Notre Dame Football: 6 Rising Sophomores to Know for Next Season

James ToljCorrespondent IINovember 7, 2011

Notre Dame Football: 6 Rising Sophomores to Know for Next Season

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    There has been a steady stream of contributions from Notre Dame's freshmen this season.

    Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt and George Atkinson III have been the most visible, but who else among the freshman class will have an impact on next season?

    Ahead are six players that have flown under the radar. You won't see Ishaq Williams, Lynch, Tuitt or Atkinson on this list (all of whom will play huge roles next year).

    So, while these guys might not have done enough to grab your attention thus far, they will certainly play a part in improving the Fighting Irish next season.

Chase Hounshell DL

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    There weren't many fans who had Chase Hounshell on their radar before the season started, but this rising sophomore is going to have an impact next year by adding depth to the defensive line.

    Hounshell didn't see a single snap in the first five games of the season, but he made an impression on the coaching staff with three assisted and one solo tackle against Air Force. 

    While Hounshell is nursing a shoulder injury suffered against Navy and missed the game against Wake Forest, once he recovers, Hounshell will be cemented as part of the rotation on the defensive line. 

    Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt will both be ahead of Hounshell in the rotation this year and next at defensive end, but like Tuitt, Hounshell can also play inside (usually in a 4-3 set) and will be a steady contributor for years to come.

Eilar Hardy S

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    Eilar Hardy's preseason knee injury will put him on the sidelines for the duration of this season, but an ESPN article by Matt Fortuna highlighted some good news about Hardy—Brian Kelly stated on his radio show that Hardy will be at full strength for spring practice next season.

    Hardy reminds me of Jamoris Slaughter. A safety that can cover receivers, and he has no trepidation about throwing his body around to lay a big hit on the opposition.

    If Slaughter returns, he will be starting alongside of Zeke Motta at safety, but Hardy will still get to contribute.

    Hardy has a chance to make the two-deep behind Motta or Slaughter, and at the very least, he will be a special teams star.

Troy Niklas LB

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    Troy Niklas has played in every game this season for the Fighting Irish, and he has recorded six assisted and six solo tackles on the year.

    He even got a start at the DOG Linebacker spot against Michigan State in Week 3 due to the absence of Prince Shembo.

    Notre Dame will need to replace Darius Fleming at the CAT linebacker position next season. Ishaq Williams may be the heir apparent to Fleming, but he will have Niklas right on his tail.

    If he doesn't get the starting CAT job, Niklas will definitely get ample playing time backing up Shembo and Williams next year.

Conor Hanratty OL

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    Conor Hanratty has yet to play in his freshman year, but he's listed on the two-deep behind Trevor Robinson.

    With Robinson graduating next year, Hanratty is going to be in the mix for the job at starting right guard.

    Hanratty will have more than enough competition, but his size and brute strength give him a decisive advantage at the position.

    If he doesn't begin the year as a starter, Hanratty may be the next guy up if any lineman were to get injured.

DaVaris Daniels WR

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    Notre Dame standout, Michael Floyd, is heading to the NFL at season's end, and the Irish need someone to step into Floyd's role as a deep-threat and all-around playmaker when Floyd leaves—enter DaVaris Daniels stage left.

    That might be asking Daniels to fill some pretty hefty shoes, but he has all the attributes to do so. The Illinois product is fast, tall and has great hands.

    While no one should expect Daniels to put up the same type of statistics that Floyd did in his first year on the field, it shouldn't take Daniels long to get acclimated to playing at the college level. 

    And Daniels has some sick return skills, too, so don't be surprised if he is next in line to try his hand as the Irish's punt returner.

Everett Golson QB

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    Okay, Golson hasn't exactly flown under the radar.

    In fact, I think it is fair to say that there hasn't ever been this much excitement at Notre Dame around a quarterback rated three stars by every major scouting organization. But after you have seen Everett Golson's high school highlight reel, you'll probably understand why.

    Golson is the perfect fit for Brian Kelly's spread offense. He can make every throw, run an option and sprint for a huge gain when no receivers are open.

    Golson probably won't see the field this season so that he can reserve his red-shirt status, but you can bet he will see the field next year as part of a three-headed monster that includes Andrew Hendrix and Tommy Rees.