Story Poster
Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Championship Caliber 2024

June 4, 2024
7,861

It doesn’t matter what year it is or what time of year it is, Notre Dame fans are always thinking about how close the Irish are to their next national championship. And since 2012 when the program got close, but proved to be far away from winning it, it’s been an ever-present thought of when they will achieve their ultimate goal.

Though they have averaged double digit wins over the last seven years with two College Football Playoff appearances during that time, taking the next step to win it all has eluded them. Everyone always wants to know if this is the year and there’s definitely reason for optimism before Marcus Freeman’s third season in charge of the program.

The blue-chip ratio (percentage of 4 and 5-stars recruited over four years) is 70.5%. That’s higher than it’s ever been for Notre Dame during the CFP era. Freeman and his staff are responsible for that and they’ve also brought in seven potential starters via the transfer portal this offseason.

From top to bottom, the roster has more raw talent than the Irish have had in a very long time.

Is it talented enough to win a championship? That’s to be determined. Before we break it down, a reminder that what we know about the 10 CFP champions in the last decade is that the roster requires a minimum level of NFL talent at every position group.

I wrote about this last year and there was only one team who was able to win a championship without having the required talent throughout the roster.

Clemson in 2016 was an outlier because they didn’t have the talent on the offensive line (zero draft picks when everyone else had a minimum of two) and at defensive back (one draft pick when everyone else had a minimum of three).

So, here’s how it breaks down for everyone who is looking for the CliffsNotes version of what a minimum level of NFL talent means.

- At least three draft picks at running back, tight end, and receiver. That includes a receiver being drafted on day one or day two of the NFL Draft -

At least two picks starting on the O-line and one of them selected on day one or day two of the draft (everyone but Clemson in ‘16).

- A quarterback drafted in the first three rounds. There’s been six first round picks and two more day two draft picks out of the 10 teams. The exception are Georgia’s Stetson Bennett (a fourth rounder) and Alabama’s Jacob Coker being undrafted

- At least one linebacker drafted on day one or day two, which every champion has now had except Georgia in 2022. Their two starters from that squad are still in college and one of them was a Butkus Award finalist, so the odds are pretty good that they won’t be an exception for much longer

- At least three future NFL Draft picks on the defensive line

- At least three future NFL Draft picks in the secondary

Michigan* checked all of these boxes other than defensive line (two drafted) and defensive back (one drafted), but by this time next year they will have checked both. A major reason why they are going to have a top-10 defense this fall is the fact that they return three players up front and two in the secondary who are pretty much locks to be drafted next spring.

They had a roster that was championship caliber.

Now that we’ve been reminded what exactly that means, let’s run down Notre Dame’s 2024 roster and to see if they have the kind of quality throughout to win a championship this season.

Quarterback

This is one of the reasons why Notre Dame went out and got Riley Leonard in the transfer portal. He was generating buzz as a potential day one or two pick last summer. His incomplete season killed that idea for the 2024 NFL Draft, but it didn’t end the possibility of that happening for him in 2025.

A lot has to happen for him this fall for that to occur. He needs to show the necessary improvement as a passer to get into that conversation, but we’ve seen quarterbacks go from uncertain NFL projections to first round picks whether it was Kenny Pickett making a massive jump at Pitt in his final year or transfers like Bo Nix, Michael Penix Jr., Hendon Hooker, or Jayden Daniels experiencing a meteoric rise with their draft stock at a new program.

Sam Hartman had more experience and production than Leonard, but Hartman was trying to play his way into becoming a late-round pick. Leonard has a higher ceiling and if he approaches it at Notre Dame, then he’s likely going to be a high pick and he can help the Irish be true contenders.

Offensive skill talent

There shouldn’t be much doubt that Notre Dame has future NFL players at running back and tight end. Each of Notre Dame’s top-three tight ends will eventually play on Sundays and the running backs, even after losing Audric Estime to the NFL and Gi’Bran Payne to injury, is arguably the strongest position group on offense.

This is all about whether or not Notre Dame has at least one player who will end up as a day one or day two pick at receiver. It’s impossible to predict a transfer like Beaux Collins to become that because it would take Collins showing much more than he ever did at Clemson. Transfer receivers like Adonai Mitchell, Ricky Pearsall, Keon Coleman, and Jermaine Burton were selected on day one or day two of the most recent NFL Draft, but they had more proven production at their previous programs than Collins.

It wouldn’t be completely unprecedented to go from a former elite recruit who hasn’t played at an elite level in college to making the leap at a new program. That’s what Jameson Williams did in his one year at Alabama after transferring from Ohio State, but the circumstances are much different for Collins, so it would be a surprise to say the least.

It could also be Kris Mitchell proving he can have a similar kind of impact at Notre Dame that he had at Florida International, but everyone should probably wait to see inklings of it this fall before jumping aboard that hype train.

That basically means that the young receivers on the roster are the best hope for something like that to happen. It would require Jaden Greathouse becoming that WR1 he showed glimpses of being in the spring or perhaps Jordan Faison showing that being a walk-on turned freshman playmaker was only the beginning of something much greater.

It’s unfair to include any of the true freshmen in this because even if Cam Williams has all of the potential to develop into a receiver worthy of a first round pick one day, no one should expect that from him or anyone else in year one.

It seems pretty simple. Notre Dame isn’t getting close to winning a national championship without an elite play from a receiver (or two) this fall.

Offensive line

As explained in a piece on what it takes to win in the CFP era, unit strength is the most important thing here. Being a Joe Moore Award semi-finalist at the very least is a must for a championship-level offensive line.

We’ll see if that can happen this year, but I do believe that Notre Dame will have at least two starters up front who develop into NFL Draft picks. The last time they didn’t have that was all the way back in 2010 during Brian Kelly’s first season. (Note: they didn’t have it for half of the season in 2021 after Blake Fisher was injured, but had iit when Joe Alt became the starter at left tackle)

Youth is the biggest obstacle up front for the Irish. They have a lot of talented individuals who need to develop and the unit needs to develop together. They need players like Billy Schrauth, Ashton Craig, and at least one of the starting tackles to show this fall that they are good enough to play at the next level.

Defensive line

This one doesn’t need to be dissected too thoroughly. They have three players in Howard Cross III, Rylie Mills, and RJ Oben who should all be drafted next spring and others who appear to be on their way there in subsequent drafts.

They are ready to roll on the defensive line.

Linebacker

Jack Kiser was probably not getting drafted if he left after last season. I think there’s a very good chance that can change after this one. The production is going to be there and PFF had him finish in the 99th percentile with their GAS metric (game athletic score). Playing himself into a day two pick isn’t very likely, though.

The Irish have a few young linebackers who do appear on their way into becoming high NFL picks one day and they all have multiple years of eligibility left. It will be important for at least one of Drayk Bowen, Jaylen Sneed, Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa, or Jaiden Ausberry to have a breakout season.

Defensive back

It’s a resounding yes for them at defensive back. Benjamin Morrison and Xavier Watts are well-established prospects and it’s not out of the question for experienced transfers Rod Heard or Jordan Clark to also get drafted next spring.

Jaden Mickey has NFL potential. Christian Gray and Adon Shuler have the traits to develop into early selections as well. I think it’s evident that Notre Dame has the kind of talent on defense that’s good enough to win a championship this season.

Right now it’s less certain that they have enough NFL talent on offense. They’ll need a handful of individuals, some who may not even be draft-eligible yet, to have big seasons in order to get to a championship-level on that side of the ball.

Men's Under Armour Navy Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2024 NCAA Men's Lacrosse National Champions Trophy T-Shirt

 
×
subscribe Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.