The top 10 Notre Dame football players you need to know for 2016. These are the stars to watch out for on the Fighting Irish..
1. QB DeShone Kizer, Jr.
At 6-4 and 230 pounds, Kizer has the ideal size to go along with the mobility and rushing skills to take off for 520 yards and ten scores, taking off for 143 yards and two scores against Temple, and 128 yards what appeared to be at the time a special touchdown against Stanford. With a good arm and nice accuracy, he was thrown to the wolves and came up huge, pulling out the win over Virginia after Malik Zaire got hurt, and ended up throwing for 200 yards or more in every game but the win over Wake Forest. On the year he hit 63% of his passes for 2,880 yards and 21 touchdowns with ten picks, throwing three against Boston College, two against Temple, and spreading the rest of his interceptions around.
Now he’s more of a leader having taken the Irish to within an eyelash of the College Football Playoff, and he’s looking more like a veteran who won’t just give up the starting gig willingly because Zaire is back. He should be able to fill in the gap as a good part of a rotation, if he doesn’t own the job outright. He’s got the right make-up to handle the situation.
2. QB Malik Zaire, Sr.
He rose up in the ranks to beat out Everett Golson, forcing him to eventually transfer to Florida State. Just when it seemed like Zaire was ready to turn in a massive season, he suffered an ankle injury that knocked him out for the season. Now he’s trying to shake all the rust off and get back to form, but come fall camp he should be at least No. 1A on the quarterback depth chart.
Brilliant in the opener against Texas, he completed 19-of-22 passes for 313 yards with three scores, and ran for 87 yards against Virginia before getting hurt. The 6-0, 225-pound lefty has only seen meaningful time in four games, but since arriving on campus he’s looked the part in practices with the dual-threat skills to be the exact right fit for the Brian Kelly attack. But first he has to win the job back.
3. RB Tarean Folston, Sr.
A force over the second half of the 2014 season, Folston ran for four 100-yard games in five dates – including 120 against Florida State – but he suffered a torn ACL in the opener last year against Texas and missed the rest of the season. Fortunately, it happened early enough to give him plenty of time to come back healthy, and now he seems ready to be back to form.
An all-star high school talent out of Florida, he’s 5-9 and 214 pounds with a strong blend of interior power and good quickness in the open field – he’s more Mr. Inside, though. He’s not going to have to be the workhorse, but he can be one at times. He has just 266 rushing attempts in his two years and one partial game, for 1,378 yards and nine scores, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
4. RB Josh Adams, Soph.
While Tarean Folston might be back and ready to be the star of the offense, Adams will more than just push for time. The 6-2, 219-pounder came up with a strong first season running for 838 yards and six touchdowns, tearing off over seven yards per carry. He destroyed Stanford with 168 yards and a score averaging over nine yards per pop, and was one of the few positives at times in the loss to Ohio State. Stunningly fast for his size – he hit Wake Forest with a 98-yard run – he’s built to pound, but he’s at his best in space when he gets dominate defensive backs.
5. OG Quenton Nelson, Soph.
It was his job last season to be the blaster on the inside at left guard while Ronnie Stanley dominated on the outside. The 6-5, 325-pound sophomore is built like a dream NFL guard, but he has just enough athleticism and skill to see time at tackle if absolutely needed. A crushing presence inside, he’s the one everything will run behind at on the left side with tremendous next-level power and drive – he buries his man.
6. OT Mike McGlinchey, Sr.
Is he ready to be the new Ronnie Stanley? He’s not as good, but last year’s starting right tackle will step over to the left side – but could move back to the right side to protect lefty Malik Zaire’s backside if needed. At 6-7 and 310 pounds, he’s got the size, the frame, and the pass protection ability to hold down the job on either side, and while he might not have Stanley’s feet or skill, he’s got the talent to be the leader of a good-looking line that should be fine in time.
7. DE Isaac Rochell, Sr.
Growing into the role of the team’s top defensive end last year, he finished fifth on the team with 63 tackles with 7.5 tackles for loss. More of a good run blocker and a solid all-around playmaker than a pass rusher, he only came up with one sack last season to go along with plenty of pressures. The 6-3, 290-pounder is like an extra defensive tackle up front and great against the run, but he’s not splashy. That’s okay – it’s not his job to be noticed as much as it is being a rock who doesn’t get shoved.
8. S Max Redfield, Sr.
For a team that’s missing some key defensive leaders, it’s up to Redfield to take on the role. He missed the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State for disciplinary reasons, but before that he was having a great season making 64 tackles with 14 stops against Clemson and ten against Stanford. The one-time star recruit has to pick off more passes – he came up with just one last season – but at 6-1 and 205 pounds he’s got good size and nice hitting ability. While he hasn’t quite been the player he was hyped up to be, and there’s talent to be doing a whole lot more. Good before, this year he’s got the upside to be fantastic.
9. CB Cole Luke, Sr.
Can he get his groove back? He looked like a potential star as a sophomore breaking up 11 passes and coming up with four interceptions. While he wasn’t awful last season, he came up with four picks, 41 tackles, and didn’t make as many big plays. At 5-11 and 193 pounds he’s got decent size and he isn’t shy to get in on a play, but now the pressure is on to be a shut-down producer on one side. This should be a strong Fighting Irish secondary, and he’s got the potential to be the star.
10. WR Torii Hunter Jr., Sr.
Is he ready to become a No. 1 target? He doesn’t have Will Fuller’s speed, and he’s not quite as big as Chris Brown, but after finishing third on the team with 363 yards with two scores on 28 catches, he has to become a star of the receiving corps. He’s got the tools to be fantastic – and he wowed everyone with a huge grab in the spring game – and with his work ethic he could be the team’s blow-up star. At least that’s the hope.