Depth Chart Engineering: Predicting ND's Fall Roster

Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

There are soothsayers, insiders, coaches, and experts---none of whom were consulted on this post.

In my world it's never too early to look at the future depth chart. When everyone is listed out you get a strong sense of what the upcoming season is going to look like and even what battles are going to take place in spring practice. For now, we'll skip right over what's going to occur in the spring (we'll get to that later in March) and gaze in to the OFD crystal ball for a glimpse at this fall's depth chart.

The premise is simple. First, I listed out the depth chart based strictly on returning starters and then seniority of class and/or playing time. Next, a little opinion was used to rearrange things slightly in a way that would reflect spring practice and the addition of 6 new freshman---basically a "What Would the Coaches Do" by the end of April?

Lastly, I stirred up some conversation with our fellow staff members on what they expect to see, some of that was duly noted, and now I've added a splash of my own opinion and commentary.

Basically the way I list the depth chart out is in terms of who is playing the most, or getting the most carries/receptions, etc.

Let's dig right in.

QUARTERBACK

Everett Golson, RS Sophomore

Tommy Rees, Senior

Gunner Kiel, RS Freshman

Andrew Hendrix, RS Junior

Malik Zaire, Freshman

For the first time since the spring/fall of 2010 we will not have a quarterback competition to see who the Irish starter will be. But that doesn't mean there won't be intrigue behind Everett Golson.

Now is the time that I'll point out how notoriously conservative college coaches are with their depth chart, particularly with quarterbacks. So no, I don't see Kiel jumping Rees as the true backup in 2013---not after the performances Tommy made last year. There's way too much trust between Kelly and Rees and if the chips are down in a close game with an injury to Golson it'll be Tommy coming off the bench.

However, Kiel could see enough mop-up duty that he actually ends up playing more snaps than Rees. At least that's the scenario I envision for 2013: Rees as the backup in close games and Kiel used more in the 4th quarter with a comfortable lead. That seems like the best of both worlds when taking in to consideration Kelly's comfort level with Rees and Kelly's need to wet Kiel's beak and avoid a transfer.

Obviously the odd man out could be Andrew Hendrix. He was passed by the younger Golson last year, could never unseat Rees before that, and with (possibly) 1 year remaining the staff may look toward Kiel to fill out the garbage minutes.

RUNNING BACK

George Atkinson, Junior

Greg Bryant, Freshman

Amir Carlisle, RS Sophomore

Tarean Folston, Freshman

Will Mahone, RS Freshman

Some may be surprised to see Atkinson at the top spot if you've read my criticism's of his play. Admittedly, part of me expects to be completely wrong here. GA3 runs like he has skis on---jump cuts, spin moves, and quick changes of direction need not apply. He's also lacks running strength for a back his size, and he's rumored to have terrible hands.

Now that I've practically convinced myself why he shouldn't top the depth chart I'll also say Atkinson has three things going for him. First, he has experience. Second, he can improve and get better in areas that are his weaknesses. And third, he has a leg up on the competition and likely means he's getting more carries than anyone else early in the season.

I have Greg Bryant listed second with the possibility that he's the "starter" aka getting the most carries towards the end of next season. Yes, I think he's that good.

Carlisle is a bit of wildcard---am I underrating him at 3rd string? I may very well be seeing as though he was a Parade All-American at Kings Academy averaging 10 yards a carry with 31 touchdowns in 2010 and turned some heads in limited playing time at USC in 2011. My big concern is his size and durability, because damn! If Carlisle is 180 he has the heaviest bones this side of the Mississippi.

I think it's silly when people complain that a back at 205 pounds won't be able to "take the pounding" but Carlisle is really tiny and was banged up during his lone year in Los Angeles. Carlisle would be a candidate to move to the slot, but either way he's going to be involved. Like many of the backs on the team, the distinction between running back and slot receiver may be a little blurred.

Incoming freshman Tarean Folston is another player that might have his official title blurred a little bit. In fact, I originally had him listed as the backup at slot receiver. Folston will be an interesting player to watch because the team doesn't really need him to play in 2013 but he may be too talented to keep off the field. At the very least he may be working on special teams, getting involved in the return game, and seeing pretty limited carries and playing time on offense.

