Matt Cashore /

Grading Scale: Notre Dame’s Top 5 Juniors

Tim Prister, Pete Sampson, and Tim O'Malley offer their lists of top five Notre Dame players – per class – for the 2016 season.


Notre Dame’s 2014 recruiting class, initially 23-strong, enters the 2016 season with 19 competitors. Thirteen of the 19 have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

Seven from that group of 19 received votes from the Prister/Sampson/O’Malley ballots with three making everyone’s list – including a guy nobody wants to see on the field other than when he’s kicking off a tee.

1. Quenton Nelson – The indoctrination from five-star prospect to productive red-shirt freshman took about half a quarter. Beast-mode continues in ’16.

2. DeShone Kizer – They said at the end of the spring that the QB position was up for grabs. It’s not. Kizer takes command and shines even brighter than ’15.

3. Tyler Newsome – The sky’s the limit for this rocket-legged punter with All-American ability.

4. Drue Tranquill – We tend to spend more time on his shortcomings than assets. His assets will make him a playmaker and one of most productive defensive players in ’16.

5. Greer Martini – The focus is on Nyles Morgan, who emerges as a player. James Onwualu deserves plaudits, too. But Martini is the most productive LB.

1. Quenton Nelson – A future NFL guard and maybe first-round pick good if he plays out his eligibility in South Bend. Look for a few defensive tackles to tap out against Nelson this fall. He will brutalize defenders and smile about it.

2. DeShone Kizer – Has everything Brian Kelly wants in a starting quarterback. Mobile. Accurate. Poised. Stable. Now he just needs to win the job. Here’s betting that he does and pulls out some dramatic W’s this season.

3. Nyles Morgan – Going all-in on Morgan after catching a few spring glimpses of an elite middle linebacker during spring ball. He’s too good not to click this fall in his first real starting run in Brian VanGorder’s defense. If the staff can’t get Morgan to shine it’s more on the scheme than the player.

4. Alex Bars – Should be a quality right tackle after bumping out from right guard. His athleticism is underrated and some programs liked him along the defensive line coming out of high school. Might not be an elite tackle, but should hold down the edge.

5. Tyler Newsome – Hey, he was the Blue-Gold Game MVP! He has to be on this list. Notre Dame can almost take 50-yard punts for granted this fall. That’s incredible.

1. Quenton Nelson – Shows up for work ready to punish…blocks people through the whistle…lather, rinse, repeat. Nelson might be Notre Dame’s best football player.

2. DeShone Kizer – If you don’t understand what the “It” factor is, you could do worse than studying the 2015 season of rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer.

3. Tyler Newsome – Behind Nelson, the best bet on this list to start in the NFL some day. (And I mean this whole list.) Doubles as the team’s kickoff specialist and he’ll be a damn good one, too.

4. Nyles Morgan – If not now, when? If not now, why? I do wonder if Morgan will fare better on highlight reels and in the stat sheet than when he’s graded by defensive coaches on Sundays.

5. Drue Tranquill – If used properly, i.e., in a manner that augments his myriad strengths and mitigates his chief weakness, a healthy Tranquill could lead Notre Dame’s defense in aggregate big plays next fall.

Click here for a look at our Top 5 Notre Dame seniors:

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