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Notre Dame Football Recruiting

5 Freshmen Who Could Make an Early Impact

December 17, 2021
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Last season there were only three teams in the entire country that had less returning production than Notre Dame. That and some significant injuries played a part in so many freshmen making considerable contributions during the 2021 regular season.

Next year will be a bit different. There will be more starters returning and plenty of younger players who are ready for bigger roles. That will likely mean that less freshmen from the class that just signed will be making an impact than this past year.

I do expect at least a few to play a part in the success of the 2022 team, though. Here’s the five I view as the most likely to make an early impact for the Irish, with the obvious one at the top.

Punter Bryce McFerson‍ 

Jay Bramblett is planning on transferring after graduating. McFerson, an All-American punter, is going to be needed to step in right away to take his place.

Bramblett punted as a true freshman and was hit and miss to say the least with an average of 39.4 yards per punt. He made gradual improvements over the next two seasons and finally found his consistency as a junior.

The hope should be that McFerson is a more advanced version of Bramblett as a freshman, but we’ll see if that’s the case. He’s ranked as the #1 punter in the country by Chris Sailer and #2 punter by Kohl’s Kicking. There’s a strong possibility that he’ll handle kickoff duties as well with Jon Doerer out of eligibility.

Cornerback Jaden Mickey‍ 

Mickey is polished for his age and displays advanced recognition as well. That always seems to translate well in terms of getting on the field quickly, but there also could be a prime opportunity for him to see snaps immediately.

TaRiq Bracy has an option to come back for a season, but at this point in time it’s unclear if he’ll be returning. If he doesn’t, Notre Dame will be in search of a nickel in sub-packages and Mickey has the skills to get in the mix there.

Even with starting corners Clarence Lewis and Cam Hart returning, nothing is guaranteed for next season. The amount of snaps Lewis played, the most on the team, wasn’t good for him or the defense. The Irish need more depth to play at corner and even if Bracy were to return, Mickey should have an opportunity to prove he can find a role.

Linebacker Jaylen Sneed‍ 

Notre Dame should be more than set at linebacker when it comes to who is starting next season. It seems logical that JD Bertrand would slide over to play Mike and the return of Marist Liufau would have the Will position locked down. Throw in Jack Kiser at Rover as well as Prince Kollie taking a step up and that looks like a really strong top four at the position.

Depth is more of uncertainty and so that should present a chance for someone like Jaylen Sneed. It’s not out of the question that one of the other three freshmen linebackers plays either, but Sneed is the freakiest athlete of the bunch and could easily fit into the category of simply too talented to not get on the field regardless of the depth in front of him.

Think Michael Mayer in 2020 or Kyle Hamilton in 2019. Sneed could be the next and I see him having a shot to play at Rover immediately.

Wide receiver Tobias Merriweather‍ 

Hello talent, I’d like to introduce you to opportunity.

Everyone knows that Notre Dame missed out at wide receiver this cycle (so far). The lone exception is Merriweather and lucky for them that he’s an exceptional prospect. Unlike Mickey and Sneed, Merriweather won’t arrive on campus until June so he won’t get an early start at competing for a spot at wide receiver.

That may not matter that much depending on how the depth chart looks at that time and it’s really up in the air as to which veterans are coming back at the moment.

No position will be more intriguing than receiver this off-season. Merriweather could crack the two-deep by default, even though he may have been good enough to do that on his own.

Tight end Eli Raridon‍ 

This may seem like a longer shot than some others because of players who will be returning at the position. Maybe I’ll look foolish for listing him and he won’t play a snap since he has plenty of physical development that needs to happen in addition to the tight ends who are already on the roster.

But for me, Raridon has the kind of athleticism that will make him stand out right away. There’s also the fact that Cane Berrong is coming off an ACL injury and how ready he is could help Raridon and fellow freshman Holden Staes‍ see more reps in the summer.

This is a dark horse pick because there aren’t any more obvious choices, but I will not be surprised one bit if Raridon has people buzzing this summer with skill set.

 
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