With Folston moving back to running back, I have Mahone dropping down to 5th string. As talked about in a recent Reviewing the Redshirts profile, Mahone has an up-hill battle to climb.

SLOT RECEIVER

Davonte Neal, Sophomore

Cam McDaniel, Junior

Torii Hunter, Freshman

The high-spirited Davonte Neal should move in to the starting spot at slot with the graduation of Robby Toma. I moved McDaniel to slot from running back because his style of play fits the position and he'd add some much needed experience to this position. However, this would be McDaniel's 3rd position change in a calendar year (and 4th position change overall) and I'll admit it's just as likely he's using his bigger frame at running back while the more slender Carlisle moves to the slot.

Now you're probably thinking that there are too many bodies at running back and someone else should move to the slot with Hunter currently rehabbing a broken femur. Yet, with the amount of tight ends that see the field at the expense of a third receiver, I seriously doubt a third option will be considered in the slot.

X WIDE RECEIVER

T.J. Jones, Senior

Daniel Smith, Senior

Justin Ferguson, Sophomore

James Onwualu, Freshman

Luke Massa, RS Junior

The coaching staff doesn't seem to adhere to a strict definition of the X and Z receivers and neither will I. What I did do is consider playing time and then lump the strong blockers at X and the speedy down field targets at Z.

With the group above you can see the need to develop the underclassmen. Jones should turn in a fine senior season and Smith emerged as a strong blocker last season and even chipped in 7 receptions. Having two experienced seniors is great but getting Ferguson involved has to be a key for the coaching staff.

I have Onwualu here with a real chance to see the field as a freshman, but he could certainly play any of the receiver positions too. I have Massa at the bottom coming off a serious knee injury and unable to see the field.

Z WIDE RECEIVER

DaVaris Daniels, RS Sophomore

Chris Brown, Sophomore

Corey Robinson, Freshman

Will Fuller, Freshman

Only four bodies here but Daniels and Brown both have 3 years of eligibility left---although the former might forego a 5th year if he improves and lives up to his potential. I expect these two to play a ton of minutes this fall.

Barring injuries I don't see Robinson or Fuller seeing the field in 2013. They both don't weigh enough and without injuries there's no way this staff is playing 9 or 10 receivers. Even so, this is shaping up to be the deepest receiving corps of the Kelly era.

TIGHT END

Troy Niklas, Junior

Ben Koyack, Junior

Alex Welch, RS Junior

Mike Heuerman, Freshman

Durham Smythe, Freshman

This will be the first season since 2004 where the Irish won't have a tight end coming back who totaled at least 20 receptions the previous season. In 2003, Jared Clark and Anthony Fasano combined for 33 receptions, but neither broke the 20 mark.

Just glancing at the above depth chart there's a lot of talent and a decent amount of experience but in terms of receiving this group is incredibly unproven. This entire position group has 10 combined CAREER receptions!

Not much controversy here as listed. Hercules and Koyack will get the bulk of the pass catching duties while Welch fills a role as a blocker assuming he comes back 100% from his knee injury. I believe Heuerman will get in the mix on special teams at the very least.

LEFT TACKLE

Zack Martin, 5th Senior

Ronnie Stanley, RS Freshman

Mike McGlinchey, Freshman

Now we take a look at the offensive line where a ton of movement and different line combinations could emerge over the next 6 months. As usual, the backup at a position may not be the next man in if the starter is hurt. For example, Stanley is likely the backup at both tackle spots and someone like Connor Hanratty may be the backup at center and/or both guard positions.

Here we have team captin Zack Martin holding down the left tackle spot for the fourth straight year. Stanley is the backup but there's a real possibility that he starts at right tackle in 2013. McGlinchey and his incredible length begin to be developed at left tackle.

LEFT GUARD

Chris Watt, 5th Senior

Mark Harrell, RS Freshman

John Montelus, Freshman

Left guard is one spot that has a lot of question marks behind Watt, and it will be imperative that someone be developed as his successor. Hanratty was officially listed as Watt's backup last year but I expect him to be in a real battle to start at center, but of course that may not stop him from eventually playing guard.

Harrell is an interesting prospect, a little under-sized and maybe a year or two away from grabbing a starting spot, but there may be some playing time available on the interior.

