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Notre Dame Football: Five Elite Athletes Who Will Oppose the Irish This Year

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Three offensive players from Georgia make the list.

SEC Championship - Alabama v Georgia Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Here are five outstanding talents who are expected to play against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish this fall.

Andrew Thomas, LT, Georgia

Thomas is the Georgia Bulldogsfirst returning All-America offensive lineman in more than 20 years and will be the foundation of the Bulldogs’ offensive attack in 2019.

The 6-foot-5, 320 pound junior is considered the second best overall prospect by CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso, fifth overall by both Sporting News’ Bill Bender and USA Today’s Luke Easterling, 13th overall by Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller and the 15th overall pick in the way-too-early 2020 NFL Draft by NBC Sports’ Ben Standig. CBS Sports’ R.J. White has him going second overall in the draft.

Thomas and his linemates yielded the second-lowest rate of pressures among all Power 5 offenses and lead all SEC teams in rushing, with more than 238 yards per game.

The Lithonia, Ga. product played right tackle during the 2017 game against Notre Dame and did a good job handling pressure from Daelin Hayes, Julian Okwara, Jay Hayes and Andrew Trumbetti.

Thomas yielded 11 hurries, 1 hit and two sacks in 320 pass-blocking snaps in 2017, according to College Football Filmroom.

Walker Little, LT, Stanford

Little is a 6-foot-7, 313-pound rock of a man who is a two year starter at his position. He’s expected to be back protecting the blindside after recovering from a left shoulder injury that hampered him throughout 2018.

Pro Football Focus had him as an unimpressive 105th among all FBS tackles last year, but Easterling (#6 overall), Yahoo’s Eric Edholm (#8), Bender and Standig (#9), Miller (#10), White (#10) and Trapasso (#19) all think highly of him entering his junior campaign.

Walker was the first true freshman to start for the Cardinal in 17 years, and was a consensus five-star recruit. He can also reportedly run a 4.4 second 40-yard dash, which seems impossible.

Little had a good first half last year against Notre Dame, neutralizing Khalid Kareem, Okwara and Hayes. In the third quarter, he lost contain on Asmar Bilal, who dropped Bryce Love for a loss. The tackle got beat on inside rushes by Kareem and Okwara, who both touched K.J. Costello’s arm as he threw, resulting in two almost-interceptions.

Kareem beat him on a speed rush later that same quarter to sack Costello for a six yard loss.

Little recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter after being beat by Jerry Tillery, who forced the ball from Costello’s hands. PFF gave Little his lowest season grade for his performance in this game.

Jake Fromm, Quarterback, Georgia

Jake Fromm is a winner.

The Bulldogs are 24-5 with him as a starter, better than any Georgia Bulldogs quarterback in their first two seasons as primary signalcaller. The Warner Robins, Ga. product was the fifth most efficient FBS quarterback last season, ranked ninth nationally in yards per pass attempt and threw for at least two touchdowns in 64 percent of the Bulldogs’ games last season.

While you can make the argument that the Bulldogs don’t show up for big games, it’s harder to make that argument about Fromm. He went 25-of-39 for 301 yards and three touchdowns in the SEC Championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide and 21-for-35 for 224 yards and three touchdowns against the Texas Longhorns in the Sugar Bowl.

The 2017 game against Notre Dame was his second career start. Statistically, it was the third worst game of his career, but he still managed to complete 16-of-29 passes and add a touchdown (against one interception).

The Bulldogs are expected to be more oriented toward the pass under first-year coordinator James Coley, which could help Fromm be the first, second or third quarterback taken in next year’s NFL Draft.

Fromm is ninth overall on Miller’s big board, 11th on Bender’s, 15th on Trapasso’s and 27th on Easterling’s. Standig predicts he’ll go 11th overall to the Cincinnati Bengals and White says he’ll go seventh to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

D’Andre Swift, Running Back, Georgia

D’Andre Swift would be a very bad tag player.

The Georgia running back’s highlight film is filled with defenders laying hands on him. Thankfully for the Philadelphia native, we’re still observing the rule that your opponent has to bring you to the ground.

Swift, at 5-foot-9, 215 pounds, can barrel over a defensive back seemingly as well as he can run right by another. He’s also a match-up nightmare coming out of the backfield as a receiver, catching 32 passes for 297 yards last year.

Swift has 1,049 rushing yards last year, but split carries with Elijah Holyfield. Evander’s son is now gone, which means the rising junior will eclipse his career high of 18 carries in a single game if he can stay healthy.

Swift is #16 on Miller’s big board, #17 on Easterling’s and #42 on Trapasso’s.

Bryce Hall, Cornerback, Virginia

Quick: Who led all Football Bowl Subdivision players in pass breakups last season? Julian Love wasn’t a bad guess, but the Virginia CavaliersBryce Hall is the right answer.

Hall got his hands between the ball and the receiver 21 times in 2018, and now has 34 breakups — along with five interceptions — for his career. (Love had 16 PBUs.)

The Harrisburg, Pa. product seems to excel at using his big frame (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) to pin receivers to the sidelines and shrink their catch radius. He competes for the ball every time it’s in his area, and is especially dangerous when holding inside leverage on 50/50 balls.

Hall surprised some by deciding to return for his senior season, as he was considered to be a selection in the 2019 NFL Draft.

“Bryce wants more for our program. He wants more for himself,” Cavaliers coach Bronco Mendenhall told The Daily Progress. “He may have led the league in pass breakups, but many of those could have been intercepted. He has plenty of work to do in run support and tackling and some of the different route concepts, and then leadership. His role now is a different role, and that’s a different level of development.”

Hall is considered by Trapasso to be the sixth best player in the upcoming football season, while Easterling considers him 11th best. Standig sees him being picked 29th overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in next year’s NFL Draft, while White also has him going to the Chiefs, albeit at pick 30.

So who do you think is going to be a top 5 opponent? Others I considered:

  • Boston College Eagles’ RB AJ Dillon
  • Duke Blue Devils’ CB Mark Gilbert
  • Georgia WR Demetris Robertson, OL Ben Cleveland, and S Richard LeCounte and J.R. Reed
  • Louisville Cardinals’ OT Mekhi Becton
  • Michigan Wolverines’ WR Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black, QB Shea Patterson, TE Sean McKeon, OG Jon Runyan and Ben Bredeson, EDGE Mike Danna, LB Khaleke Hudson and CB Lavert Hill.
  • Northwestern Wildcats’ LB Paddy Fisher (The Irish don’t play the Wildcats this year. Disregard!)
  • Stanford QB K.J. Costello, TE Colby Parkinson, CB Paulson Adebo
  • USC Trojans’ OT Austin Jackson