Notre Dame Football: 2013 pre top 25 ND

2013 Top 25 Player Countdown: No. 1

August, 26, 2013
8/26/13
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Louis NixJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJunior defensive tackle Louis Nix is the linchpin in Notre Dame's defense.
Irish Chocolate is our preseason winner.

No. 1: Louis Nix

Previous ranking: No. 2

Making the case: The best post-regular season news Notre Dame received was Nix's decision to return to school. He was the Irish's best defensive player in the Discover BCS National Championship loss to Alabama, and interior linemen like him just don't come around too often. (And we're not just talking about his larger-than-life personality.) Nix is listed at 357 pounds entering this season, though Brian Kelly has said that the next step for Nix is to become an every-snap player. Nix is coming off a redshirt sophomore campaign that saw him notch 50 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, five pass breakups, five passes defended, three quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. As previously stated in this space, one needs to look no further than the Pitt game to understand Nix's value, as Ray Graham rushed for 172 yards in a game that Nix was limited in because of flu-like symptoms. One more year of similar production and Nix could see his name called very early on Night 1 of the NFL Draft.

The countdown

No. 2 Stephon Tuitt

No. 3 Zack Martin

No. 4 Bennett Jackson

No. 5 Prince Shembo

No. 6 TJ Jones

No. 7 DaVaris Daniels

No. 8 Chris Watt

No. 9 Tommy Rees

No. 10 Danny Spond

No. 11 George Atkinson III

No. 12 Dan Fox

No. 13 Matthias Farley

No. 14 KeiVarae Russell

No. 15 Christian Lombard

No. 16 Sheldon Day

No. 17 Carlo Calabrese

No. 18 Jarrett Grace

No. 19 Amir Carlisle

No. 20 Troy Niklas

No. 21 Elijah Shumate

No. 22 C.J. Prosise

No. 23 Ishaq Williams

No. 24 Kyle Brindza

No. 25 Greg Bryant

2013 Top 25 Player Countdown: No. 2

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
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We've reached the final two.

No. 2: Stephon Tuitt

Previous ranking: No. 3

Making the case: Tuitt is, as his teammates say, a "freak." He is a preseason All-American on ESPN.com and SI.com after notching 12 sacks last season, just his sixth of organized football. The Monroe, Ga., native finished 1.5 sacks shy of Justin Tuck's Notre Dame single-season sacks record. He was an ESPN.com postseason All-American after finishing with 47 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss, one pass breakup, one pass defended, nine quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and one blocked kick. He also had that 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the season-opening rout of Navy. He missed spring ball after undergoing an operation because of a hernia that limited him throughout last season, and he is now up 19 pounds from last season, to 322. Still, the fact that he might have been "limited" last season, and the fact that he called last year a "learning" year, spells nothing but promise for the 6-foot-6 junior, who will likely have a tough decision to make about his future if he turns in similar production in 2013.

The countdown

No. 3 Zack Martin

No. 4 Bennett Jackson

No. 5 Prince Shembo

No. 6 T.J. Jones

No. 7 DaVaris Daniels

No. 8 Chris Watt

No. 9 Tommy Rees

No. 10 Danny Spond

No. 11 George Atkinson III

No. 12 Dan Fox

No. 13 Matthias Farley

No. 14 KeiVarae Russell

No. 15 Christian Lombard

No. 16 Sheldon Day

No. 17 Carlo Calabrese

No. 18 Jarrett Grace

No. 19 Amir Carlisle

No. 20 Troy Niklas

No. 21 Elijah Shumate

No. 22 C.J. Prosise

No. 23 Ishaq Williams

No. 24 Kyle Brindza

No. 25 Greg Bryant

2013 Top 25 Player Countdown: No. 3

August, 22, 2013
8/22/13
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Today brings us the offense's most important player.

No. 3: Zack Martin

Previous ranking: No. 5

Making the case: What more can be said about Martin? He will be a four-year starter and likely a two-time captain after passing up on the NFL to return for his fifth season. He is one of the best left tackles in the country, has been the Irish's best offensive lineman for three years running and will likely line up with his little brother, Nick, on the first-team unit this fall. Martin enters 2013 as the unquestioned voice of the offense, bringing a consistency on and off the field every day and setting the example for the rest of the unit. Martin is on the watch lists for both the Outland Trophy (interior lineman) and Rotary Lombardi award (offensive/defensive lineman, linebacker).

