Almost exactly a year ago, I put together my thoughts on which players on the 2022 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team might end up earning some sort of All-America honors after the season. Needless to say, but your friendly neighborhood dingus Pat Rick did NOT do a super strong job of predicting the best of the best Irish players for the coming season.
Yeah, the obvious guys like Michael Mayer and Isaiah Foskey and Jarrett Patterson had strong seasons, and the mention of Joe Alt landed, but otherwise there were some ROUGH picks under the “Could Play Their Way Into It” and “Dark Horse” categories. However, like my idol dril, I refuse to log off and stop writing these off-season articles.
who the fuck is scraeming "LOG OFF" at my house. show yourself, coward. i will never log off— $4,009,007.60 (@dril) September 16, 2012
So, I think it’s time to go through this fun, pointless exercise for the upcoming 2023 season — because God knows with it being late May, there’s not too much else to talk about here besides recruiting. Please review my choices below for who I think has an opportunity to join the numerous Irish players who’ve been named All-Americans by one major publication or another, and sound off in the comments on which of my choices will be the Lorenzo Styles or Marist Liufau or Brandon Joseph of this coming season.
Essentially a Lock (Knock on Wood)
Joe Alt, Offensive Tackle
Let’s not waste our time talking about the baby-faced killer with NFL DNA for too long. He was a Freshman All-American in 2021, was an All-American last season, and enters the coming year as the consensus top-ranked offensive tackle in the country and an expected top-5 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Assuming he’s only gotten better — or at worst has plateaued — Joe Alt will be one of the two starting tackles on nearly every All-American team come December/January.
Has a Very, Very Good Chance
Benjamin Morrison, Cornerback
Again, I’m not sure I need to say too much here.
Considering Benjamin Morrison’s MONSTROUS 2022 season wherein he earned Freshman All-American honors essentially across the board while snagging 6 interceptions (tied for 2nd in the ENTIRE COUNTRY as a true frosh), logging 4 PBUs, and amassing 33 tackles — 22 of them solo — while also giving us that ELECTRIC pick-six against Clemson to put the nail in the Tigers’ coffin that wonderful evening in early November.
The only reasons I don’t have B-Mo as a lock like Alt are that he’s already widely considered one of the best corners in America, and thus unlike last year when he was a largely unknown freshman, opposing QBs will likely avoid throwing his way as much as possible. That could lead to some lesser stats in his sophomore campaign, and with plenty of other good corners out there, I could see a scenario where Morrison does everything he’s supposed to all year but doesn’t earn the accolades.
With that said, he’s such a playmaker that I wouldn’t bet against him still managing to rack up enough stats and highlight-reel, game-changing plays to still earn the honor — hence why he’s still so high on this list. The Irish haven’t had a corner this good since Julian Love, and at least so far Morrison looks quite capable of surpassing him and being one of the best ND corners since...Shane Walton? Dude rules, and the whole country is beginning to notice.
Not a Stretch to Imagine
Sam Hartman, Quarterback
Please don’t bite my head off for putting Sam Hartman outside the first two categories here — we all know he’s an exceptional QB who’s proven he can put up big numbers with limited talent around him at Wake Forest, so of course I’m hopeful he will have a massive year with the upgrade to ND skill talent and line protection in 2023. I mean, the guy has thrown for nearly 13,000 yards in his career while completing nearly 60% of his passes, and has tossed 110 touchdowns, which is an all-time ACC record.
But, let’s also consider a couple very important obstacles to our guy Sam getting his due this year and earning All-American nods from some publications. First, we all know that Caleb Williams and probably Drake Maye will be getting the majority of the press all season as the top two QBs in the the nation — so Hartman is going to have to essentially outperform them, or at least everyone else in the country besides them, in order to get some All-American honors at a position with limited spots on All-American teams.
Secondly, the Irish, as we know, will be heading into the season with a very strong offensive line, good blocking tight ends, and a talented running back group led by Audric Estime. You know that even if Gerad Parker wants to open it up a lot more than last year with the massive upgrade in signal caller, the ND offense will still be heavily driven by the ground game, and so that could naturally take some stats and chances for big moments away from Sam, even if the ND offense is humming all year.
