Class: Sophomore (Eligibility: 3)
On The Depth Chart: Locked in at weak-side defensive end without a credible challenger in the starting lineup.
Post-Spring Status: Ascending
Daelin Hays was a five-star recruit in the same way Alizé Mack was. Because earning that distinction on one service is a lot different than sweeping the four major recruiting rankings with five-star credibility like Jaylon Smith.
Like Scout did with Mack, Rivals was the only network to put Hayes in its five-star group. In fact, Rivals was the only network to rank Hayes in its Top 100. Scout had Hayes at No. 240, ESPN put him at No. 227 and 247 tabbed the defensive end at No. 133.
So who’s right?
It’s too soon to tell, but Hayes surviving his freshman season without another shoulder injury was a good start. He flashed enough athleticism to think he could reach that five-star ability down the road, but it’s going to take a big jump for him to get there during the coming three years.
HAYES AT HIS BEST
During the second quarter of Notre Dame’s disappointing home loss to Michigan State, Hayes matched up with tight end Josiah Price on 3rd-and-10 just outside the red zone. While quarterback Tyler O’Connor’s throw was well behind Price, Hayes was athletic enough to get a hand on the pass, batting it up to Devin Studstill for an interception. It was a moment when Hayes showed himself to be the perfect standup defensive end for Notre Dame’s new scheme, even with Brian VanGorder still in charge. Yes, Hayes has yet to post a sack outside of the Blue-Gold Game. But the Irish don’t have enough of this kind of athleticism on the roster. In a forgettable game, this pass breakup was worth remembering.
“I think it's pretty clear that Daelin Hayes is going to be around the football and be a disruptive player for us.” – Brian Kelly after Hayes posted three sacks in the Blue-Gold Game
BEST CASE SCENARIO
Hayes develops into the pass rushing force off the edge that Notre Dame has lacked since Aaron Lynch. While he was a misfit in South Bend, Lynch had a speed threat that Stephon Tuitt, Romeo Okwara, Darius Fleming and Prince Shembo did not, even if those four all posted more sacks in a season. Tuitt is the only player to post double-digit sacks in a season under Kelly. Hayes can be the second but with the quickness of Lynch instead of the raw power of Tuitt. As much as Kelly has downplayed the skills of individual pass rushers during the past few seasons – maybe he knew something that the rest of us found out watching games – don’t expect the same to be true with Hayes. All aboard the Daelin Hayes Hype Train, including the head coach.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
It’s not one anybody around Notre Dame wants to think about, but Hayes did suffer multiple season-ending shoulder injuries in high school and plays with a brace. Can he be an every down defensive end against the run? The Irish would be in trouble defensively if Hayes couldn’t go four quarters. The signs so far are that he can. A more realistic worst-case scenario is Hayes is the next Darius Fleming, which isn’t that bad at all. But Fleming 2.0 would be a good defensive end who was never great. The Irish need flashes of greatness from Hayes to make this defense go. There’s no reason to think Hayes doesn’t have that in him.
Prince Shembo out-performed Daelin Hayes when freshman seasons are compared head-to-head, but he also played in a defense that featured Manti Te’o, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Harrison Smith. So despite Shembo’s 4.5 sacks as a freshman compared to Hayes’ 0.0, their games seem similar to date. Both played a standup rush end position. Both showed flashes of plus athleticism, although Hayes actually looks natural in coverage. It’s easy to forget that Shembo, for all the real controversy off the field, finished his Notre Dame career with 19.5 sacks (tied for sixth all-time). Hayes has the potential to go beyond that.