The countdown

No. 4 Bennett Jackson

No. 5 Prince Shembo

No. 6 T.J. Jones

No. 7 DaVaris Daniels

No. 8 Chris Watt

No. 9 Tommy Rees

No. 10 Danny Spond

No. 11 George Atkinson III

No. 12 Dan Fox

No. 13 Matthias Farley

No. 14 KeiVarae Russell

No. 15 Christian Lombard

No. 16 Sheldon Day

No. 17 Carlo Calabrese

No. 18 Jarrett Grace

No. 19 Amir Carlisle

No. 20 Troy Niklas

No. 21 Elijah Shumate

No. 22 C.J. Prosise

No. 23 Ishaq Williams

No. 24 Kyle Brindza

No. 25 Greg Bryant

2013 Top 25 Player Countdown: No. 4

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
2:00
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Today brings us to the final defensive back of the countdown.

No. 4: Bennett Jackson

Previous ranking: No. 15

Making the case: Jackson is Notre Dame's leading returning tackler in 2013, and he is now at full health after offseason shoulder injury. The senior will be looked at to lead a secondary that is much deeper than it was last season, his first as a starter. The converted wide receiver finished 2012 with 65 total tackles, 1.5 for loss, four picks, four break-ups, eight passes defended and one fumble recovery. He sat out this spring while recovering from surgery, and he said that period gave him another point of view as he now enters his final campaign as one of the veteran voices of a defense looking to build off last year's success.

The countdown

No. 5 Prince Shembo

No. 6 T.J. Jones

No. 7 DaVaris Daniels

No. 8 Chris Watt

No. 9 Tommy Rees

No. 10 Danny Spond

No. 11 George Atkinson III

No. 12 Dan Fox

No. 13 Matthias Farley

No. 14 KeiVarae Russell

No. 15 Christian Lombard

No. 16 Sheldon Day

No. 17 Carlo Calabrese

No. 18 Jarrett Grace

No. 19 Amir Carlisle

No. 20 Troy Niklas

No. 21 Elijah Shumate

No. 22 C.J. Prosise

No. 23 Ishaq Williams

No. 24 Kyle Brindza

No. 25 Greg Bryant

2013 Top 25 Player Countdown: No. 5

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
4:00
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We've reached our final linebacker of the countdown.

No. 5: Prince Shembo

Previous ranking: No. 10

Making the case: Shembo is likely Notre Dame's best linebacker, a consistent and athletic force who can get to the quarterback with relative ease. Boston College's Chase Rettig learned this the hard way, as Shembo sacked him three times in last season's Nov. 10 contest and won national defensive player of the week honors. Shembo started all 13 games at the Cat last season, finishing second on the team in both sacks (seven) and tackles for loss (10.5). Shembo finished his junior year with 51 total tackles, one breakup, one pass defended, one fumble recovery and a team-best 12 quarterback hurries.

The countdown

No. 6 T.J. Jones

No. 7 DaVaris Daniels

No. 8 Chris Watt

No. 9 Tommy Rees

No. 10 Danny Spond

No. 11 George Atkinson III

No. 12 Dan Fox

No. 13 Matthias Farley

No. 14 KeiVarae Russell

No. 15 Christian Lombard

No. 16 Sheldon Day

No. 17 Carlo Calabrese

No. 18 Jarrett Grace

No. 19 Amir Carlisle

No. 20 Troy Niklas

No. 21 Elijah Shumate

No. 22 C.J. Prosise

No. 23 Ishaq Williams

No. 24 Kyle Brindza

No. 25 Greg Bryant

2013 Top 25 Player Countdown: No. 6

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
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No. 6 is No. 7.

No. 6: Tj Jones, WR

Previous ranking: No. 12

Making the case: Brian Kelly said during his pre-camp news conference that he would not be surprised if Jones ended up as a first-round pick. It seems like a safe bet that Jones will be a reliable target in the NFL for whichever teams drafts him -- when he's not busy with his other passion, at least. Jones tied for a team-best 50 catches last season, good for 649 receiving yards and four scores. Kelly said during the 2012 campaign that Jones was the team's most improved player from one year to the next. Now he enters his senior year as Tommy Rees' top target, a potential captain and a veteran voice among what is a smaller group of receivers following two spring transfers. Jones is one of the better route-runners in the country and, at a recent practice open to the media, was seen fielding punts, where he could surely aid a unit that has struggled the past two years.