With all that said, Hartman threw for 3,701 yards, 38 TDs, and just 12 INTs while completing 63% of his passes a year ago at Wake Forest. He’s now got guys like Jayden Thomas, Tobias Merriweather, Chris Tyree, Jaden Greathouse, etc. to throw to — so he’s gonna put up some nice stats still. But as a QB, it will come down to if he has some Heisman moments in big games against Ohio State, USC, and Clemson, and whether he’s able to really prove he’s in the same tier as Williams and Maye and whoever else emerges as top QBs this season.
Blake Fisher, Offensive Tackle
Blake Fisher was really good last year in his first season at right tackle. He wasn’t perfect, mind you, and he got overshadowed by how exceptional Joe Alt really was on the other end of the line, but he was a very good and still very young offensive tackle who was really playing just his first season, considering his season-long injury in 2021. But let’s not forget, he earned the starting left tackle job as a true freshman heading into that season, which is pretty unheard-of at Notre Dame or really at a lot of other major programs. The dude is big and talented, period.
He’s also lost weight in the off-season, making him quicker and more athletic while retaining plenty of his size and strength — I think we’re about to see a big step forward for the junior-to-be, and the Irish might just have two of the top five tackles in the country on one offensive line.
With that said, publications might be pretty hesitant to put two tackles from the same team on their All-American teams (although they could put Alt on a 1st Team and then slot Fisher in on a 2nd Team or Honorable Mention), so maybe that will hurt him a bit. But there’s definitely a path to Blake Fisher showing out, earning those AA accolades, and potentially bolting to be a 1st round pick like Alt. There’s improvement to be shown, for sure, but Fisher has the potential, no question.
Audric Estime, Running Back
Running back is not an easy position to be an All-American at, just considering lots of bad/mediocre teams have offenses that lean heavily on a really good bell-cow running back who puts up ridiculous yardage and touchdown stats. Similar to how Hartman’s All-American season could be hurt by Estime and the running game’s potency in 2023, Estime’s candidacy for All-American could suffer a similar hit from Hartman’s ability to sling it all over the field.
However, like we established above, I think Estime and the running game will still largely drive the offense, and with Logan Diggs having transferred to LSU, Estime is the unquestioned RB1 of this team, with no other proven player on the roster who will threaten to take his touches right now (that is pending Jadarian Price’s recovery, but as of now this is Estime’s backfield).
Estime, in sharing carries with Diggs and Tyree last season, still managed to put up 920 yards at a 5.9 yards-per-carry clip in 2022, scoring 11 touchdowns on the ground while alos catching 9 passes for 135 yards and another score in the passing game. Consider what he could do with even MORE touches and with some improvement in his game (especially in not-fumbling) — many reports in the spring mentioned that he looks even better than ever, so we shouldn’t be surprised if Estime takes it to another level and has himself an All-American caliber season.
At that point, it will just depend what other running backs on good teams — and any of the ones putting up wild numbers on bad teams — have done during the season, but Estime could absolutely play his way onto some All-American teams come the end of the year.
Despite how rough my hit rate was on my Dark Horse picks last year, I’m going to try again. Here are the folks who likely won’t be All-Americans for the Irish in 2023, but who I could certainly see proving me wrong with some consistent health and some next-step-taking in 2023.
Cam Hart, Cornerback
He was on my Dark Horse list last year and that certainly didn’t come to fruition, but Hart was also hurt for a lot of the year, and so I’m willing to think he might have a chance to really make waves and significantly improve his draft stock for the 2024 Draft with a full, healthy season.
Remember, Hart came to ND as a wide receiver, and so he’s been a project who seemed to really be paying dividends in 2021, when he had 7 PBUs, 5 tackles for loss, 24 tackles, and 2 interceptions (both being big ones against Wisconsin at Soldier Field).
He cemented himself as the team’s #1 corner entering 2022, but then his injuries and Morrison’s ridiculous first season made him almost an afterthought, despite still managing 25 tackles (17 solo), 4 PBUs, and 3 tackles for loss.
