As part of Keith Arnold's pre-season tradition, we've ranked the top 25 players on the Irish roster and submitted our ballot. Stay tuned this week as Keith unveils the official results here at Inside the Irish and as we unveil the OFD rankings.
Missing the Cut:
30 players received votes from our four-man voting crew (me, Eric, Brendan, PBurns). Click here to see who just missed the ballot in Keith's composite list.
James Onwualu: A potential break-out candidate that could benefit from his first offseason without a position change, Onwualu only made one ballot despite being a returning starter at outside linebacker.
Alize Jones: The true freshman made two ballots, and may be the guy we regret not including in December. Early, early reports from the summer are that Jones is physically ready - how quickly can he learn the playbook and start taking away snaps from a loaded group? Can he block well enough to start right away? It'll be fun to monitor in fall camp.
Romeo Okwara: I don't think it's a coincidence that our group was high on Andrew Trumbetti and as a result a little lower on Okwara. The senior end still is just 20 years old, so a breakout in his final year wouldn't be too far-fetched.
Greg Bryant: The suspension to start the season didn't do Bryant any favors and my have cost him a spot on the list.
Jerry Tillery: Number 26 on our list, Tillery made three of four ballots (blame PBurns) and is getting more praise from the coaches than any early enrollee in South Bend since....ever? What stands out to me is the depth here in the top 25 - no true freshman made the cut, two returning defensive starters couldn't make the cut, and a veteran 5-star running back was let out.
#25 - Durham Smythe (High: 21 (Eric), Low: NR)
The favorite to start at tight end against Texas, Smythe's experience and blocking ability likely give him the initial edge over Jones. Brian Kelly has talked about Smythe the most complete tight end on the roster, and while he may not be a better pass catcher than Jones or a better blocker than Luatua, right now he appears to give the offense the most well-rounded skill set.
#24 - Nyles Morgan (High: 22 (Eric), Low: NR)
Morgan performed at expectations for a blue chip linebacker as a true freshman, flashing potential but also struggling at times putting himself in the right position to make a play. The linebacker rotation should look more like a rotation this year (except that part where Jaylon Smith hopefully never is off the field), with Morgan battling Joe Schmidt for playing time in the middle. The Smith/Schmidt/Morgan trio might be the best group of linebackers on the roster, it's just a question of fit in Brian Van Gorder's scheme and knocking on wood they can all stay healthy.
#23 - Alex Bars (High: 20 (Michael), Low: NR)
Bars is locked in a battle with Quenton Nelson for the final starting spot on the offensive line, but even if he doesn't start he's likely the next man in at either guard or tackle. Bars has been talked about as the heir to left tackle after Ronnie Stanley, and should be on this list hopefully the next four years (and even higher).
We didn't have cut and dry rules for the top 25, but personally I went with the order I thought each player would be picked if there was an NCAA-wide draft for the 2015 season. And a ton of teams would love to have players like Nelson and Bars anchoring their offensive lines despite their inexperience.
#22 - Amir Carlisle (High: 20 (Brendan), Low: NR)
Carlisle went unranked on two ballots, #20 and #21 on the two others. Too high? Maybe. We're now on year three of Amir Breakout Watch, and covered a few reasons it may finally be the year last week, but competition is going to be ridiculous at wide receiver, so much so that Chris Brown didn't receive votes on our list. Brian Kelly's comments from the spring and summer have been encouraging, and with CJ Prosise needed more at running back early in the season the opportunity is there for Carlisle to stake claim to the slot.
#21 - Quenton Nelson (High: 19 (Michael), Low: NR)
Everyone is excited to see Quenton Nelson in action - he's the highest ranked player on our list that hasn't played a real snap yet in an Irish uniform. There may be some growing pains adjusting to the college game, but also many highlights where Nelson mauls helpless defensive linemen. Our panel looks for Nelson to beat out Bars for the starting spot at left guard, as three writers ranked Nelson higher and one had neither redshirt freshman in the top 25 - what's up with the O-Line hate Brendan?
Stay tuned this week for the rest of the list (and at Inside the Irish for the composite unveiling) and feel free to start yelling at us in the comments for the lack of punters, kickers, and fullbacks.