Matt Cashore /

Staff Survey: Notre Dame’s Top Rookies

Irish Illustrated staff members rank their top 10 Notre Dame rookies – true freshmen and redshirt alike – in terms of career potential.

Brian Kelly’s seventh Notre Dame football squad is expected to feature 23 true freshmen, 10 redshirt-freshmen, and a trio of redshirt-sophomores among its 2016 roster.

Instead of ranking that collection of 36 rookies – relative or otherwise – on their expected impact this fall, the seven-person Irish Illustrated staff of Jake Brown, Jack Freeman, Steve Hare, Anna Hickey, Tim Prister, Pete Sampson, and myself instead attempted to project a far more important outcome:

Who among the three dozen (three dozen-plus, as you’ll see below) will have the best careers at Notre Dame?

We added one tweak to the proceedings to make the top of the list more interesting – an expected redshirt sophomore for 2016, quarterback Brandon Wimbush.

Eligible for the Poll:
-- In addition to Wimbush, 10 redshirt-freshmen from 2015: Josh Barajas, Asmar Bilal, Miles Boykin, Shaun Crawford, Micah Dew-Treadway, Tristen Hoge, Trevor Ruhland, Elijah Taylor, Brandon Tiassum, and Ashton White. Each has four seasons of eligibility remaining.

-- 3 redshirt-sophomores from 2015 Justin Brent, Jay Hayes, and Corey Holmes. Each has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

-- The 23-player class of 2016 incoming freshmen which can be found here:

Without further adieu:

1. Shaun Crawford

The expected Nickel starter for 2016 and our projected starter at left cornerback to boot, Crawford garnered three first-place votes plus another trio of No. 2 nominations as well as a third-place ranking.

Matt Cashore /

-- Highest on Crawford: Hickey, Prister and Sampson at No. 1
-- Lowest Ranking: Freeman at No. 3
-- Quote to Note: “Last year’s knee injury is a concern but everything else about Crawford is a green light. He’s ultra-competitive and will never be described by Brian Kelly as a “young player” or “just learning the game” like some veterans still are.” – Pete Sampson

2. Brandon Wimbush

Earned two first-place, one second, three thirds, and one fifth-place vote among the seven pollsters. Wimbush is expected to redshirt as a true sophomore this season and was thus included in the poll.

Matt Cashore /

-- Highest on Wimbush: Freeman and O’Malley at No. 1
-- Lowest Ranking: Hare at No. 5
-- Quote to Note: “Here's the scenario as I see it: Kizer wins the job this fall, Zaire bides his time before transferring for a fifth year elsewhere and along the way Wimbush becomes the heir apparent.” – Jake Brown

3. Tommy Kraemer

Finished with No. 1, two No. 2s, two No. 3s, a No. 4 and a 7th-place vote, appearing on every ballot.  

Steve Hare /

-- Highest on Kraemer: Hare, No. 1
-- Lowest Ranking: Hickey, No. 7
-- Quote to Note: “Ronnie Stanley had a very high ceiling coming out of high school. Kraemer is on that level and if all goes well he should follow Stanly as an early first round draft pick.” – Steve Hare

4. Daelin Hayes

Landed on all seven ballots, three times at No. 4 and once at No. 1, 5, 8, and 9, respectively.

Matt Cashore /

-- Highest on Hayes: Brown, No. 1
-- Lowest Ranking: Hare, No. 9
-- Quote to Note: “Would be No. 1 without those shoulder injuries, which is a major concern moving forward. Five-star prospect with a two-star medical background.” – Pete Sampson

5. Troy Pride, Jr.

Appeared on six of seven ballots, twice placing at No. 4 and No. 7 as well as once at No. 5 and No. 10

Don Callahan/Inside Carolina

-- Highest on Pride: Steve Hare and Pete Sampson at No. 4
-- Lowest Ranking: Not in Brown’s Top 10
-- Quote to Note: “He’ll play like he has something to prove no matter how much success comes his way.” – Anna Hickey

6. Kevin Stepherson

Spring’s breakout pass-catcher placed on four of seven ballots, earning a No. 2, a No. 6, No. 7, and No. 9 nomination. 

Matt Cashore /

-- Highest on Stepherson: Hickey, No. 2
-- Lowest Ranking: Not ranked by Hare, Freeman, and O’Malley
-- Quote to Note: “From one who ranked low upon Class of 2016 signing to an obvious pass-catching talent on the spring practice field.” – Tim Prister

7. Chase Claypool 

Appeared on four ballots, topping out at No. 5, plus votes at No. 6 and twice at No. 8

©M. Samek / SCOUT

-- Highest on Claypool: Brown at No. 5
-- Lowest Ranking: Not in the Top 10 of Sampson, Prister, and Hare
-- Quote to Note
: “There’ll be a learning curve early, but thereafter I expect Claypool to join Aliz’e Jones as the two best receiving threats in the 2015-16 classes.” – Tim O’Malley

8. Devin Studstill

 Everyone’s favorite spring safety made four ballots, placing No. 5 twice, plus No. 8, No. 9 and No. 10.

Matt Cashore /

-- Highest on Studstill: Hickey and Prister at No. 5
-- Lowest Ranking: Not on the ballots for Hare and Freeman
-- Quote to Note: “When it comes to natural athletic talent and football instincts, this kid’s up near the top of the list.” – Tim Prister

9. Liam Eichenberg

Earned nominations on three ballots, topping out at No. 4 with a sixth and seventh-place vote to his credit as well.  

-- Highest on Eichenberg: O’Malley at No. 4
-- Lowest Ranking: Not on the Top 10 for Freeman, Hare, Hickey, and Prister
-- Quote to Note: “Give Harry Hiestand a little bit of talent and he'll turn you into a future NFL draft pick. Eichenberg has more than enough tools to get there eventually.” – Jake Brown

10. Donte Vaughn

Made the ballots of three pollsters at No. 6, 7, and 8, respectively.

Chad Simmons

-- Highest on Vaughn: Freeman at No. 6
-- Lowest Ranking: Not in the Top 10 for Sampson, Prister, Hare, or Brown
Quote to Note: “He’s going to excel as a rangy Cover 2 cornerback with a sound scheme behind him in future Irish defenses.” – Tim O’Malley

Others Receiving Multiple Votes

Asmar Bilal (five ballots, but all at No. 8 or lower), and both Miles Boykin and Jalen Elliott (three ballots apiece).

-- Hickey on Bilal: “He’s one of the staff’s favorite players to coach, which speaks to his talent potential and intelligence.”

-- Prister on Elliott: “Much like Pride, there’s a sense that this young man’s natural football ability will shine bright”

-- Hare on Elliott: “A defensive back with a quarterback’s understanding of the game.”

-- Brown on Boykin: “What Boykin lacks in elite speed he makes up for by gobbling up ground and catching most everything that goes his way.”

-- Others receiving one vote: Jay Hayes (Sampson #6), Corey Holmes (Freeman #5), Josh Barajas (Prister #9), Javon McKinley (Hare #3), Jonathan Jones (Hare #6), Khalid Kareem (Hare #10), Julian Love (Freeman #9) and of course, long snapper John Shannon (Freeman #10). Top Stories