Our top 25 countdown concludes - head on over to Inside the Irish to check out how our ballot compares to Keith Arnold's composite rankings.
#5: Sheldon Day
Day has a pretty low floor compared to a lot of other Irish players - since his freshman season he's been a disruptive presence with consistently great effort. After an extremely impressive 2012 Day has impressed when starting and healthy, but injuries have been a nagging issue. As a junior Day tied Jarron Jones with 7.5 TFL in 11 games - double digits in 2015 seems like an appropriate measuring stick.
While the Irish have built depth on the defensive line, I think Day is likely higher than 5th in terms of his importance to Notre Dame - with the lack of a dangerous pass rusher Brian Van Gorder needs his interior defensive linemen to be a headache for opposing offensive lines. If Day and Jones are healthy, and Isaac Rochell and Jerry Tillery can rotate in to keep them fresh without losing much production? That's the ideal scenario, but a big if.
High: 4 (PBurns)
Low: 6 (Michael)
#4: KeiVarae Russell
I could try to recap the crazy journey Russell has been through over the last 12 months, but Eric Hansen did a fantastic job, so I'll just link to his must-read here.
KeiVarae Russell is ready for the NFL Combine today. If you've been following any updates on social media, it's clear the year away from South Bend hasn't had a negative impact on his conditioning - maybe the opposite. Every article and comment last year about how he would thrive in the BVG scheme in press coverage? Still true. If you're arguing that Notre Dame is a true playoff contender, you have some evidence that the best case scenario for the defense is very strong. Through the first half of 2014 it was pretty stout, almost everyone returns with more experience, and a cornerback with first or second day draft ability returns.
High: 4 (Michael/Brendan)
Low: 6 (Eric)
#3: Will Fuller
A unanimous selection! Fuller was 25th in Keith's composite rankings last year, and then tore up 2014 with 76 catches, 1,094 yards, and 15 touchdowns. Those are the most in a sophomore season by any Irish receiver, and Fuller showed he wasn't just a deep threat, scoring multiple touchdowns with slick moves after the catch. I'm not sure there's more than a handful of corners or safeties have the acceleration and speed to stay with Fuller one on one, and the move to a power run game should create some opportunities off play action.
So what does the next step look like? Probably consistency - fewer drops and big games against big opponents. Every defense will now be prioritizing keep Fuller in front of them, so he should also open up opportunities for Corey Robinson, CJ Prosise, or Chris Brown. If Fuller improves on his 2014 numbers even slightly he'l be a favorite for the Biletnikoff Award.
High: 3 (Everyone)
Low: 3 (Everyone)
#2: Jaylon Smith
Our esteemed committee was evenly divided on who earned the top spot between Smith and Ronnie Stanley. We split the vote with an poll of more OFD writers, and Stanley edged our the godbacker - barely. This was a choice between a player draft scouts are comparing to Patrick Willis and a tackle going first in a lot of 2016 mock drafts - not the worst problem to have.
We've broken down film on Jaylon and what he brings to the defense a few times - so I'll leave you with some fun highlights (warning: typical highlight soundtrack accompanying glorious tackling).
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/lsJ6EX7LFjI" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
High: 1 (Eric/PBurns)
Low: 2 (Michael/Brendan)
#1: Ronnie Stanley
The tie goes to the bigger man. If Stanley and Day don't return for the 2015 season, I don't think Notre Dame gets anywhere near the preseason attention we've seen, including SI naming the Irish #4 in their poll. Talent and depth go a long way, but to win a championship you need leadership and a few elite players. Stanley and Smith bring that to the table, and should be Notre Dame's highest drafted pair of players since Rick Mirer and Jerome Bettis went second and tenth in 1993.
Stanley has been a monster in pass protection, and the determining factor (besides fit with the NFL team picking first) may be his ability to take his run blocking to a similar level. He's first by a nudge on our list and would be close to the top of the board in an NCAA-wide ranking.
High: 1 (Michael/Brendan)
Low: 2 (Eric/PBurns)
Rankings Rundown: OFD Compared to the Composite
Overall our rankings were fairly consistent, but a few players had the biggest differences:
Andrew Trumbetti (OFD #17, Composite NR)
Joe Schmidt (OFD #8, Composite #12)
Mike McGlinchey (OFD #11, Composite #16)
Amir Carlisle (OFD #22, Composite NR)
Two guys we've done films posts on highlighting why they're really good, plus McGlinchey and Carlisle. Granted, McGlinchey was technically in a 3-way tie for 11th, but still - we love offensive linemen.
Nick Martin (OFD #13, Composite #8)
CJ Prosise (OFD #14, Composite #9)
Nyles Morgan (OFD #24, Composite #20)
No player had as vast a gap as Trumbetti, who was 27th in the composite rankings, but a few players we ranked lower than the rest of the group. For Martin, I think if you're placing more emphasis on proven performance you have an argument to bump him up, and Prosise was a monster in spring practice so having seen that live could have caused some of the beat writers to move him up. Morgan ranked this low likely corresponds with our faith in Joe Schmidt.
That wraps us up- full list below, and cast your vote at the bottom on where we should have gone with our #1 selection.