Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

All-First Rate Team (Offense)

Virginia Tech and Nevada are two Irish opponents in 2016 that have underrated skill-position talent at running back, receiver.

With the top units ranked among Notre Dame and its 12 opponents in 2016, we take the last step of the process by naming the first- and second-team all-First Rate team, beginning with the offense.

Whereas our First-Rate series measured position units over individuals, the purpose of this list is to show the most productive players prior to/heading into the 2016 season.

You’ll notice that some of Notre Dame’s prominent offensive players such as wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr., running backs Tarean Folston and Josh Adams, and tight end Alizé Jones were left off the list. All certainly are capable of playing to a high level, but their overall numbers entering the season pale in comparison to the competition.

The first- and second-teamers chosen below reflect a one-back, one-tight end, three-wideout grouping, commonly known as 11 personnel.

QUARTERBACK
• DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame) – Edge goes to Kizer for outstanding first-year performance, late-game heroics, and running ability (520 yards, 10 TDs).
• Brad Kaaya (Miami) – The greatest QB threat on ND’s ’16 slate with a sparkling 42-to-17 TD-to-interception ratio, although ‘Canes just 13-12 with Kaaya as starter.

RUNNING BACK
• Christian McCaffrey (Stanford) – The hands-down top back on the Irish schedule (2,019 yards rushing in ’15) also paced the Cardinal with 45 catches for 645 yards and 5 TDs.
• James Butler (Nevada) – Who you ask? One of two 1,000-yard backs for Wolf Pack last year with 1,342 yards, 10 TDs and 6.5-yard average.

WIDE RECEIVERS
• JuJu Smith-Schuster (USC) – Big-play junior (89 catches, 1,454 yards, 10 TD, 16.3-yard average) had 75-yard score, his longest of the season, against the Irish.
• Isaiah Ford (Virginia Tech) – Combination of size (6-2, 190) and big-play ability (75 receptions, 1,164 yards, 15.5-yard average, 11 TDs).
• Stacy Coley (Miami) – Junior numbers (47 catches, 689 yards, 14.7-yard average, 4 TDs) don’t fully reflect upside after bypassing NFL draft.
• Jerico Richardson (Nevada) – The smaller half (5-11, 190) of the Wolf Pack’s one-two punch had team-leading 750 yards on 68 catches with five TDs.
• Hasaan Henderson (Nevada) – The much larger (6-5, 220) version of Nevada’s two-headed receiving tandem averaged 14.2 yards per his 52 receptions (741 yards).
• Steve Ishmael (Syracuse) – Following a 39-catch, 570-yard, 7-TD sophomore season, the 6-2, 202-pounder should benefit greatly from Dino Babers’ spread attack.

TIGHT END
• Bucky Hodges (Virginia Tech) – ND’s Alizé Jones may have the most upside, but this 6-7, 245-pound junior has 85 receptions and 13 TDs in first two seasons.
• Josiah Price (Michigan State) – The ultimate red-zone weapon, the 6-4, 260-pounder has 16 career TDs on 66 receptions (a TD every four grabs).

OFFENSIVE TACKLE
• Zach Banner (USC) – With 27 starts the last two seasons and 1st-team all-Pac 12 status in ’15, this 6-9, 350-pounder is even bigger than ND’s McGlinchey.
• Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame) – The 6-7, 315-pounder has length, athleticism to make the challenging transition from right to left tackle in ’16.
• Casey Tucker (Stanford) – One of just two veterans on the Cardinal offensive line will be counted on to stabilize the right side.
• Connor Williams (Texas) – Forced into action as a true freshman, he earned rookie All-America notice as well as 2nd-team all-Big 12 status.

OFFENSIVE GUARD
• Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame) – First-time starter in ’15 still remains a bit underrated on some pre-season lists. That will change in ’16.
• Damien Mama (USC) – One of the most agile, high-motor big guys you’re ever going to see playing the offensive line.
• Patrick Vahe (Texas) – A 3rd-team all-Big 12 selection as a true freshman will only get better.
• Johnny Caspers (Stanford) – Only senior along Cardinal offensive line, Caspers will help form go-to right side with tackle Tucker.

CENTER
• Brian Allen (Michigan State) – Brother of all-Big Ten 1st-teamer Jack moves from left guard to center after his all-Big Ten 2nd-team season.
• Toa Lobendahn (USC) – Undersized but effective middle man along line that returns all five starters.


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