Depth Chart Engineering: Predicting Notre Dame's 2014 Roster

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Is there anything easier than predicting the depth chart for an entire football team 6 months before the season? Yes, mostly everything else.

This is one of my favorite posts of the year. It comes on the heels of a fresh new freshmen class, we're anxiously awaiting spring practice just around the corner, and it's an opportunity to make myself look like a complete fool with predictions that will inevitably be wrong in certain places.

For a refresher go check out last year's Depth Chart Engineering and you'll see what I mean. If guys didn't get suspended, transfer, or injured this would be so easy!

Remember, this is a stab in the dark as to what the depth chart is going to look like for the majority of 2014. It's not a listing of the roster as we enter spring, although at many positions it will still mirror what we saw in 2013 and would expect right now.

Also, we've made a few changes to terminologies and grouping. We're not going to bother breaking up receiver, corner, and safety into different positions as the differences have often been blurred under Kelly. We've also decided to change the defensive terminology at certain positions as Diaco's names are likely done and the roster is more versatile than ever.

QUARTERBACK

Golson, RS Jr.

Zaire, RS Fr.

Kizer, Fr.

Fiessinger, Sr. %

Hammann, Fr. %

VanGorder, Fr. %

For the first time in Brian Kelly's tenure he'll go into a spring practice without any quarterbacks on the roster from his initial season in 2010. Breath of fresh air?

We'll talk more about the quarterback competition before spring ball. Suffice to say Zaire should put up a fight. I won't list walk-ons for other positions but the Irish will have 3 on the roster this fall at quarterback. Things could change but this should allow Kizer to stay away from running the scout team all season long.

RUNNING BACK

Folston, So.

Bryant, RS Fr.

McDaniel, Sr.

Carlisle, RS Jr.

Mahone, RS So.

I'm not entirely comfortable dropping Run CMC all the way to third string. He'll likely have a big role early in the season but it's hard for me to believe that Bryant isn't going to take a huge leap forward in his first full year of playing time.

What happens with Carlisle and Mahone? The latter switched to slot receiver last August before coming down with an injury. I think that move was to try and get him some playing time and with Atkinson gone he'll likely go back to his more comfortable tailback position. Carlisle felt like such a young player last year but here he is with just 2 years remaining and I'm not sure, with the huge number of 5th-year eligible seniors, that he's a lock to return for 2015. More on him below.

WIDE RECEIVER

Daniels, RS Jr.

Brown, Jr.

Fuller, So.

Robinson, So.

Brent, Fr.

Hunter, RS Fr.

Prosise, RS So.

Onwualu, So.

Holmes, Fr.

Massa, 5th Sr.

Could every player listed see the field in 2014? Well, probably not Massa who would be better off moving back to quarterback or even tight end. You could make the case that Prosise might go back to defense but I think that's unlikely for two reasons. One, you don't usually see three straight position switches. Two, his presence adds another body that could help Holmes redshirt.

Hunter and Brent are two new players who can inject a ton of playmaking ability into this unit, so much so that having them as a 5th and 6th option seems too conservative. I think both might climb higher than listed here.

TIGHT END

Koyack, Sr.

Smythe, RS Fr.

Heuerman, RS Fr.

Luatua, Fr.

Weishar, Fr.

I can't be the only one who is a little uneasy about this depth chart. It was nice to see Koyack emerge a little bit last season so that alleviates some concern. Still, 2 or 3 of the remaining players are going to have to see the field for the first time. Kelly seems to shoot straight with his praise so we should see some good things out of Smythe this fall.

I'm interested to see the size increase for Heuerman who came in last year at a very thin 225 pounds. I mentioned before that he looks wiry and might have trouble getting much larger. Weishar is thought to be around the same weight and is unlikely to play this season even if he has a better frame to add weight than Heuerman.

LEFT TACKLE

Elmer, So.

McGlinchey, RS Fr.

Nelson, Fr.

Following a stellar 4-year career the left tackle spot at Notre Dame is now open with the departure of Zack Martin. I'd be surprised if Elmer isn't the starter here although now that I think about it I wouldn't be shocked if Elmer moves to guard if someone like McGlichey is just so overwhelmingly awesome at tackle.

Speaking of the nearly 6'8" McGlinchey I have him working at left tackle because of his length and athleticism.

LEFT GUARD

Hanratty, RS Jr.

Harrell, RS So.

McGovern, RS Fr.

You could make the case that this will be the most competitive single open position on the entire roster. As such, there could be several players not listed here (Bivin, Montelus, Elmer) who could battle for the starting job.

However, Hanratty acquitted himself quite well last season and is awfully physical. He's not going to give up without a fight although I think Harrell is going to have a tough time remaining in the two deep either here or at right guard.

CENTER

Martin, RS Jr.

Hegarty, RS Jr.

Byrne, Fr.

Martin is not going to be healthy until the summer at the earliest which means Hegarty is going to have an awful lot of time working with the first team coming off a solid end of season starting debut. I don't know if that's enough to move Martin out of the starting center position because the staff unequivocally loves him but the fall camp battle should be tons of fun to watch.

RIGHT GUARD

Lombard, 5th Sr.

Montelus, RS Fr.

Mustipher, Fr.

Keep an eye out for the health of Lombard following his back surgery in late October. Per Kelly's last update it appears he's not healthy yet and will be out for the spring, or at the very least he won't see contact. This means both guard positions are going to see an incredible amount of competition to establish a pecking order.

I think Montelus is the best guard prospect from the 2013-14 classes and I expect him to make a move this season if he can put his shoulder injury behind him. If Lombard is considered a near lock to start at right guard by the time Rice comes to town I think Montelus is more in position to start on the left side.