The countdown

No. 7 DaVaris Daniels

No. 8 Chris Watt

No. 9 Tommy Rees

No. 10 Danny Spond

No. 11 George Atkinson III

No. 12 Dan Fox

No. 13 Matthias Farley

No. 14 KeiVarae Russell

No. 15 Christian Lombard

No. 16 Sheldon Day

No. 17 Carlo Calabrese

No. 18 Jarrett Grace

No. 19 Amir Carlisle

No. 20 Troy Niklas

No. 21 Elijah Shumate

No. 22 C.J. Prosise

No. 23 Ishaq Williams

No. 24 Kyle Brindza

No. 25 Greg Bryant

2013 Top 25 Player Countdown: No. 7

August, 16, 2013
8/16/13
2:00
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No. 7 is a potential breakout player on an Irish offense looking for playmakers.

No. 7: DaVaris Daniels, WR

Previous ranking: No. 17

Making the case: Brian Kelly said during camp that Daniels will be the BCS wide receiver that will catch everyone's attention. Much was expected of him last year, his first on the field, and he really seemed to kick into a second gear right before breaking his clavicle in a Nov. 10 win at Boston College. Daniels finished with 31 catches for 490 yards and played his best upon his return from injury: in the BCS title game loss to Alabama, when he caught six balls for 115 yards. With Notre Dame losing first-round picks in back to back years in tight end Tyler Eifert (2012) and Michael Floyd (2011), the Irish are in need of a playmaker on offense, and Daniels may be just the guy to fill that role. He and T.J. Jones will be the go-to guys in the passing game and will look to break things open as the Irish go for a more balanced attack with Tommy Rees back under center this fall.

The countdown

No. 8 Chris Watt

No. 9 Tommy Rees

No. 10 Danny Spond

No. 11 George Atkinson III

No. 12 Dan Fox

No. 13 Matthias Farley

No. 14 KeiVarae Russell

No. 15 Christian Lombard

No. 16 Sheldon Day

No. 17 Carlo Calabrese

No. 18 Jarrett Grace

No. 19 Amir Carlisle

No. 20 Troy Niklas

No. 21 Elijah Shumate

No. 22 C.J. Prosise

No. 23 Ishaq Williams

No. 24 Kyle Brindza

No. 25 Greg Bryant

2013 Top 25 Player Countdown: No. 8

August, 15, 2013
8/15/13
3:00
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No. 8 is one half of a veteran left side of Notre Dame's offensive line.

No. 8: Chris Watt, LG

Previous ranking: No. 18

Making the case: Notre Dame had seven 200-yard rushing games last season, its most in 16 years. Yes, Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood were a big part of that. But so, too, was the left side of the offensive line: Zack Martin and Watt. Martin is a likely two-year captain and four-year starter, but Watt's play cannot be underestimated, as he enters his fifth season with the Irish and third as a starter. The Irish will try to balance out the rushing attack a bit more this year, but another year of Watt at left guard will be hard to ignore. He will have to help a new center to his right -- likely Nick Martin, Zack's brother -- and he could vie for a captain spot along with Zack Martin. The Irish lose a mobile quarterback in Everett Golson, their top two rushers and two starters from the line, so Watt & Co. will be tasked with trying to help the rushing attack keep pace with last year's production.

The countdown

No. 9 Tommy Rees

No. 10 Danny Spond

No. 11 George Atkinson III

No. 12 Dan Fox

No. 13 Matthias Farley

No. 14 KeiVarae Russell

No. 15 Christian Lombard

No. 16 Sheldon Day

No. 17 Carlo Calabrese

No. 18 Jarrett Grace

No. 19 Amir Carlisle

No. 20 Troy Niklas

No. 21 Elijah Shumate

No. 22 C.J. Prosise

No. 23 Ishaq Williams

No. 24 Kyle Brindza

No. 25 Greg Bryant

2013 Top 25 Player Countdown: No. 9

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
2:00
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Look who's back to save the day one more time for Notre Dame...

