Ranking Notre Dame's top five players

Ranking Notre Dame's top five players
August 12, 2014, 8:30 pm
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Inside the Irish's Keith Arnold wrapped up his annual top 25 Notre Dame players poll on Monday with the top five:

5. RB Tarean Folston
4. QB Everett Golson
3. DT Sheldon Day
2. CB KeiVarae Russell
1. LB Jaylon Smith

My ballot:

5. DT Sheldon Day
4. WR DaVaris Daniels
3. QB Everett Golson
2. CB KeiVarae Russell
1. LB Jaylon Smith

First thought

Even though Notre Dame's offense is expected to be better than its defense this fall, it's interesting that there are more defensive players than offensive players in the top five. That speaks to the talent that does exist in Brian VanGorder's group: Smith is unquestionably the best player on the team, while Russell has huge potential as a game-changing cornerback and Day is a talented leader up front.

[MORE: Notre Dame's top players, 6-10]

What's more telling, though: The panel ranked 10 defensive players in the top 25, while I had 12. Either way, more than half of the top 25 players on Notre Dame are on offense, a pretty good indication of where the Irish are going. If Notre Dame does contend for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff, chances are it'll be on the backs of Golson and the offense -- as opposed to 2012, when the Irish defense pushed the team to the BCS Championship.

Upon further review

Knowing what we know now, I wouldn't have ranked DaVaris Daniels -- who's been limited by a groin issue early in preseason camp -- in the top five (Ronnie Stanley would've taken his place). Daniels is extremely talented but struggled to play through a few "lower body" injuries, as he put it, last year.

[MORE: Notre Dame's top players: 11-15]

Granted, that's easier said than done, but T.J. Jones' ability to play through those bumps and bruises is a big reason why he developed into one of the better receivers in program history. If Daniels is able to do that this fall he'll be primed for a breakout year, but if not, his production will remain muted for a second straight year.

Breakout candidate

It's hard to call Everett Golson a true breakout candidate, given his name has been thrown around as a Heisman dark horse and he found himself a number of preseason award watch lists. But two years ago, Golson only threw for 12 touchdowns and 2,405 yards in 12 games with a 58.8 percent completion rate.

[MORE: Notre Dame's top players, 16-20]

A Golson breakout isn't a foregone conclusion this fall, especially since he hasn't played in a competitive game since Jan. 7, 2013. But he has all the tools Brian Kelly has wanted out of a quarterback since coming to South Bend: A strong arm, an ability to move outside the pocket and a knack for making big plays. Expect Golson to be much improved from 2012, and if it's to a Heisman-candidate point he'll wind up being the best player on Notre Dame this fall.

[MORE: Notre Dame's top players, 21-25]

The Inside the Irish panel's full rankings:

25. WR Will Fuller
24. LB Joe Schmidt
23. WR Chris Brown
22. LB Jarrett Grace
21. QB Malik Zaire
20. DE Ishaq Williams
19. CB Cole Luke
18. RB Cam McDaniel
17. DT Jarron Jones
16. WR Corey Robinson
15. RG Christian Lombard
14. DB Cody Riggs
13. K/P Kyle Brindza
12. S Max Redfield (S, Soph.)
11. OL Steve Elmer
10. TE Ben Koyack
9. RB Greg Bryant (RB, Soph.)
8. C Nick Martin
7. WR DaVaris Daniels
6. LT Ronnie Stanley
5. RB Tarean Folston
4. QB Everett Golson
3. DT Sheldon Day
2. CB KeiVarae Russell
1. LB Jaylon Smith

My full ballot:

25. DE Romeo Okwara
24. LB Joe Schmidt
23. LB Nyles Morgan
22. OL Mike McGlinchey
21. WR Chris Brown
20. S Eilar Hardy
19. RB Cam McDaniel
18. DT Jarron Jones
17. RT Steve Elmer
16. S Austin Collinsworth
15. WR Corey Robinson
14. DB Cody Riggs
13. LB Jarrett Grace
12. TE Ben Koyack
11. RB Tarean Folston
10. RB Greg Bryant
9. RG Christian Lombard
8. C Nick Martin
7. S Max Redfield
6. LT Ronnie Stanley
5. WR DaVaris Daniels
4. DT Sheldon Day
3. QB Everett Golson
2. CB KeiVarae Russell
1. LB Jaylon Smith