Notre Dame Football

ISD Top 25 Players of the Brian Kelly Era: 25-21

February 26, 2018

Today unleashes a fun feature we will have for all ISD readers.  We decided to rank the Top 25 players for the last five Irish head coaches---Brian Kelly, Charlie Weis, Tyrone Willingham, Bob Davie and Lou Holtz.  This was quite an undertaking, but we thought we'd have fun as a staff doing it, and we felt our readers would enjoy it as well.  We will start this week with our Top 25 for Brian Kelly, and throughout the spring and summer we will be releasing the other Top 25 for the other coaches as well.  

We met as a staff, and after a much heated debate (I should've recorded it because you'd probably find that conversation even more interesting), we're releasing our Top 25 Irish players from the Brian Kelly era.

We know there will be a lot of debate about this moving forward, and that's great because everyone has different opinions.  

Our first order of business was figuring out which players should be classified with each coach.  We settled on each player had to play at least two years for the coach they're assigned to, and have their two best years playing at ND while playing for that coach, so that is how each player was classified.  

We also ranked each player by how much impact they had on the teams they played for.  It had nothing to do with NFL potential or overall talent...simply the results based on their performance while at Notre Dame.  

Understanding that, here is ISD's rankings of the No. 25 through No. 21 players for the Brian Kelly era.  We will release the rest as the week goes on finishing with our No. 5 through No. 1 on Friday.  

Please feel free to discuss our rankings by posting your comments below.  Feel free to discuss how you feel they should be ranked, and ask any questions you may have of our staff or our rankings.  


25. CB KeiVarae Russell

Rick Kimball/ISD
CB KeiVarae Russell 

Why he made the list: 
If Russell didn't have his career interrupted as part of The Frozen 5 scandal, he might have been a top-15 player on this list. Because of missing the 2014 season, his career has been a bit underappreciated. 

He's the best cover corner of the Kelly era and was also a strong player in run support. He started all 37 games he was available in his Notre Dame career, and the Irish went 31-6 in those games. 

That's not a coincidence and his best games in all three of his seasons were against USC where he went toe to toe with Robert Woods, Nelson Agholor, and Juju Smith-Schuster. They might have beat him a few times, but his ability to blanket them was a big part of all three of those wins against USC.

As a freshman, Russell helped Notre Dame to a 12-0 regular season record an appearance in the National Championship game against Alabama. Russell recorded 13 starts, 58 tackles, two TFLs and two interceptions in 2012. 

In 2013, Russell made 12 starts for the Irish. He racked up 51 tackles, eight passes defended and one interception. 

Russell missed the 2014 season but returned to Notre Dame in 2015 and had his best year for the Irish. As a senior, Russell recorded 60 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, two interceptions, one sack and four passes defended. 

Career Stats
- 36 career starts 
- 169 total tackles (125 solo)
- 5 interceptions
- 12 passes defended

Honors and Awards 
- Bednarik Award Watch List (2014) 
- Nagurski Trophy Watch List (2014) 
- FWAA Freshman All-American (2012)
- Freshman All-American (2012) 
- Sporting News Second-Team Freshman All-American (2012) 
- Second-Team Freshman All-American

24. RB CJ Prosise 

RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports
RB CJ Prosise

Why he made the list: 
One great year is what puts him on this list, and normally that wouldn't cut it, but he was spectacular in 2015. His 1,337 total yards (1,029 on the ground) in only 11 games was only a couple of hundred yards short of what Josh Adams did in 13 games last season. And Prosise did it while scoring more touchdowns (12 compared to 9). 

While he never had the career consistency that some others had, he provided big plays as a running back and from the slot before that. His 91-yard touchdown run against Georgia Tech, his 56-yard touchdown reception against Clemson and his 50-yard touchdown run against LSU stand out as examples of what he brought to the offense for the Irish.

His combination and size and speed was special. It's just a shame they didn't move him to running back sooner or else he may have been much higher up the list.

Prosise started off at safety for the Irish, but after his freshman season he moved to wide receiver in 2013. In his first year at receiver, Prosise recorded seven catches for 72 yards. 

In year two at receiver, Prosise had a productive year when quarterback Everett Golson returned as he caught 29 balls for 642 yards and three scores. 

Prosise then moved to running back his senior season and broke out. In 2015, Prosise rushed 157 times for 1,029 yards and 11 touchdowns but also recorded 26 catches for 308 yards and a touchdown. 

