The All-Comparison Team (Defense)

Most comparisons to nondescript former Irish defenders, which could change if Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder can tap into talent base.

In the first part of our All-Comparison Team – the offense – references were made to four former first-round draft choices.

Quarterback DeShone Kizer was compared to Brady Quinn for his first-year effectiveness, which was even better statistically than Quinn in his rookie season.

Tight end Alizé Jones, though not as tall as Derek Brown, offers a comparable package of talent to the 1992 first-rounder.

It’s difficult not to recognize the strikingly similar path that offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey is following in the aftermath of Ronnie Stanley’s emergence at right tackle, shift to left tackle, and ultimate first-round selection.

Guard/tackle Aaron Taylor is a college football Hall of Fame candidate this year while Quenton Nelson has played just one season for the Irish. But he has all the characteristics of a potential first-round draft choice a la Taylor.

You will find just one comparison skillset-wise to a former first-rounder on Irish Illustrated’s All-Comparison Defense, and that’s the promising Shaun Crawford – who has yet to play a snap for the Irish – to a 1993 first-rounder out of Notre Dame (see below).

(Note: Another comparison was made to first-rounder Harrison Smith, but in body type and versatility, not talent-level.)

The comparisons reflect the fact that Notre Dame’s 2015 defense ranked 95th in red-zone touchdown percentage, tied for 78th in sacks, tied for 88th in 50-plus-yard scoring plays surrendered, and averaged two 70-yard-plus touchdown drives per game.

Let’s see if defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder can maximize the talent and depth that exists in 2016 and can change some of these comparisons come the summer of 2017 when Irish Illustrated offers its third annual ND A-to-Z series.

DEFENSIVE END (LE)
• Isaac Rochell (Grant Irons 1997-2001) – Workmanlike Irons started 26 games and made 142 tackles while pitching in with 6½ sacks and serving as two-time captain.
• Jonathan Bonner (Justin Utupo 2011-14) – Both were defensive ends coming out of high school. Bonner, like Utupo, is more of a tackle playing a big end spot. Utupo eventually moved inside. Will Bonner?
• Khalid Kareem (Isaac Rochell 2013-present) – Irish hoping early-entry freshman follows similar path carved by three-year starter Rochell.

NOSE TACKLE
• Jarron Jones (Antwon Jones 1996-99) – Not as tall, but a big, wide-bodied nose tackle with first-man-off-the-bus physical characteristics.
• Daniel Cage (Lance Legree 1997-2000) – An in-again, out-again starter for the Irish, Legree helped lead Notre Dame to 2000 Fiesta Bowl appearance.
• Pete Mokwuah (Tyler Stockton 2010-14) – Late-blooming Stockton snagged a fifth year with Irish; Mokwuah has ground to make up as well.
• Brandon Tiassum (Hafis Williams 2009-11) – Williams showed flashed during his junior season when he backed up Ethan Johnson with 11 stops.
• John Montelus (Winston Sandri 1988-90) – Highly-touted North Carolinian Sandri couldn’t crack Joe Moore’s starting offensive line that averaged 250 yards-plus rushing. Sandri, contrary to Montelus, stayed on the offensive side of the football.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE
• Jerry Tillery (Greg Pauly 2001-04) – Both highly-touted and offensive/defensive line capable, Pauly didn’t fully maximize his potential until he teamed up with Derek Landri on interior defensive line in ’04.
• Elijah Taylor (Sean Cwynar 2009-11) – Over time, Cwynar developed into a part-time starter, capable backup in 2010-11.
• Micah Dew-Treadway (Emeka Nwankwo 2008-11) – Nwankwo showed life as a junior (seven games, three tackles in ’10) before falling back in the pack.

DEFENSIVE END (RE)
• Jay Hayes (Ronald Talley 2005-06) – Talley started five games as a sophomore and another six as a junior before his early departure due to disgruntlement over playing time. Hayes will remain and could flourish.
• Andrew Trumbetti (Chris Frome) – A bit undersized, Frome emerged as a starter under Charlie Weis before injuries slowed his progress.
• Daelin Hayes (Aaron Lynch 2011) – Lynch was a highly-touted off-the-edge talent, although not nearly as focused as the promising Hayes.
• Grant Blankenship (John Taliaffero 1991-93) – Immense talent base up front left little playing time for Maryland product.

SAM LINEBACKER
• James Onwualu (Matthias Farley 2012-15) – Although one is an outside linebacker, the other a safety, both switched from offense and became physical presences, in-the-box starters on defense.
• Greer Martini (Brian Ratigan 1989-92) – Current ND football orthopedic surgeon couldn’t crack lineup with the likes of Bolcar, Stonebreaker DuBose, Bercich around.

MIKE LINEBACKER
• Nyles Morgan (Corey Mays 2002-05) – When highly-touted Mays finally got his chance, he finished second on ’15 squad in tackles (80) with 12 ½ TFLs and five sacks.
• Josh Barajas (Carlo Calabrese 2010-14) – Both arrived with big-hitting reputations; both sat out their rookie years with the promise of good things to come. Barajas should have more range.

WILL LINEBACKER
• Te’von Coney (Bobbie Howard 1995-98) – Even more undersized by late ‘90s standards than Coney today, Howard emerged as leading tackler (118) in ’98.
• Asmar Bilal (Steve Filer 2008-10) – Like Filer, Bilal is a long-ish combination of outside/inside linebacker with closing speed.

CORNERBACK
• Shaun Crawford (Tommy Carter 1990-92) – Carter was a bit bigger, but both with tremendous ball skills. Carter became a first-round draft choice after junior year. Crawford has that ability if not the size.
• Nick Watkins (Ambrose Wooden 2004-07) – Wooden was a capable, athletic player, but ultimately was caught behind Mike Richardson and Darrin Walls.
• Ashton White (Terrail Lambert 2005-08) – Sturdy cornerback, a la the 5-foot-11, 190-pound White, eventually emerged as a play-making starter. Remains to be seen whether White can navigate the cornerback logjam.

STRONG SAFETY
• Drue Tranquill (Tom Zbikowski 2004-07) – Not as physically-gifted as Zbikowski, Tranquill has comparable savvy, intensity and desire to succeed at any cost.
• Avery Sebastian (Dan McCarthy 2009-12) – Star-crossed McCarthy, the talented younger brother of two-time leading tackler Kyle, battled injuries throughout career.
• Spencer Perry (Harrison Smith 2008-11) – Not to say Perry has first-round potential like Smith. But comparable length with OLB capabilities prompts this early-entry comparison.

FREE SAFETY
• Max Redfield (Zeke Motta 2009-12) – It wasn’t until Motta’s senior season that his immense talent truly shined through. Redfield faced with similar opportunity.
• Devin Studstill (Quentin Burrell 2001-04) – Studstill showed in spring that he’s ready to emerge before Burrell, who was part of quality secondary that included Zbikowski, Duff and Earl.
• Nicco Fertitta (Chris Salvi 2010-13) – Special-teams stalwart who never allowed size to interfere with his productivity.

KICKER
• Justin Yoon (Nick Tausch 2009-13) – Freshman Tausch came out smoking, converting 14 FGs in a row in ‘09, before an injury cost him his job to David Ruffer.

PUNTER
• Tyler Newsome (Craig Hentrich 1989-92) – Hentrich averaged 44.6 yards per punt as true freshman; Newsome 44.5 as red-shirt freshman.

LONG SNAPPER
• Scott Daly (Jordan Cowart) – Like his predecessor, Daly has a chance to be a four-year starter.

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