No. 9: Tommy Rees, QB

Previous ranking: No. 16

Making the case: Rees is No. 9 here, but if this list were based on simple "value," you could certainly make the argument that he is No. 1. Just look at his career — 4,413 passing yards and 34 touchdowns, in addition to 24 picks. He started the last four games of his freshman season, the last 12 of his sophomore year, got arrested and suspended, lost his starting job … and then came in to relieve Everett Golson in three of Notre Dame's first six contests of 2012, making clutch throws in each of them to lead the Irish to wins. Now he begins a season as the starter for the first time, looking to rescue the Irish once again after sticking around for his senior year. He knows the offense well, has the respect and trust of his teammates and coaches and showed more command during the offseason, according to teammates. It's safe to say his college career has been anything but conventional, and Notre Dame has been better off for it.

The countdown

No. 10 Danny Spond

No. 11 George Atkinson III

No. 12 Dan Fox

No. 13 Matthias Farley

No. 14 KeiVarae Russell

No. 15 Christian Lombard

No. 16 Sheldon Day

No. 17 Carlo Calabrese

No. 18 Jarrett Grace

No. 19 Amir Carlisle

No. 20 Troy Niklas

No. 21 Elijah Shumate

No. 22 C.J. Prosise

No. 23 Ishaq Williams

No. 24 Kyle Brindza

No. 25 Greg Bryant
No. 10 is an integral piece of what should be another strong defense.

No. 10: Danny Spond, LB

Previous ranking: No. 11

Making the case: Spond is one of eight starters returning from a defense that finished second nationally in scoring last season. And just weeks before the season started, he thought he may never have had the chance to do that, as a severe migraine made his body numb and had him fearing a possible stroke. He returned for the Sept. 15 win at Michigan State and started the Irish's final 11 games at dog linebacker, tallying 39 tackles, including one for loss, recording one pick, three pass break-ups and four passes defended. The 6-foot-2, 248-pounder faces a bigger challenge this year, as he is on the front line of a deep position that features Ben Councell and newcomer Jaylon Smith vying for quality time behind him. The former prep quarterback enters his senior year as a very good cover man who should be able to play more against the run with an experienced secondary behind him.

The countdown

No. 11 George Atkinson III

No. 12 Dan Fox

No. 13 Matthias Farley

No. 14 KeiVarae Russell

No. 15 Christian Lombard

No. 16 Sheldon Day

No. 17 Carlo Calabrese

No. 18 Jarrett Grace

No. 19 Amir Carlisle

No. 20 Troy Niklas

No. 21 Elijah Shumate

No. 22 C.J. Prosise

No. 23 Ishaq Williams

No. 24 Kyle Brindza

No. 25 Greg Bryant
No. 11 is perhaps the most electrifying player on Notre Dame's offense.

No. 11: George Atkinson III, RB

Previous ranking: No. 19

Making the case: Atkinson is the man many are expecting to be the team's top running back this season, and the No. 1 job will be his to win after the loss of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. Atkinson added 10 pounds this spring (up to 220) and stopped running track, and he is looking to be more than just a change-of-pace, home-run threat. He is coming off a season in which he rushed for 361 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 7.1 yards per carry. He also averaged 20 yards per return on 22 kick returns. (He returned two for scores his freshman year.) Atkinson will have to display more of an ability to play in the slot, having caught just two passes last season for four yards, but the opportunity is there for the taking as he leads a deep group of relatively inexperienced backs that are looking to build off a strong ground attack from a season ago.

The countdown

No. 12 Dan Fox

No. 13 Matthias Farley

No. 14 KeiVarae Russell

No. 15 Christian Lombard

No. 16 Sheldon Day

No. 17 Carlo Calabrese

No. 18 Jarrett Grace

No. 19 Amir Carlisle

No. 20 Troy Niklas

No. 21 Elijah Shumate

No. 22 C.J. Prosise

No. 23 Ishaq Williams

No. 24 Kyle Brindza

No. 25 Greg Bryant
Checking in at No. 12 is a fifth-year senior and three-year starter.

No. 12: Dan Fox, LB

Previous ranking: No. 20

Making the case: Fox split time with Carlo Calabrese again last year at the Will, producing his best season in a Notre Dame uniform yet. Fox is the team's second-leading returning tackler, having notched 63 total tackles (two for loss, one sack) last season to go with two break-ups, two passes defended and two quarterback hurries. Having sat out of contact this spring after offseason shoulder surgery, Fox will be looked at as one of the leaders on this defense, splitting time again with Calabrese while possibly lending a hand at the Mike as the Irish break in new starter Jarrett Grace there in place of Manti Te'o. Just don't look for that familiar long hair, as Fox cut it off during the offseason.

