NO. 9: DE-JAY HAYES (RS-Jr.)
• The Journey: Hayes, the 6-foot-3, 281-pounder out of Brooklyn, was three games away from preserving a year of eligibility as a freshman in 2014 when injuries to Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones precipitated his insertion in the final two games of the regular season (Louisville and USC) and the Music City Bowl (LSU).
That in turn led to the decision to get Hayes his red-shirt season as a sophomore in 2015. Hayes ruffled some feathers when he took to social media, bemoaning his plight. But he remained an integral part of Notre Dame’s defensive line future heading into 2016 with three years of eligibility remaining.
Hayes played in 10 games in ’16, starting none, predominately as a backup to Andrew Trumbetti. He finished with 10 tackles, half a tackle for loss and one quarterback hurry, leaving him with two years of eligibility and very little to show on the field in three years at Notre Dame.
• The Spring: Hayes has emerged as the frontrunner for the left (strongside) defensive end position as Trumbetti moved back to the same position where he struggled throughout 2015.
In the mold of former Irish defensive ends Ethan Johnson and Isaac Rochell, Hayes is a sturdy, point-of-attack-holding defensive end who should get all the snaps on run downs and short-yardage situations.
With two years of eligibility remaining, Hayes has an opportunity to finally achieve what he was seeking during his frustrating sophomore season in 2015. He likely won’t put up more than a couple-to-a-handful of sacks, but should benefit from Mike Elko’s defensive scheme in which numbers create confusion and lead to defensive linemen picking up some sacks.
Irish Illustrated believes that Hayes is primed to emerge as a key, consistent performer up front in 2017-18. He could be removed in passing situations – although he insists he’s an improved pass rusher -- or he could pop inside, a la Rochell, and provide a push in the middle with the insertion of pass rushers off the edge.
• The Quote: “I’m open to doing whatever the team needs me to do, but I’m comfortable where I’m at now. If the team needs me to move inside, I’m comfortable with that as well. But I feel like it’s a mismatch with my power and strength going into games (at end). My hand usage is something that is a weapon that I now use for passing situations.” – Jay Hayes
“Jay Hayes is 280 pounds. He’s big and physical, so Jay can give us a lot of snaps if he can continue to grow in the areas he needs to.” – DL coach Mike Elston