Matt Cashore /

Grading Scale: Top 5 Notre Dame Sophomores

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


Is the best player in this class also the most likely to redshirt as a sophomore? Is the best player in this class one more injury away from losing the explosiveness that makes him unique?

 Is the best pro prospect in this class a specialist?

Regardless, Notre Dame’s class of 2015 holds strong with 21 of its original 24 members still in two. It was however slim pickings in terms of our Top 5 Player Poll and as a result, four players made each writer’s list with just two others earning mention.

And there was a notable abstention…

1. Shaun Crawford – Crawford singlehandedly makes Notre Dame’s pass defense better with his work at cornerback, nickel back. Star power.

2. Alizé Jones – Whether it’s at tight end or W receiver, this is an impact player with the ability to complement Torii Hunter Jr. in the passing game.

3. Josh Adams – Tarean Folston’s return is a huge benefit. But the big-play ability and vast improvement belong to the sophomore running back.

4. Justin Yoon – After a quality rookie season and a spotty spring, the steady-in-the-boat sophomore picks up where he left off in ’15.

5. There isn’t a No. 5…

1. Shaun Crawford – Could be Notre Dame’s best cornerback even if Cole Luke has a strong senior season. Crawford might be that good. I’ve liked everything about Crawford every time I’ve seen him compete.

2. Alizé Jones – Genetically gifted, Jones can be great if he develops a harder edge to his game. The combination receiver/tight end role suits an athlete who’s got a finesse mindset at times. Athleticism is off the charts.

3. Josh Adams – I was way off on Adams coming out of high school. A running back I thought would just be a role player set the freshman rushing record. Should be an integral part of the ground game again.

4. Jerry Tillery – It’s interesting that when Tillery was asked about role models at Notre Dame he mentioned Corey Robinson and Steve Elmer. The renaissance defensive tackle with a natural curiosity may be spreading himself thin.

5. Justin Yoon – He’s really good. And he’s not going anywhere for the next three years. Maybe everything won’t be as smooth as his freshman year, but Yoon has shown an ability to work out his kinks.

1. Shaun Crawford – Comparisons I’ve heard to date include Tyrone Matthieu, a miniature Jalen Ramsey, and former New York Giants Super Bowl Champion Mark Collins (well, I heard that one from my own head, but I digress). Crawford has star potential but is tasked with a very, very tough job in Brian VanGorder’s scheme. 

2. Josh Adams – Made me a believer when he tore up Stanford last November in Notre Dame’s most important game over the last three calendar seasons. Part of what should be an impressive 1-2-3 punch this fall. 

3. Alizé Jones – Love him on the perimeter, but don’t lose sight of the fact that his true mismatches lie between the hashes, where no linebacker and few safeties can match him one-on-one.

4. Justin Yoon – I have faith in Yoon, and can’t imagine him having a “bad season” but college kickers, especially sophomores, aren’t traditionally the most consistent lot.

5. Dexter Williams – Remember last off-season when we were all talking about Notre Dame’s third running back and how he’d gain 835 yards and average 7.1 per carry? No? That’s because (stuff) happens, and I expect such stuff to afford Williams a chance to shine in 2016.

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