Four classes, three opinions -- the best-of-the-best heading into 2016 for Brian Kelly's Fighting Irish. (To clarify our voting parameters, projected impact for NEXT season only was considered.)
We begin this four-part series with the upcoming seniors/graduate students – the recruiting classes of 2013 and the few that remain from the small-ish haul of 2012.
Players under consideration for today’s rankings include:
-- Fifth-year seniors Scott Daly, Mark Harrell and Jarron Jones, plus sixth-year graduate transfer Avery Sebastian.
-- Fifteen remaining seniors from what was a 23-player class in 2013: Hunter Bivin, Devin Butler, Tarean Folston, Torii Hunter, Jr., Cole Luke, Jacob Matuska, Mike McGlinchey, Colin McGovern, John Montelus, James Onwualu, Max Redfield, Corey Robinson, Isaac Rochell, Durham Smythe, and Malik Zaire
Imagine if the 2013 and 2012 recruiting class’s best players – Jaylon Smith, Will Fuller, C.J. Prosise, Ronnie Stanley, and KeiVarae Russell – all played out their collegiate eligibility in South Bend.
1. Torii Hunter, Jr. – Someone has to come up with all those receptions that Will Fuller/Chris Brown made, and no one has emerged as a go-to guy more than Hunter.
2. Isaac Rochell – Mr. Reliable just keeps answering the bell in whatever capacity the Irish need. The challenge now is to add pass rush to the wall he forms vs. the run.
3. Mike McGlinchey – The task is to make the switch from right to left tackle. He has the tools to make it work after taking over as the leader of the O-line this spring.
4. Cole Luke – Outside of Rochell, no one has more experience on defense. Time for the budding standout of ’14 to emerge in ’16 after a sketchy ’15.
5. Jarron Jones – Once completely healthy again with a dose of maturity, this big-as-a-house interior defensive lineman forms a barrier between the ends.
1. Mike McGlinchey – Is Notre Dame becoming Left Tackle U? McGlinchey is a worth follow up to Zack Martin and Ronnie Stanley, which is saying something because both are first round picks. McGlinchey might ultimately be one too.
2. Isaac Rochell – Notre Dame’s best defensive lineman by a wide margin. Doesn’t have the NFL potential of Sheldon Day, but Rochell is a warrior who never comes off the field. That’s a premium trait considering Irish depth.
3. Torii Hunter, Jr. – Turned in an outstanding spring and appears ready for a real breakout season after teasing his potential last season. Put him down for a 1,000-yard senior year and leading the Irish in touchdown receptions.
4. Tarean Folston – Considering C.J. Prosise was on pace to set the single-season rushing record and Josh Adams did set the freshman mark, what would a healthy Folston have done? He’d already be in the NFL for starters. Instead, the Irish get a true No. 1 back.
5. Cole Luke – Must be Notre Dame’s best defensive back and lead the group. If he can match KeiVarae Russell’s physicality in the run game, Luke should be outstanding as a senior. But that toughness doesn’t always come naturally.
1. Isaac Rochell – Among a talent-rich squad’s five best players last season, Rochell enters 2016 as a nationally underrated defender. He’s a rock against the run.
2. Torii Hunter, Jr. – Michael Floyd (2010-11), Tyler Eifert (2012), TJ Jones (2013), Will Fuller (2014-15)…now Hunter is next in line, and Notre Dame needs him to be a consistent playmaker next fall.
3. Cole Luke – Luke led the Irish defense with 24 aggregate big plays (INT, Tackles-for-loss, PD, fumbles forced/recovered) as a sophomore. He was nowhere near that level as a junior last fall. Look for a strong senior season from the experienced corner.
4. Mike McGlinchey – Too low? I’m just very high on Luke and Hunter (and Rochell is outstanding). I think McGlinchey will be a very good left tackle this season and an All-American as a fifth-year senior in 2017.
5. Tarean Folston – I expect him to share time with the sophomore duo of Josh Adams and Dexter Williams but to be Notre Dame’s most valuable runner – tough yards, red zone yards, etc. – of the three.