Notre Dame Football: Power Ranking Irish's Most Important Players in 2012

Sam DrakeCorrespondent IMarch 16, 2012

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 03:  Manti Te'o #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish calls signals against the University of South Florida Bulls at Notre Dame Stadium on September 3, 2011 in South Bend, Indiana. South Florida defeated Notre Dame 23-20.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Every year, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have huge expectations.

Between Lou Holtz picking them as his National Championship winner or the history that lends itself to a winning football tradition, every year the Irish are expected to be one of the best teams in the country.

This year, the team is led by All-American linebacker Manti Te’o and tight end Tyler Eifert. These two players, along with some others, will try to help propel the Irish back into the National Championship picture with the help of their coach, Brian Kelly.



Manti Te’o—Linebacker


Te’o is a beast. There is no other way to describe it. He is extremely athletic and can take on any challenger.  He will be the anchor for the Irish’s defense this season.

Last season, he was not only the best defender for the Irish, but one of the best defenders in the country. He had six double-digit tackle games and one double-digit assist game. He recorded five total sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss.

Do not let his 6’2”, 255-pound frame fool you—when he sees the ball, he bull-rushes the opponent with incredible speed. It is this speed that allows him to cover both tight ends as well as running backs, making Te’o a four-down player next season.

Te'o is also smart. He is the leader of the defense and can recognize tricky coverages and make the necessary adjustments.

Notre Dame is lucky to have this guy back.



Tyler Eifert—Tight End


Eifert is going to be one of the best tight ends in the country next season. He stands 6’6”, 245-pounds and is able to run good, clean routes.

In the 2011 season, he had 63 receptions for 803 yards and five touchdowns. That is an average of 12.7 yards per catch.

Since Eifert is so tall, he will most likely be the recipient of many red-zone touchdown passes and will be a nightmare matchup for smaller linebackers who are tasked with covering him.

Also, since Michael Floyd decided to enter the NFL, Eifert has become one of the most experienced receivers on the team and the leading returning receiver. The only question is who will be throwing passes to Eifert?

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 03: Tyler Eifert #80 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is pursued by Sam Barrington #36 of the University of South Florida Bulls at Notre Dame Stadium on September 3, 2011 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty I
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images


Davonte Neal—Athlete


Neal will only be a freshman this coming fall, but he already has had a ton of hype built around him.

He was rated a four-star recruit by rivals and a full five-star by ESPN. He has the ability to play receiver, running back or defensive back. He has a 40-yard dash time of 4.4 seconds, which makes him fast enough to play almost any skill position.

In high school, he rushed for 1,317 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns while hauling in 1,113 receiving yards and 14 more touchdowns. He will bring great athleticism to the Irish, who will need a play-maker.



Amir Carlisle—Running Back


Carlisle has officially been cleared to play for the Irish next season. The USC transfer had an injury-plagued 2011 season for the Trojans, and only carried the ball 19 times for 118 yards. He will provide immediate gains for the Irish running game next season.

Carlisle is a speed back who doesn't exactly play power football. He has great ability to cut with the football and change direction rapidly. He has great breakaway speed and pretty good hands for a running back.

Carlisle will most likely share carries with Cierre Wood, but it is not out of the picture to see Carlisle getting the bulk of the carries toward the end of the season. He has too much speed to be kept on the sidelines.

If Brian Kelly can find a stable quarterback for the 2012 season, then it is not difficult to see the Irish playing in a BCS bowl game with their stingy defense and their offensive unit full of explosive skills players.