sampson of Russell, “Russell is good enough to mask Notre Dame’s poor pass rush and questions and safety. That’s not true for Cole Luke or Nick Watkins.”

Regarding Fuller, three people left him off the list altogether and I ranked him ninth. I believe he’s Notre Dame’s best offensive weapon (and clearly was last season as well), but the wide receiver position is often one of opportunity.

Consider that one-year ago today, Fuller was DaVaris Daniels’ backup, with no realistic chance to overtake the senior as the squad’s top dog at the position. In fact, Chris Brown, not Fuller, ranked as the receiver most talked about by Brian Kelly and his staff heading into the 2014 campaign.

-- RB Tarean Folston finished 13th, appearing as high as No. 3 but also not appearing on three ballots. Said Steve Hare of Folston: “Zaire has experience under center but he hasn’t been forced to carry the team with his arm. Folston can help to keep that from happening.”

-- TE Durham Smythe placed on two ballots (10th and 9th) while two “write-in” candidates each received a vote as well, DE Andrew Trumbetti and RB Greg Bryant.

Said Anna Hickey of the former: “Trumbetti could develop into one of Notre Dame’s best defensive linemen this year. His quickness and hands are unmatched among this year’s unit, one that desperately needs Trumbetti's mean streak to be showcased.”

Though not a ballot (it was a ballot of one, mine), last year’s Indispensable Player list was as follows:

1. Jaylon Smith
2. Sheldon Day
3. Jarron Jones
4. Kyle Brindza
5. Joe Schmidt (Oops).
6. KeiVarae Russell
7. Everett Golson
8. Nick Martin
9. Ben Koyack
10. Ronnie Stanley

Former No. 1 ranked players in six previous lists include, Jimmy Clausen (2009), Kyle Rudolph (2010), Manti Te’o (2011 and 2012), and Everett Golson (2013).



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