I'm really high on Montelus and although he probably won't play this fall I think he'll rocket up the depth chart by next spring and have a real chance to replace Watt.

CENTER

Matt Hegarty, RS Sophomore

Connor Hanratty, RS Sophomore

Hunter Bivin, Freshman

For my money this is the most important off-season positional battle---just a lot of question marks. More than anyone else, Hegarty has been groomed to be the team's next starting center and his talent and skill-set should be tough to beat. That said, Hegarty is coming off heart surgery and is a lefty who has struggled with his snapping so he's by no means a lock to start.

Hanratty has cross-trained at center and guard providing valuable versatility. He should be in a dog-fight to start at center and if he doesn't make it he'll still be one of the first players off the bench on the interior.

Bivin is another versatile player and I've got him at center to start his career.

RIGHT GUARD

Nick Martin, RS Sophomore

Bruce Heggie, RS Junior

Colin McGovern, Freshman

Nick Martin has received a lot of praise from the coaching staff in the past and he's been able to cross-train at guard and tackle. Ideally, I'd like to see Lombard kicked inside to get Stanley's length and athleticism on the edge but I have a feeling Martin is going to have this job on lock down and make life a little easier on the coaching staff to focus on replacing Cave at center.

Coaches are always conservative with the depth chart and if I'm a betting man I'd say they won't move a starter from a position and they'll anchor Martin at right guard which will allow the line more cohesion throughout the spring and one less question mark to deal with.

Heggie was listed as a backup at right guard so that's where I left him. McGovern at this spot allows him some time to recover from his surgery and build up some strength over the next couple seasons.

RIGHT TACKLE

Christian Lombard, RS Junior

Tate Nichols, RS Junior*

Steve Elmer, Freshman

As I said, moving Lombard inside is a possibility. If it does you'll see Stanley starting here and Elmer likely backing up Martin at the other side and then starting as a sophomore. Either way Elmer is going to be playing sooner rather than later.

Nichols is still listed but may be on medical scholarship soon.

DEFENSIVE END

Stephon Tuitt, Junior

Eddie Vanderdoes, Freshman

Chase Hounshell, RS Sophomore

Isaac Rochell, Freshman

I've placed 5-star freshman recruit Eddie Vanderdoes here more for balance than anything. Like many of the defensive linemen he'll have the ability to play inside or outside. At any rate, I have him backing up Tuitt and it wouldn't surprise me if Vanderdoes gets the third most snaps overall out of all the defensive ends as listed here.

I have no idea what to expect from Hounshell but it would be nice to get some minutes out of him. As you can see, no need to force Rochell in to the lineup this fall.

NOSE GUARD

Louis Nix, RS Junior

Kona Schwenke, Senior

Tony Springmann, RS Sophomore

This is the same listed depth chart as last year. Neither Schwenke or Springmann are prototypical bodies for the nose guard spot but they are used in the interior nonetheless. Springmann actually played better last year than Schwenke and even played more if I'm not mistaken so some more progress from the big viking will be great.

With his body and size, Vanderdoes has to be in the mix at nose guard as well.

DEFENSIVE END

Sheldon Day, Sophomore

Jarron Jones, RS Freshman

Justin Utupo, RS Junior

Jacob Matuksa, Freshman

If Jones can turn in a solid first season on the field I like the way this position group looks. If Jones can do better than that the defensive line could be better than ever. That's a lot of pressure on Jarron but it's true.

Utupo hasn't been able to see the field through 3 seasons, and this might be his last. Matuska offers depth right now but will need some more time to develop.

CAT OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

Prince Shembo, Senior

Ishaq Williams, Junior

Romeo Okwara, Sophomore

Anthony Rabasa, RS Sophomore

Not much to talk about here other than the great depth and putting Rabasa here. With a little more weight gain Rabasa should fit in comfortably with his edge rushing skills. He could move to middle linebacker but the staff appears very picky about who plays there and I believe if he had the right skills they already would have switched him.

Okwara was actually listed at Dog last year, but with the arrival of Jaylon Smith you have to think Romeo keeps bulking up and puts his hand on the ground in 2013. He has the type of frame to seal the edge and still get after the quarterback.

