The final of three reviews of the BlueandGold.com preseason top 25 most important players list confirmed we did well in identifying the most indispensable pieces in Notre Dame’s 2020 season.
(If you missed them, here’s part one and part two).
Call it an 80 percent hit rate in our top five. Our goal was to rank 25 players in order of their importance based on talent, expected impact and these two questions: 1) How much of a setback would losing this player be? 2) If this less proven player emerges, how much does that raise the ceiling (or lower it, if a breakout does not happen as expected)?
Now with the season over, we’re revisiting our list from the summer to see how it held up in hindsight. Today, the players we ranked in the top five.
5. CB TaRiq Bracy
The one miss. Bracy earned lofty rankings on all five ballots because he was the one returning corner who didn’t have injury concerns and was beyond freshman eligibility. He had put in two solid years in the rotation. It gave him a path to playing time. Notre Dame needed him to be a steady presence.
For a little while, he was. He covered well and improved his tackling. But he was yanked from the Nov. 7 game against Clemson after giving up an early 53-yard touchdown, on which he provided little resistance. From there, he rarely was in the rotation and struggled in coverage when he did play. He’s an odd case of in-season regression. He and Notre Dame’s coaches ought to examine why. His speed, fluidity and improved strength are still desired traits.
4. LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
This is a couple spots too low now, but he was only separated from No. 3 by a point and was an easy to identify top-five most valuable commodity. He was Notre Dame’s most disruptive player on a defense that thrived because of its havoc-creating ability. His versatility is a defensive coordinator’s dream, and he was effective at all levels. He covered slots. He was a fine blitzer. He defended the run with aplomb.
3. LT Liam Eichenberg
The best player on the team’s most trusted unit. This one aged well. Eichenberg didn’t allow a sack all year. His Pro Football Focus run-blocking grade was tied for 9th among FBS tackles. He looked the part even when blocking Alabama’s defensive front. When Notre Dame ran his way, it usually found success.
2. S Kyle Hamilton
Owusu-Koramoah should probably leap him, but it’s hard to say Hamilton didn’t earn this spot with his own play. Especially when looking at the secondary’s inconsistencies around him. Hamilton was an eraser with his range and a much-improved run game force. He had only one interception because a couple slipped through his hands, but the ceiling for picking off passes was low because defenses learned not to throw his way too often.
Hamilton was thrown at 31 times, per PFF. He allowed a 58.1 completion rate and just 7.7 yards per catch. He also led the team with 63 tackles (4.5 for loss) and had six pass breakups.
1. QB Ian Book
Notre Dame’s playoff hopes hinged on its three-year starting quarterback more than anything else. The Irish needed to beat Clemson to get there and needed a big game from their quarterback to pull off a win against the Tigers. Book delivered that, and several others down the stretch before struggling in the ACC Championship and playoff game.
All told, Book’s completion rate (64.6) and yards per attempt (8.0) jumped back to better levels after regressing in 2019. Excluding sacks and fumble recoveries, he ran for 634 yards and nine touchdowns.
Of course, removing the school’s all-time wins leader would have led to as big a dropoff from starter to backup as any other position. Any Book absence would’ve crushed Notre Dame’s offense and its outlook.
Postseason Top 25
Our staff of five voted on a final version of the top 25 most important players. They were tasked with ranking them with this as the primary consideration: If a player was taken away, what would the impact of that loss be?
Here’s the list, which contains 19 of the players who made the preseason top 25. The No. 1 spot was worth 25 points, No. 2 worth 23 and so on down to No. 25, which was worth one point. I put some quick facts and rationale for those who weren’t mentioned above or in the prior two pieces.
1. QB Ian Book (125 points)
2. LB Jeremiah-Owusu-Koramoah (120 points)
3. RB Kyren Williams (112 points): Notre Dame’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2017 was a workhorse, an improved pass blocker and ended as the third-leading receiver, with 35 catches. He had 14 total touchdowns.
4. S Kyle Hamilton (110 points)
5. LT Liam Eichenberg (108 points)
6. LG Aaron Banks (99 points)
7. TE Michael Mayer (90 points): Not an explosive play source, but a trusted chain mover. Mayer caught 71.2 percent of his targets, reached the first-down marker on 76 percent of his catches and was Book’s most targeted receiver on third down.
8. WR Javon McKinley (86 points): His 17.1 yards per catch trails only Will Fuller among Notre Dame receivers in the Kelly era. A needed source of explosiveness, McKinley had 12 catches of 20 or more yards.
9. CB Nick McCloud (82 points)
10. DE Ade Ogundeji (79 points)
11. LB Drew White (60 points)
12. RT Robert Hainsey (59 points)
13. TE Tommy Tremble (57 points)
14. NT Kurt Hinish (56 points)
15. DE Daelin Hayes (54 points)
16. WR Ben Skowronek (51 points)
17. RG Tommy Kraemer (47 points)
18. S Shaun Crawford (46 points)
19. C Jarrett Patterson (42 points)
20. DT Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa (39 points)
21. CB Clarence Lewis (36 points): The freshman was solid, but unspectacular. His tackling and physicality stood out more than his cover skills or numbers (64 percent catch rate, 13.6 yards per reception), but his emergence saved the field corner position from becoming a major liability once Bracy’s struggles began.
22. WR Avery Davis (26 points): Notre Dame’s best run-after-catch threat. Davis averaged 8.0 yards after catch on his 24 receptions.
23. DE Isaiah Foskey (12 points): Second among Irish defenders with 4.5 sacks and also notched 7.0. tackles for loss. A disruptive, high-upside rusher despite a role as a backup and sub-package player. Punt-team havoc creator.
24. RB Chris Tyree (10 points)
25. LB Bo Bauer (6 points): A high-level backup to White and a nickel/dime package mainstay. Bauer finished seventh on the team in tackles, with 26 (and 4.5 for loss). He was an effective blitzer, with 11 pressures on 54 pass-rush snaps, per PFF. He allowed only 6.3 yards per catch on 12 receptions caught near him. He was also a special teams ace.
Also earning votes: K Jonathan Doerer (4 points), OL Josh Lugg (4 points), C Zeke Correll (2 points), LB Marist Liufau (2 points), P Jay Bramblett (1 point), RB C’Bo Flemister (1 point)
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