Counting Down the Irish: Overrated? Underrated? Just right?
The intent is to react to the final “Counting Down the Irish” rankings, perhaps even to overreact, to criticize the other Notre Dame beat writers for the mistakes they made in their ballots, laugh at their collective idiocy.
Conjuring up my rashest thoughts, I cannot get to that level of dismissal because, well, they got the annual exercise right, more or less.
One piece of logic also holds the condescending attitude in check: In order to claim any player was over- or underrated, another player has to move accordingly. Sure, perhaps fifth-year receiver Chris Finke should be ranked higher than No. 9. He had 49 catches for 571 yards and two touchdowns last year. Building on that would lead to an excellent season, and the Irish do have 95 catches to replace from the combination of Miles Boykin and Alizé Mack. With no one available to replace either of those body types and skill sets, Finke pulling in 60 catches for 700 yards and a handful of scores does not seem outlandish at all.
Certainly that would warrant a higher rank than No. 9, right? Only if you see someone to drop from the top 8, a group that includes seven players likely to be drafted in the spring and an eighth, senior left tackle Liam Eichenberg, who could play himself into that position. Even if he does not, EIchenberg is still considered the best offensive lineman on a strong unit.
Thus, Finke fits at No. 9.
The player behind him now looks like a regrettable decision, but junior tight end Cole Kmet could still put together a noteworthy season in just eight games, if that is what he is limited to. Although if this ranking was done now, one must think junior tight end Brock Wright and sophomore tight end Tommy Tremble would see decent showings. (Wright received two No. 25 votes.)
Then who was ranked too high or too low? Any other year the idea of four defensive ends being among Notre Dame’s top-25 players would be laughable, but, if anything, senior Ade Ogundeji is slotted too low at No. 24. Moving Ogundeji (pictured above) up into the teens would not phase me, especially given the lack of faith shown at No. 17 in junior defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa. How about moving Ogundeji all the way up to there?
What do I mean by a lack of faith in Tagovailoa-Amosa? He finished one spot and one point behind junior defensive tackle Kurt Hinish. The former is expected to make plays; the latter to absorb blocks to allow others to make plays. Yet Tagovailoa-Amosa is considered on par with Hinish. Not only that, but sophomore defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola — Tagovailoa-Amosa’s backup — finished at No. 25, appearing on six of the 13 ballots. On two of those, Ademilola was one spot behind Tagovailoa-Amosa and on another only two spots. Tagovailoa-Amosa’s individual impact may be hampered by Ademilola’s progress.
Of course, that is good news for the Irish, if not necessarily for any selfish tendencies within Tagovailoa-Amosa (of which there is no evidence whatsoever of any existing).
With that in mind, and recognizing the lack of experience or blue-chipper banging down the door at either defensive tackle or linebacker, putting an emphasis on the talented ends (Ogundeji) and offensive pieces may have been warranted. Let’s also suggest junior receiver Michael Young was underrated at No. 21, and he should have moved up right along with Ogundeji.
That is to say, tempering expectations on fifth-year linebacker Asmar Bilal may be wise. Projecting a strong season from Bilal feels suspect given he has yet to truly settle at a certain position.
Then there is the curious case of fifth-year defensive back Shaun Crawford. Putting him at No. 23 is either ambitious or optimistic or foolhardy or all of the above. Per my own rules, though, I cannot drop him without moving somebody else up. If being genuine and thinking of my thoughts before preseason practice began, I would have considered sophomore receiver Lawrence Keys and freshman defensive tackle Jacob Lacey. Either one would essentially be a flier.
The tone thus far has trumpeted a reliance on the offense. Sticking to that, it would have been Keys in the top 25 in place of Crawford. Of course, after just a week of practice, the clear flier would have been on freshman safety Kyle Hamilton (who finished at No. 29, appearing on six ballots).
These are nit-picks, hardly worth mentioning. Rather than give those 13 writers credit, let’s just presume the 2019 Irish roster has a clear pecking order. One that begins with its defensive ends and its quarterback, one highlighted by a few play-makers in the secondary and the receiving corps, and one with a reliable offensive line, per usual.