Special Team Breakout Players
As many of you know, I was primarily a special teams player during my 4 years at Holy Cross. As a result, I have a ton of pride for STs and closely watch all of the units for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. At its core, STs are about effort, intensity, and heart. It gives guys an opportunity to play who otherwise wouldn’t have that chance (depth chart, needs to put on weight, they’re a walk on, etc.) With all that said, I wanted to take the first stab at who might emerge as the top special teams players for the Irish in 2022. I excluded returners and kickers, as I am looking for the hair on fire lunatics who will be try to make a play no matter what.....Let’s do this.
Established Veteran Playmakers
Bo Bauer - Bauer has been a staple on all units from the moment he stepped on campus. He consistently has made plays and carved out a future NFL career as a result. He has seen a significant increase in playing time as he looks to start at Mike.....which may force him to be pulled from some units.
Jordan Botelho - Botelho is the right type of nut you want on all units. He craves contact and is violent every chance he gets. As he won’t be a full time starter on defense, he will make his presence felt. I mean, look what he did to this poor punter....
Big Tackle Tuesday: The youngin' @Jordanbotelho_ had us like !#GoIrish x #BeatNoles pic.twitter.com/1n2rPaJoat— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) October 6, 2020
Xavier Watts - Watts found his place on the defensive side of the ball last year. He was physical and made plays just about every time he was in the game, primarily in run support. He was also on all ST units, and will look to be a breakout player there this year. This year, he should carve out a role in certain defensive packages, but he will have a chance to shine on coverage units with his physicality.
Davis Sherwood - Who? For casual Notre Dame fans, you probably didn’t always notice #38 on special teams units, but he was a regular. He played in all 12 games as a true freshman walk on, which is WILDLY impressive. Sherwood has since switched to fullback (awesome), but we will see him on all units again this year.
Audric Estime - THE protector. Estime is a wrecking ball and someone that screams, “get off the tracks” as he runs down on coverage units. He was primarily used on Kickoff Return, paving the way for Tyree, but may see his role expanded. He seems to have no problem with contact and could be a big name to watch. He will have an opportunity to become THE guy on offense, which could influence how much he plays on STs. Watch him stonewall a dude on the top of the screen on Tyree’s Td....
98 YARDS TO THE HOUSE!— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) September 25, 2021
Notre Dame’s Chris Tyree takes the Wisconsin kickoff back for a touchdown to give Notre Dame the lead.
Nolan Ziegler - Ziegler is a very good athlete, and a Notre Dame guy through and through. He always wanted to play for the Irish, and will do everything he possibly can to get on the field in 2022. He probably knows he will be buried on the LB depth chart due to size/experience, but will almost certainly start on all STs.
Junior Tuihalmaka - There was so much buzz coming out of the Spring about Jr. He was much further along physically than any other freshman, and is ready to play right away. Because of this, the coaches probably don’t see him as a 4 year guy, and will get him on special teams as soon as possible.
Jaylen Sneed - Closing the loop on the 2022 LB trio with the freakiest athlete in the class. Sneed has elite level athletic traits, but is a bit too small to crack the lineup this year. He has a suddenness that will remind you of JOK, and hopefully a similar style of STs tenacity....
OWUUUUUU!!!! HUGE hit on the kickoff by Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah!! That's how you make an open field tackle! pic.twitter.com/D4HUF6CwWs— ND Whiteboard (@ND_Whiteboard) November 30, 2019
My Final Pick
My breakout Special Teams players for 2022 is......NOLAN ZIEGLER. He is a bit too small and needs some more time in the playbook to crack the LB rotation this year. However, I expect him to start in every game on every unit. All the talk is that he has the makings of a future captain....which sounds a lot like a career that will start with a prominent special teams role. Just a reminder of how dominant and explosive he was....which includes special teams highlights.
Comment below on who you think will be the special teams breakout player and why!
You thought I would write about special teams and NOT include Mike Anello? Come on now.