RIGHT TACKLE

Stanley, RS So.

Bivin, RS Fr.

Bars, Fr.

It's unlikely that Stanley moves to the left side after starting the entirety of 2013 at right tackle. It's possible the staff likes his athleticism more on the left but I think he'll stay put for 2014.

Bivin will be someone to watch this fall. He worked at guard for most of last season but he's the second tallest lineman on the team and fits in at tackle from a body and roster perspective. Like many players under Heistand he has the versatility to play inside too. I think he'll make a strong case for the 6th best linemen, or the first off the bench.

DEFENSIVE END

Day, Jr.

Rochell, So.

Trumbetti, Fr.

Hounshell, RS Jr.

Matuska, RS Fr.

Bonner, Fr.

Blankenship, Fr.

Since we've broken up the linemen into two groups everyone isn't going to fit perfectly. For example, Day is a no-brainer starter at defensive end in a 3-man front but an interior lineman in a 4-man front. Rochell is big enough to offer that versatility as well.

I'm a big fan of Trumbetti and I think he can emerge as a go-to pass rushing defensive end as a true freshman.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Jones, RS So.

Springmann, RS Jr.

Utupo, 5th Sr.

Hayes, Fr.

Cage, Fr.

Mokwuah, Fr.

Here's the nose guard position re-tooled for the more versatile defensive tackle nomenclature as the Irish may be moving towards more 4-3 looks. I believe that one of the 3 true freshmen are going to move past Utupo for minutes but I'm not prepared to say which one right now. Okay, I think it'll be Hayes.

RUSH LINEBACKER

I. Williams, Sr.

Okwara, Jr.

Rabasa, RS Jr.

Hill, Fr.

J. Williams, Fr.

Both freshmen in Hill and Williams could out-grow this position down the road, especially the latter, but for now we're putting them here. It certainly feels like 2014 is a make or break year for Rabasa who hasn't been able to find a steady position or playing time throughout his career.

If we see a move to 4-3 terminology under VanGorder these are your weak-side defensive ends.

INSIDE LINEBACKER

Grace, RS Jr.

Deeb, RS Fr.

Morgan, Fr.

Moore, 5th Sr.

Schmidt, RS Jr.

Sykes, Fr.

Martini, Fr.

Suddenly a lot of bodies! Let us pray that Grace is able to come back 100% from his nasty broken leg. He can be a rock at the Mike linebacker spot for the next 2 years. If that happens I think the top 3 linebackers in the middle are going to be very good and surprise a lot of casual fans.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

Smith, So.

Councell, RS Jr.

Randolph, RS Fr.

Hello, dog? That's right that terminology is gone and replaced for now with the generic OLB. We'll see what VanGorder calls this position in the future. These may be your weak-side linebackers.

With Councell's injury there is ample opportunity for backup minutes in the spring for someone. Kelly sounded optimistic on Randolph's shoulder recovery while incoming freshman Drue Tranquill could move here in August too.

CORNER

Russell, Jr.

Luke, So.

Butler, So.

Brown, RS Jr.

Kinlaw, RS Fr.

Atkinson, Sr.

Watkins, Fr.

It should be a fun spring and fall camp sorting out the opening starting position vacated by Bennett Jackson. Based on what we saw last year the highly touted Cole Luke has the inside track to be that guy.

We have a good sense of the top three here but the bottom four has to be sorted out as well. We know so little about Kinlaw but I think he jumps Josh Atkinson (assuming he moves back to corner this spring) while Jalen Brown hangs on for dear life as the fourth option. I wouldn't be surprised to see Watkins zoom up the depth chart but purely from a numbers standpoint I'd think long and hard about giving him a redshirt as the only corner in his class.

SAFETY

Shumate, Jr.

Farley, RS Jr.

Redfield, So.

Hardy, RS Jr.

Baratti, RS So.

Collinsworth, 5th Sr.

Turner, RS So.

Tranquill, Fr.

And we finally arrive to the most intriguing positional battle for the entire team. If we're basing this on career tackles the pecking order would go: Farley (98), Collinsworth (68), Shumate (32), Hardy (26), Redfield (11), and Baratti (8).

The one player who could be the odd man out is Austin Collinsworth who didn't make the two deep from any of our staff members when I asked them to rank the safeties. We're pretty much throwing darts in the dark right now for this positional unit.

KICKER

Brindza, Sr.

Newsome, Fr.

Brindza has a future in the NFL with his big leg and ice water in his veins. Don't forget the program also has walk-ons John Chereson and Jude Rhodes as well.

PUNTER

Brindza, Sr.

Newsome, Fr.

Some think Newsome has enough talent to win this job outright in the fall. That might be a good thing for the focus of Brindza. In addition to Rhodes, the program also has walk-on Andrew Antognoli who can punt as well.

KICK RETURN

Carlisle, RS Jr.

McDaniel, Sr.

There is the opportunity for an open competition at this position for 2014 but I think these are the two players on the roster the staff is most comfortable with back there.

PUNT RETURN

Carlisle, RS Jr.

Bryant, RS Fr.

Fuller, So.

There are a lot of potential candidates in both aspects of the return game but we have Carlisle as the leader here as well. This might be his ticket to ensure a fifth year in South Bend. Bryant got some work at punt return during last year's fall camp while Fuller fits the mold really well too.

There are several other players who could see time at either return spot: Hunter, Brown, Kinlaw, Prosise, Onwualu, Luke, Redfield, Russell, and Collinsworth.

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