One of the most respected college football preview magazines sees a successful immediate future for Notre Dame’s offensive line. And an enticing long-term outlook.
Lindy’s Sports ranked the Irish’s offensive line as the top unit in college football heading into the 2022 season. It also dubbed the Irish’s five-man freshman haul as the best offensive line signing class of 2022.
Notre Dame has probable draft picks on its 2022 offensive line and high-end freshmen that might take over for them someday. It earned Lindy’s top spot because it returns most of its 2021 starts and brought in an acclaimed position coach. That was apparently enough to outweigh last year’s bumpy play up front. The Irish’s 2021 line was a below-average unit by national standards, let alone beneath expectations at a place that touts itself as a premier offensive line talent developer.
“The improvement on the offensive line late last season pointed to a promising 2022 — and that was before Marcus Freeman hastened the process by bringing back O-Line coach Harry Hiestand,” Lindy’s preview reads. “All five-starters return, led by Lindy’s preseason All-America center Jarrett Patterson.
“If tackles Blake Fisher and Joe Alt follow the learning curve, Notre Dame could win the Joe Moore Award for the nation’s best line, just as in 2017 at the end of Hiestand’s first stint before he went to the NFL.”
Four — not five — primary starters are back. Right guard Cain Madden, a 13-game starter, exhausted his eligibility. Fisher, though, was the opening day left tackle. He tore his meniscus two quarters into the opener at Florida State and did not return until the Fiesta Bowl, when he started at right tackle.
Alt, Patterson, graduate student Josh Lugg and senior Andrew Kristofic each started at least seven games last year. Lugg has moved inside to guard and is the favorite to replace Madden. Fisher has taken Lugg’s 2021 spot on the right side.
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Patterson, a 34-game starter from 2019-21, is Lindy’s top-rated center in college football. Alt and Fisher earned starting jobs as freshmen and displayed pro potential.
Notre Dame’s 2022 crop is fuel for sustaining strong lines. The Irish’s five-man class included three players ranked in the top 150 of the On3 Consensus, led by tackle Aamil Wagner (No. 79). Interior linemen Billy Schrauth (No. 128) and Joey Tanona (No. 144) were mid-year enrollees. Tackle Ty Chan (No. 293) and interior lineman Ashton Craig (No. 498) round out the class.
All but Craig were four-star recruits. On3’s own rankings have Wagner as a five-star and the No. 29 player in the country.
Other Irish position groups in Lindy’s rankings
Lindy’s also ranked Notre Dame’s defensive line and secondary as the No. 4 group as their respective positions. It named defensive end Isaiah Foskey (second-team) and safety Brandon Joseph (first-team) preseason All-Americans.
Foskey is Lindy’s No. 3-ranked defensive end in college football, while Joseph is its second safety. The former put off Day 2 NFL Draft projections to take a shot at the first round, where he has been projected in early 2023 mocks. He’s the leader of what looks to be another deep and talented Irish defensive line.
“The Irish had the nation’s No. 15 scoring defense last season, and they’ll move into the top 10 if Foskey and interior lineman Jayson Ademilola have anything to say about it,” Lindy’s preview reads. “Foskey’s 11 sacks last season say that he will. Ademilola emerged with 50 tackles, 8.5 for loss and four sacks. There is depth and flexibility across the line for new coordinator Al Golden.”
The secondary’s ranking is a little more curious, even though Joseph brings an impressive track record from his two seasons at Northwestern and looked like a high-impact player during spring practice. He had nine interceptions from 2020-21 and was a consensus All-American in 2020.
Joseph is just one piece, though, and the rest of the unit is largely the same group that was at times a weak spot in 2021 and cratered in the Fiesta Bowl. But it does boast experience. Cornerback Cam Hart had a strong first year as a starter, allowing catches on just 48.5 percent of passes thrown his way. Corner-turned-safety Ramon Henderson’s length and range is an intriguing mix.
Still, the idea of the secondary as a top-five unit nationally right now is based more in belief than proof. There’s some upside to buy into with Joseph, senior year strides from Hart, increased comfort and feel for the game from Henderson, and a bounce-back season from cornerback Clarence Lewis. Fifth-year senior safeties DJ Brown and Houston Griffith are battling Henderson to start.
“Superstar safety Kyle Hamilton is gone, but he played only seven games last season,” Lindy’s preview reads. “A full season of … Joseph would go further to support an excellent cornerback situation, led by Hart, that appears to have added depth.”
Elsewhere, Michael Mayer was Lindy’s top tight end for the 2022 season, but the Irish were not listed as one of the FBS’ 10 best pass-catching units. Lindy’s rated Notre Dame’s two-man tight end class of four-star prospects Eli Raridon and Holden Staes the second-best recruiting class at the position for 2022.