WILL LINEBACKER

Dan Fox, 5th Senior

Carlo Calabrese, 5th Senior

Michael Deeb, Freshman

It's a good thing both the seniors are unofficially coming back. Irregardless, Deeb is probably going to have to be on an accelerated path to playing time. Things look fine for 2013 but after that not so much.

Preferred walk-on Joe Schmidt might enter the picture too.

MIKE LINEBACKER

Jarrett Grace, RS Sophomore

Kendall Moore, RS Junior

Doug Randolph, Freshman

It's werewolf time. To ease our fears moving forward we'll need a strong season from Jarrett Grace. Let's hope he's as good as Diaco thinks he can be.

I've placed Randolph in the middle to add depth. He's a similar prospect to Rabasa and around the same size coming out of high school. He's got good speed and you have to think the staff wants to add to the depth at this position if Randolph has the necessary skills.

Moore will be a player to watch. Right now he's probably not in line for a 5th year but if Randolph (or another player) isn't moved inside that would mean just Grace and Deeb return with experience for 2014---and that is just absurd.

DOG LINEBACKER

Danny Spond, Senior

Jaylon Smith, Freshman

Ben Councell, RS Sophomore

This position will be straight up fun to watch. Spond will be tough to unseat as a starter but two athletic young players are going to be chomping at the bit.

I'm projecting Smith ahead of Councell for now. That battle for secondary minutes will probably be more intense than either of them catching Spond. This could be tough for Councell and his ability to make an impact but Jaylon is such an incredible talent that you have to think he leapfrogs up the depth chart. Once Spond graduates there will be more playing time for Councell.

BOUNDARY CORNER

Keivarae Russell, Sophomore

Lo Wood, RS Junior

Josh Atkinson, Junior

Devin Butler, Freshman

It feels pretty good to have a freshman All-American returning at corner, right? There will be slim pickings for playing time with Russell being in South Bend for the next 2 to 3 years.

The staff has never used much of a rotation at corner and I know they've wanted to but never had the depth necessary to do it. At this position they'll have two backups with experience.

FIELD CORNER

Bennett Jackson, Senior

Jalen Brown, RS Sophomore

Cole Luke, Freshman

Rashad Kinlaw, Freshman

This will be Jackson's last season at Notre Dame and he's transitioned nicely to corner and should get a nice long look from the NFL. It will be fun to see who works their way in to earning Jackson's spot after this upcoming season.

I don't think it will be Wood (under-sized, somewhat of a long shot to return for a 5th year) and Atkinson has struggled in his young career. The microscope then might be placed on Jalen Brown and talented freshman Cole Luke---both could be fighting for playing time in 2013 and to start the year after.

FREE SAFETY

Matthias Farley, RS Sophomore

Max Redfield, Freshman

Eilar Hardy, RS Sophomore

C.J. Prosise, RS Freshman

The safety position could look wildly different this fall. Is it too crazy to think that the starters (including a nickel) will be Redfield, Baratti, and Shumate? If you want athleticism and speed there are your men.

Farley is a returning starter (see above re: coaches being conservative) but his grip on this position is far from strong. Kelly has strongly hinted that Redfield will play so at worst I think he's a backup but really pushing to start.

Hardy is an intriguing player that we haven't heard much from in a while. Prosise spent some time at Dog linebacker last August but that seemed to be more of a depth issue with Spond sidelined. However, I wouldn't count out Prosise moving to Dog again and Jaylon Smith moving to inside linebacker to be Notre Dame's version of C.J. Mosley. There are a ton of bodies at safety and it could be a great way to get Jaylon a lot of playing time early in his career.

STRONG SAFETY

Austin Collinsworth, RS Junior

Nicky Baratti, Sophomore

John Turner, RS Freshman

Chris Badger, RS Freshman

This looks like it will be a two-man battle. Miesle's got Baratti but I'll take Collinsworth. Either way, the competition is going to make both players better.

NICKEL CORNER

Elijah Shumate, Sophomore

I only listed one player here for a couple reasons. First, it was basically only Shumate filling this role last year. Second, the team doesn't use much nickel and may be moving further away with someone like Jaylon Smith being a freak combination of Nickel/Star/Dog linebacker all wrapped in to one.

Shumate could certainly be in the mix at free safety and Redfield could fill this role as a true freshman. Yet, Shumate really played well at this position last year so I'm keeping here for now.

Thoughts?

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