Hart has all the length and athleticism in the world for a corner, and if he stays healthy, he’s going to have TONS of chances to make big plays and put up some really strong stats, considering opposing QBs will want to avoid Morrison and likely come after him instead. If he can rack up some interceptions and continue to be the solid tackler on the outside that he is, Cam Hart could find himself being named to a few AA squads at the end of the season.
Tobias Merriweather, Wide Receiver
I think Jayden Thomas will likely actually lead Notre Dame in receiving yards and receptions next year, but I also don’t think he could put up the numbers and make all the big, exciting plays necessary for a wide receiver to become an All-American.
The one receiver on the roster who DOES have the size, speed, athleticism, and potential to do that, though, is Tobias Merriweather. The sophomore has just one catch in 2022, but it was a pretty awesome one — a 41-yard touchdown catch against Stanford that served as essentially the only bright spot in that shit-show for the Irish.
His coaches are out here comparing his acceleration when the ball is in the air to Randy Moss, and at 6’4” and with legitimate deep-threat speed, he could benefit the most from Sam Hartman’s ability to toss the long ball after ND mostly didn’t have that kind of vertical passing ability with Drew Pyne last season.
Realistically, Merriweather will have a nice season where he shows improvement and is heavily in the rotation, if not an outright starter. But if he develops a little faster than expected based on his inability to get on the field last year, then the sky is the limit with the QB who will be tossing him the ball.
Jordan Botelho, Vyper
Again, I highly doubt anyone on the Notre Dame defensive line will play like an All-American this season. Isaiah Foskey and Justin Ademilola are gone, and the remaining group on the defensive line has plenty of reliability and some intriguing young talent, but no one who really jumps out as a potential 2023 All-American.
With that said, Botelho has shown enough flashes — especially with his 2 sacks in the Gator Bowl against South Carolina — to be essentially the heir apparent to Foskey as the 2023 team sack leader. He had 4.5 sacks all of last season to go along with 4 QB hurries and a blocked punt, so he will need to really take another step or two forward and be way more consistent to even get on All-American status radar, but if anyone in the front seven does it this year, the smart money is on Botelho continuing to channel that aggression and bulldog mentality he brings to the field and just teeing off on opposing QBs all season.
Antonio Carter II and/or Xavier Watts, Safety
These both feel like massive long-shots, and honestly I think we would all just be happy if they both were good, reliable players at the back of the defense who don’t get burned deep constantly and can generally not miss tackles.
However, both are athletic guys stepping into bigger roles than what they’ve had the last couple years, but they both seem ready to take it on. Maybe it’ll be the opposite of a Brandon Joseph situation, where he was largely disappointing after getting tons of All-American and NFL Draft hype heading into 2022, but in 2023 these two will have only a little hype (and really only from ND beat writers) but one or both will turn out to be really good and potentially even great safeties for the next year or two.
Billy Schrauth, Offensive Guard and/or Zeke Correll, Center
I don’t think either of these guys will be quite at an All-American level in 2023, but for different reasons. Correll has proven he can be a solid center, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like what we used to see from Jarrett Patterson or Nick Martin or any other really good ND centers that would make us think he’s elite. However, considering he’s always been pretty good, if the line has a big year paving the way for Estime and co., then maybe just one step forward in consistency and production for Correll could earn him some accolades.
For Schrauth, I think it sounds like there’s oodles of potential for him to be an All-American before his career at Notre Dame is over, but he’s going to be a redshirt freshman in his first season seeing playing time. He’ll probably be pretty good, but it’s unlikely he will be All-American-good this early on, and thus I think the most realistic outcome is he sets himself up for potentially elite seasons in 2024/2025. Still, though, him seizing the starting guard spot next to Joe Alt and garnering all the praise in the spring tell us that he could be pretty special, so maybe he puts it together in his first year and is just a STUD playing alongside another stud.
Michael “Milk” Vinson, Long Snapper
The man was a semi-finalist for the Patrick Mannelly Award last season, meaning he was in the top 10 of long snappers, nationally.
That fact, plus his incredible nickname and personality and story of starting as a walk-on, could be enough to help push him to the next level in 2023. I have no idea how else he could “improve” as a long snapper and earn All-American honors, but I have to think the potential is there, based on all that.