The countdown

No. 13 Matthias Farley

No. 14 KeiVarae Russell

No. 15 Christian Lombard

No. 16 Sheldon Day

No. 17 Carlo Calabrese

No. 18 Jarrett Grace

No. 19 Amir Carlisle

No. 20 Troy Niklas

No. 21 Elijah Shumate

No. 22 C.J. Prosise

No. 23 Ishaq Williams

No. 24 Kyle Brindza

No. 25 Greg Bryant
Lucky No. 13 is another converted offensive starter.

No. 13: Matthias Farley S

Previous ranking: No. 21

Making the case: Like KeiVarae Russell, Farley was an offensive player (wide receiver) who made the conversion into starter in the secondary for Notre Dame in 2012. After redshirting his freshman year and then switching positions, Farley moved into the starting role after a Week 3 Achilles tear sidelined Jamoris Slaughter for the season. Farley answered the bell, delivering hard hit after hard hit, coming up with an interception in the Stanford contest and never missing a game despite breaking his right thumb in the Oct. 27 win at Oklahoma, playing with two plates and four pins inserted afterward. He finished with 49 total tackles on the season, including two for a loss, to go with one pass break-up. Now the redshirt sophomore looks to take the next step, as he and Bennett Jackson are the veteran voices of a deep secondary that has a surplus of safeties.

The countdown

No. 14 KeiVarae Russell

No. 15 Christian Lombard

No. 16 Sheldon Day

No. 17 Carlo Calabrese

No. 18 Jarrett Grace

No. 19 Amir Carlisle

No. 20 Troy Niklas

No. 21 Elijah Shumate

No. 22 C.J. Prosise

No. 23 Ishaq Williams

No. 24 Kyle Brindza

No. 25 Greg Bryant
No. 14 returns after a freshman All-America campaign.

No. 14: KeiVarae Russell, CB

Previous ranking: No. 22

Making the case: Russell will have to hold off redshirt junior Lo Wood for the starting field corner spot this fall, but he is a year older and eight pounds heavier as he looks to build off a surprising first year as a starter. A running back recruit who was then thrust into a starting role in the secondary following Wood's preseason Achilles tear, Russell went on to notch 58 total tackles, including two for loss and half a sack, to go with two interceptions, two break-ups, four passes defended and one quarterback hurry. He is the Irish's third-leading returning tackler this season, and a player who did not lack for confidence going into Year 1. Having more than held his own against passing attacks like USC's and Oklahoma's last season, Russell will look to take the next step during his sophomore campaign and help Notre Dame have defensive success similar to last year's.

The countdown

No. 15 Christian Lombard

No. 16 Sheldon Day

No. 17 Carlo Calabrese

No. 18 Jarrett Grace

No. 19 Amir Carlisle

No. 20 Troy Niklas

No. 21 Elijah Shumate

No. 22 C.J. Prosise

No. 23 Ishaq Williams

No. 24 Kyle Brindza

No. 25 Greg Bryant
No. 15 is one of three starters returning on the offensive line.

No. 15: Christian Lombard, RT

Previous ranking: Not ranked

Making the case: Lombard started all 13 games last season for the Irish as a redshirt sophomore, his first year on the first-team after the graduation of Taylor Dever. Now he is one of three starters returning from a unit that helped Notre Dame eclipse the 200-yard rushing mark in seven different games in 2012. The Irish gave up just 18 sacks on the season, tied for 28th-fewest in the nation, and came along strongly after an early adjustment period that saw Everett Golson get sacked five times in a Week 2 win over Purdue. Lombard has the ability to play guard and can move if a second-team tackle makes his case to start. He will be counted on heavily as the Irish look to make the right side of their line as strong as their left was in 2012.

The countdown

No. 16 Sheldon Day

No. 17 Carlo Calabrese

No. 18 Jarrett Grace

No. 19 Amir Carlisle

No. 20 Troy Niklas

No. 21 Elijah Shumate

No. 22 C.J. Prosise

No. 23 Ishaq Williams

No. 24 Kyle Brindza

No. 25 Greg Bryant

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