Notre Dame football: Five potential breakout players on defense in 2020

Notre Dame football (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Notre Dame football (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /
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Notre Dame football
Daelin Hayes (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

3. Daelin Hayes

Many people forget just how highly touted a prospect Daelin Hayes was. The former 5-star recruit was a significant land for the Notre Dame football team’s 2016 recruiting class. Despite flashes of excellence, Hayes has not had the collegiate career many expected when he committed to Notre Dame.

Last season, Hayes was arguably the best pass rusher on the Notre Dame football team through the first three games of the season, despite being cast in the shadows of Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem. However, that would come to a crashing halt when Hayes would suffer a torn labrum against Virginia that would prematurely end his 2019 season.

The injury caused a ripple effect for the Notre Dame football team. Jamir Jones was initially going to be redshirted to preserve his eligibility for 2020. Instead, he was pressed into action and as a result, was forced to use his remaining eligibility. He declared for the NFL Draft and was signed as an unrestricted free agent by the Houston Texans.

Meanwhile, Hayes decided not to declare for the NFL Draft and announced shortly after the injury that he would return to Notre Dame for another season. The talent level of Hayes was enough to lead many NFL draft experts to believe he would have been selected in the draft despite the injury and the fact he only played in three games for the Irish last season.

Ironically, the injury may actually serve as a positive for Hayes, as he is penciled in to be the key pass-rushing defensive end for the Irish in 2020 and will no longer remain in the shadows of Okwara and Kareem, but will instead have the spotlight squarely on him.

Despite playing in only three games last season, Hayes managed to record six total tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery for Notre Dame. Given his pedigree and the fact that he should receive the lion’s share of the playing time at defensive end, Hayes is poised to have a monster year in 2020, which should dramatically improve his draft stock from where it was last season.