Over at Inside the Irish, Keith Arnold rolled out the latest installment of his annual top 25 Notre Dame players countdown with Nos. 16-20. Here's how the panel voted:
20. DE Ishaq Williams
19. CB Cole Luke
18. RB Cam McDaniel
17. DT Jarron Jones
16. WR Corey Robinson
20. S Eilar Hardy
19. RB Cam McDaniel
18. DT Jarron Jones
17. OL Steve Elmer
16. S Austin Collinsworth
[MORE: Notre Dame's top players, 21-25]
Cam McDaniel is Notre Dame's leading returning running back, but it speaks volumes to the talent possessed by sophomores Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant that the Coppell, Texas native is the lowest-ranked running back of the bunch. McDaniel is a rock-solid running back who's adept at picking up tough yards late in games, but he doesn't possess the explosiveness of Folston or Bryant.
The fact that McDaniel led Notre Dame in rushing attempts (152), yards (705) and touchdowns (three, tied with Folston and George Atkinson) a year ago was partly due to his skill, and partly due to the inconsistency of Atkinson, the inexperience of Folston and the disappearance of Amir Carlisle. If Folston and/or Bryant live up to the hype, McDaniel won't lead Notre Dame in carries -- but he certainly will remain an important part of the Irish offense.
Upon further review
I might've ranked both safeties a little too high. Hardy showed flashes of promise a year ago but was suspended for two games, and when Notre Dame opened camp Monday Elijah Shumate and Matthias Farley largely manned the safety positions in Brian VanGorder's second-team defense. Putting, at best, a second-string safety in the top 20 might've been too aggressive (again, acknowledging my oversight of Kyle Brindza in my top 25 at all).
Only one other panelist joined me in ranking Collinsworth in the top 25, and while 16 may be a little high the graduate student is an important player for an Irish defense lacking experience.
Jarron Jones looked great against BYU a year ago, to the point where offensive lineman Chris Watt joked he saw "Jones" flash across the scoreboard with seven tackles and initially thought it referred to wide receiver T.J. Jones. Due to his own turnaround and injuries to Louis Nix and Kona Schwenke, Jones went from a scout team afterthought to a key contributor down the stretch, showing signs his four-star talent was beginning to blossom.
Notre Dame doesn't necessarily need Jones to have a breakout season to solidify its defense, but a good season from the junior would go a long way toward taking the pressure off Irish linebackers and defensive backs. For what it's worth, Jones said during spring practice VanGorder's aggressive, beat-the-guy-across-you strategy fits him a lot better than Bob Diaco's two-gap ethos. We'll see how that plays out in the regular season, but if Jones' arrow is pointing up, so could the arrow for Notre Dame's defense.