Over at Inside the Irish, NBC partner Keith Arnold began rolling out his annual top 25 Irish players series this week, with eight panelists "voting" on the rankings. I had the pleasure of taking part in the list this year, of which Keith revealed the first five members Monday.
Head over to Inside the Irish to see who made the cut. Here's how I voted:
No. 25: Jaylon Smith (OLB, freshman)
The freshman linebacker may be blocked by incumbent "dog" starter Danny Spond and backup Ben Councell, but talent like his has a way of finding the field. The five-star recruit and top linebacker in the class of 2013 simply had too much upside and talent to leave off the list, even if it was at the expense of a few deserving candidates.
No. 24: Amir Carlisle (RB, junior)
He's a key player in Notre Dame's efforts to replace Theo Riddick (and Cierre Wood, but more so Riddick) -- if he can stay healthy. Carlisle, who transferred to Notre Dame from USC in 2012, missed all of last season with an ankle injury.
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When Davonte Neal left during spring practice, Irish coaches looked to Carlisle to work more in Riddick's running back/slot receiver role, given the opening left by Neal in the slot. But Carlisle broke his collarbone soon thereafter and missed a good chunk of development time leading up to the spring game. If he's healthy, expect him to be a solid contributor -- but that's a big if.
No. 23: Nick Martin (C, junior)
I took a bit of a leap here -- nobody else ranked him -- but hey, if he's one of the reasons why his brother passed on entering the NFL Draft, the Irish should be grateful for his presence. He has some big shoes to fill with 35-game starter Braxston Cave off to the NFL, but he secured the top spot on the Irish depth chart heading into fall camp and there's a confidence Harry Hiestand can develop him into a solid center.
No. 22: Christian Lombard (RT, senior)
The right side of Notre Dame's offensive line was a little weak last year, at least relative to its strong left side. But the 6-foot-5, 309-pound Lombard returns with 13 starts under his belt and should continue to grow into a steady presence opposite Zack Martin.
No. 21: Tony Springmann (DL, junior)
This is a pretty aggressive ranking for a backup, but Springmann’s versatility -- he can play both defensive end and defensive tackle -- adds a ton of value here. Notre Dame’s strength in 2013 is in its front seven, and Springmann will play a part in keeping Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt from being overworked.
Barely missed the cut: S Elijah Shumate, S Nicky Baratti, S Max Redfield, OLB Ishaq Williams
The three safeties are the guys that replace Zeke Motta alongside Matthias Farley. Taking a second glance, I should’ve included one of them, and there are good cases to be made for all three. Shumate and Redfield, in particular, have loads of athleticism and potential and it’s tough to see at least one of them not being pretty high up on this list down the road. It’s worth noting, too, that Shumate wouldn’t have got as open of an opportunity during spring practice if Baratti didn’t miss time after undergoing shoulder surgery.
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Williams has always had loads of potential, but has yet to showcase it while Prince Shembo has secured a No. 1 role at “cat” linebacker.
A little further off: OT Steve Elmer, OT Ronnie Stanley, C Matt Hegarty
Elmer, Stanley and Hegarty are all important for depth along Notre Dame’s offensive line, a luxury Brian Kelly and Hiestand weren’t afforded last year. Elmer impressed as an early-enrolling freshman in the spring, while Stanley -- a true tackle -- was thrown in at guard during the Blue-Gold game and held his own. Hegarty, who returned to the field after battling some scary health issues last fall, is a capable fail-safe if Martin can’t hold on to his job at center.