The One Foot Down top 25 breaks into the top 10 with some vocal leaders -also stay tuned over at Inside the Irish for Keith Arnold's composite rankings and final list.
#10: Jarron Jones
Does 2014 qualify as a breakout season for Jarron Jones? In a season cut short by injury he tallied 7.5 TFL and generally answered any questions about consistent effort and performance. Jones was a monster against Florida State, collecting three tackles for a loss (each of which led to a three and out on that series) and chasing down and planting Jameis Winston on a throw Joe Schmidt intercepted.
The biggest question is how Jones will recover from the LisFranc injury that ended his season after the Louisville game in 2014, and typically has a four to six-month timetable for recovery. While that gives him time to fully recover, will he be able to handle a full workload of snaps early in the year?
High: 4 (Eric)
Low: 12 (Brendan)
#9: Cole Luke
Everyone had high hopes for Luke, but I'm not sure many projected him to play at such a high level in 2014 replacing KeiVarae Russell at starting corner opposite Cody Riggs, where he led the team with four interceptions. The sophomore's season peaked early along with the rest of the defense with a dominant performance against Stanford - two interceptions, one forced fumble, and a sack.
It's hard to draw many conclusions the survivors of the great injury explosion of 2014 - the domino effect once the front seven could no longer stop the run made for an impossible task for the secondary. Still, Luke turned in a solid performance against a future first round pick in DeVante Parker. He also finished the year tied for 20th in FBS with 15 passes defended. As a sophomore. This could be too low.
High: 6 (Brendan)
Low: 11 (Eric/PBurns)
#8: Joe Schmidt
Since I was the ranked Schmidt the highest, I'll defend my ranking. Let's take a look at his resume: named MVP of the defense, led the team in tackles before getting injured, the defense falling apart coincided with his injury - by the way he had 8 tackles in that game against Navy before getting injured. It was the second quarter.
We've covered this before, but Joe Schmidt has turned out to be a great college linebacker regardless of his previous recruiting ranking. He has the knowledge of the defense that other players have struggled to put together, and the athleticism to put himself in the right place to make a play.
High: 7 (Michael)
Low: 10 (Eric/Brendan)
#7: Malik Zaire
If at the end of the year Zaire would be ranked higher than this, we're probably talking about a New Year's Day bowl or better. There's a lot we still don't know about Malik, but he's already shown us he's the best runner at quarterback Brian Kelly has had in his time at Notre Dame and threw a beautiful deep ball for the highlight of the spring game.
As a passer it will be interesting to see how Zaire executes some of the shorter (but potentially more difficult) throws in the offense - screen passes and quick hits toward the sidelines that Everett Golson made look easy. Even as a redshirt sophomore Zaire is extremely confident and the team seems to have responded to his energy and role as a leader. I want to buy in, but almost every young quarterback is going to have some struggles and an adjustment period - the question is how long is lasts and how quickly he can bounce back from adversity.
High: 5 (Michael)
Low: 11 (Brendan)
#6: Tarean Folston
While Brian Kelly prefers a running back rotation, with Greg Bryant's suspension and Cam McDaniel's graduation there's no more "OR"s in the depth chart. Folston's 2014 production was less impressive than I expected, but much of it came from splitting carries early in the year - check out this split of Folston's average stat lines:
First 5 Games: 8.4 carries, 33 yards (3.49 YPC), 0 TDs
Last 8 Games: 16.6 carries, 90.5 yards (5.44 YPC), 0.75 TDs
Feed him the ball please. Those gaudy numbers down the stretch even take into account Arizona State (11 carries for 30 yards) and USC (4 carries for 14 yards), where you hopefully don't remember, but Notre Dame fell way behind way quickly and had to throw a lot.
High: 6 (PBurns)
Low: 9 (Michael)