Who’s No. 1?

With training camp complete and the season approaching, the Irish Illustrated staff reveals our Top 10 players on the Notre Dame roster. Did we get it right? You decide.

We’ve seen four-and-a-half practices during training camp. We’ve seen another handful from spring ball plus the Blue-Gold Game. We’ve talked to assistant coaches a couple times, players a lot and Brian Kelly even more. From all that, we should have a solid take on who represents the best of the best within Notre Dame’s roster.

To test that theory the Irish Illustrated staff voted on our Top 10 players on the Notre Dame roster in a simple poll format. A first-place vote earned a player 10 points, a second-place vote meant nine points, down to a 10th-place vote translating to one point.

Our entire staff – Pete Sampson, Tim Prister, Tim O’Malley, Anna Hickey, Jake Brown Steve Hare and Jack Freeman – voted. Just two players earned first-place votes (listed in parentheses). Just five players made all seven ballots as consensus picks (noted with an * next to the player’s name). 

Did we get it right? You decide.

1. Jaylon Smith*         66 (4)

In 15 seasons of covering Notre Dame football I’ve labeled two recruits as sure things. Michael Floyd was one. Jaylon Smith is the other. His impact on the University won’t match Manti Te’o, but Smith is a better football player. – Sampson

I mean, come on. Look at him for crying out loud! – O’Malley

If Brian VanGorder uses him like he says he will, Smith will be a nightmare for offenses from a variety of spots on the field. – Prister

2. Ronnie Stanley*      64 (3)

Takes my top spot on his combination of athleticism, technical ability and experience. Stanley is a potential top five pick in next spring's NFL Draft if all goes to plan. – Brown

He could have been a millionaire but he’s on a mission to win a national title.  He’s the heart of a talented offensive line. – Freeman

He has all of the tools you want in your starting left tackle, including a premier position coach that will guide him through an outstanding season. – Hickey

3. Sheldon Day*         48

Day pressures the quarterback far more than standard statistics indicate. If he can stay healthy, he’s one of the nation’s Top 10 interior linemen – it’s a big IF. – O’Malley

If put in position to succeed – inside and outside – he’ll use that outstanding quickness off the snap as a weapon. – Prister

Day spent the off-season figuring out how to stay healthier this season. I’m banking on that happening, with the senior developing into a poor man’s Aaron Donald. – Sampson

4. Will Fuller*             46

An un-coverable force of nature when fully engaged (as he was in 11 of 13 games last season). If he can cut his drops in half – 12 last year – and improve as a blocker, Fuller will rank as the best playmaker of the Brian Kelly era.  – O’Malley

Who saw last season's breakout season coming? Let's go ahead and answer that: Nobody. Fuller is the most explosive member of an underrated receiver group. – Brown

Watching Fuller add double moves to his game this camp should be alarming for defensive backs. It was hard enough to keep up when they knew Fuller was running in a straight line toward the end zone. Now what? – Sampson

5. KeiVarae Russell     35

Out to live up to his own hype machine and he’s good enough to do it. – Freeman

There’s no hiding at his position, and nickel might pose an early challenge. Russell will have to be absolutely outstanding to live up to expectations. – O’Malley

Rust won’t affect the most consistently productive defensive player on the team. – Prister

6. Joe Schmidt*           31

The straw that stirs the drink. – O’Malley

Despite last year’s injury and ample competition, he remains an invaluable asset who will be even more productive with veterans around him. – Prister

Notre Dame’s MVP despite playing in just eight games. Think about that. – Sampson

7. Isaac Rochell           22

Pound-for-pound, one of the strongest players on the team. An immovable object up front who can play inside and out. – Prister

Rochell gives the Irish another bull of a defensive lineman. He must stay healthy, along with Day, for a realistic push toward the playoffs. – Brown

Inside or out, or (likely) both, the true junior is a crucial cog in Notre Dame’s playoff machinery. – O’Malley

8. Tarean Folston        17

Brian Kelly wants more. Autry Denson wants more. I want more. You want more. Let’s see if Folston wants more. – O’Malley

Folston seems like the player everyone’s sleeping on exiting fall camp, but let’s not forget he is the starting running back on a team that will need to feature the ground game. – Hickey

Remember when Folston undressed North Carolina defenders and ran over Florida State? Brian Kelly would like to order that Folston again. – Sampson

9. Malik Zaire             16

He’s always known he was the man for this spot. Significant upgrade over Everett Golson in the leadership department. – Prister

The shiny paint on the offense has to remain healthy for the Irish to have playoff ambitions. – Freeman

Debated leaving out Zaire but the position is just too valuable. He’ll show passing limitations at times but will star if the coaching staff can revamp the offense. – Sampson

10. Nick Martin          12

Primed for a banner fifth year as the Martin-family pride, leadership comes to the surface. – Prister

No, he’s not Zack but he is consistent and probably destined to join his brother in the NFL. Martin can be counted on to perform. – Hare

A healthy Martin should pay dividends for the consistency of the offensive line, which will trickle to a productive ground game and protection in the pass.  – Hickey

Also Receiving Votes: CJ Prosise 7, Max Redfield 6, Cole Luke 5, Justin Yoon 4, Jerry Tillery 3, Alize Jones 2, Andrew Trumbetti 1.

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