- 1,155 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns 
- 62 receptions for 896 yards and three touchdowns 
- 2,051 total yards and 15 touchdowns 

Honors and Awards 
Notre Dame Special Teams Player of the Year (2014) 

23. DT  Louis Nix III 

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
DT Louis NIx III

Why he made the list: 
The stats will never tell how good Nix was when he was at his best as a nose guard for the Irish. It took him some time to get to the shape he needed to be in to succeed at Notre Dame, but he was dominant at times after that happened. 

He commanded double teams consistently. Manti Te'o definitely would not have had as a great of a season in 2012 without the work of Nix in front of him. The Irish only gave up four rushing touchdowns the entire season that year (1st in the nation). That doesn't happen without Nix being one of the best nose guards in college football. 

Nix was immediately a fan favorite as he committed to Notre Dame when the Irish didn’t have a head coach. After redshirting his freshman season, Nix started 11 games at nose guard in 2011. Nix totaled 45 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss in his first season in the gold helmet. 

In 2012, Nix started 11 games and finished with 50 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss. 

Nix’s final season, he recorded just 27 tackles and 2.0 tackles for loss as he battled a knee injury for most of the season and started just seven games while appearing in eight games.  

- 122 total tackles 
- 14.0 tackles for loss 
- 8 passes defended 
- Career-high 7 tackles against Wake Forest in 2012.

Honors and Awards 
2013 Bednarik Award Watch List 
2013 Maxwell Award Watch List 
2012 Notre Dame Moose Krause Defensive Lineman of the Year 
2012 Third-Team All-American

22. K Justin Yoon 

Rick Kimball/ISD
K Justin Yoon

Why he made the list: 
Yes, we know he's a kicker, but Justin Yoon will likely leave Notre Dame as the all-time leading scorer in the history of the program. Yoon is just 45 points away from breaking Allen Pinkett's record of 320 career points. 

Yoon has also hit 80.8 percent (42/52) of his field goal attempts during his first three seasons at Notre Dame. If Yoon continues on that pace, it would shatter John Carney's career percentage record of 73.9 percent.

The other aspect of Yoon making this list is his ability to hit kicks when Notre Dame has needed it the most.  At Clemson in 2015, Yoon nailed a 46-yard field goal in a monsoon to give Notre Dame hope in the first half. Then in January 2018, Yoon knocked in two field goals against LSU to keep the Irish in the game.

In the first game of his career, Yoon scored eight points against Texas as he hit a 38-yard field goal and went 5-for-5 on extra points. Yoon continued his dominance as a freshman as he connected on 15-of-17 field goals, including the third-longest field goal in school history from 52 yards out. 

As a sophomore, Yoon led the team in scoring with 83 points and connected on 13-of-17 of his field goal attempts, while hitting 44-of-46 extra point attempts. 

In 2017, Yoon scored 97 points and hit 14-of-18 on field goals, but also went 55-of-55 on extra points. 

- 42-of-52 field goals made in his career
- 149-of-153 extra points made 
- Career field goal percentage of 80.8%
- Career-long of 52 yards 

Honors and Awards 
Lou Groza Award Watch List (2016)
The Sports News Freshman All-American (2015) 
ESPN Freshman All-American (2015) 
247 Sports Freshman All-American

21. RB Cierre Wood 

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
RB Cierre Wood

Why he made the list: 
His numbers would be a lot more impressive if he didn't split duties with Theo Riddick in 2012 or Jonas Gray in 2011. Though he did have some big games, this is more about his cumulative career than dominating performances. He's in the Top-10 in career rushing yards for the Irish because he was very good for a long period of time. One would think with those career numbers he would be higher on the list.

It's probably because he doesn't have enough great moments. I'll always remember the way he closed out the 2012 Michigan State game and his 62-yard touchdown at Oklahoma that same year, though. He was a very good player over his college career and for that he's rewarded a spot on this list.

The highly-touted running back arrived in South Bend in 2009 but redshirted. In 2013, Wood started five games and played in all 13 games. Wood ran 119 times for 603 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught 20 balls for 170 yards and two touchdowns. 

In 2011, Wood busted out 1,102 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Wood ran for a 134 yards on a career-high 25 carries against Michigan. He finished the year playing in 13 games with nine starts. 

Wood missed the first two games of his senior season, but rebounded to rush for 742 yards and five touchdowns, while averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Against Wake Forest, Wood set a career-high with 150 rushing yards. Wood ran for a career long against Oklahoma on a 67-yard touchdown run. 

- 2,447 career rushing yards 
- 384 career receiving yards
- 18 career touchdowns
- 5.4 career average per carry
- 450 rushing attempts 

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ISD Top 25 Players of the Brian Kelly Era: 25-21

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