Notre Dame football is in search of its next star on the defensive side of the football; there are a few options that could step up for the Irish. With the last bonafide star Kyle Hamilton currently in the NFL, who could be the next star on defense for the coach Marcus Freeman?
LB Jaylen Sneed
With Michael Mayer moving on, Jaylen Sneed will be the last remaining 5-star player on the roster. While stars aren’t everything, as we’ve seen year after year with Notre Dame football, programs constantly landing the top classes are consistent playoff contenders.
Sneed was a 247Sports composite 5-star in the class of 2022 out of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The linebacker is a solid 6’2″ and 215 pounds with some reliable speed and athleticism for the linebacker position. While he struggled at times in his true freshman season last year, all he needs is a bit of time to get acclimated to his role.
He has the talent and athleticism to be a true difference-maker on the field for the Irish. Jaylen played in parts of four games this past season, thus preserving an extra year of eligibility while gaining some experience. He tallied seven total tackles and a half tackle for loss in his limited playing time on the defense. While the linebacking group for the Irish was full of veterans this year, they need to add a higher ceiling to the group, and Sneed will do just that.
CB Benjamin Morrison
While he has already started his ascent to stardom, Benjamin Morrison could take an even bigger leap next year. Get this, his best game this year was also arguably his worst overall game in terms of receptions allowed. Against Clemson, Morrison was clearly the target of the Tigers’ gameplan as he was targeted 13 times and gave up 7 receptions. However, he stood firm and picked Clemson off twice, including a pick-six en route to his breakout performance of the year.
While he had an impressive 6 interceptions on the season, Morrison can still improve in some areas. He missed 6 tackles on the year, and while PFF gave him an overall coverage grade of 82.2, his tackling grade was 62.5. By all accounts, Morrison is as hardworking as anyone on the team, and I expect even better things from the young standout next season.
S Xavier Watts
Xavier Watts may be the most important secondary player next year. With Brandon Joseph moving on from Notre Dame football and not much experience outside DJ Brown, Watts must step up. In nearly the opposite style of Benjamin Morrison, Watts is a superb tackler that could benefit from becoming better in coverage. Xavier had 32 tackles on the season with just 3 missed tackles, all of which came in the first two contests.
PFF graded Watts at 82.8 in the tackling category and 55 in coverage. If there’s one area he has struggled with, it’s been learning the nuances and playing the position itself. However, given his transition from wide receiver and still being very early in his safety career, I expect even better play from Watts next season. It may be more challenging for Watts to vault into stardom, but it’s more than possible if he becomes a bigger defensive playmaker.
The question will be whether the Notre Dame football program finds its next star from the current ranks or incoming freshmen. Maybe nobody is ready to take that star leap yet, but let’s hope someone steps up for the team’s sake.