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Predicting 2022 Notre Dame Returnees

In what has already been an insanely unpredictable couple of weeks since Notre Dame wrapped up their regular season finale at Stanford, the Irish saw their head coach of the past 12 years depart for the head coaching gig at LSU and hired an exciting up-and-coming superstar in Marcus Freeman to take the reins in South Bend. Freeman is an incredibly inspiring coach who has the opportunity to elevate Notre Dame to the ever-elusive championship level that it has been seeking for the previous 30+ years. While much can be said about the manner of Brian Kelly’s departure (I’ll save my rant for another day), he admittedly left ND in quite a good position as a program. Notre Dame is now responsible for five straight 10+ win seasons and has a chance to register the program’s first major bowl win since the 1993 Cotton Bowl under Lou Holtz when it travels to Glendale, AZ to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Fiesta Bowl on January 1. A big win in the Fiesta Bowl would be a great springboard to the 2022 season, the first under Coach Marcus Freeman. In case the Fighting Irish Media videos were not enough to get this point across, Coach Freeman is the ultimate motivator and has the complete respect of his players. They pushed hard for him to take over after Coach Kelly left, and they want to do everything possible to allow him to succeed. With 2022 on the mind, I’ll take a look at possible returnees for the 2022 Irish roster and give my best shot at predicting who will come back to be key pieces in the first full season of the Freeman Era.

Given the unique nature of last year’s COVID season, the NCAA granted a blanket waiver to all athletes that allows them to retain a year of eligibility regardless of whether they participated in the 2020 season.  Because of this, almost every player on Notre Dame’s roster is technically eligible to play next season. Here are my crystal ball predictions for all questionable returnees for Notre Dame’s roster:

Out of Eligibility (4) – Jack Coan, Jonathan Doerer, Kurt Hinish, Cain Madden – These “super seniors” used this season to exhaust their COVID waiver eligibility, and all performed admirably in their roles after a rough start to the season.

Jayson Ademilola – Ademilola shined at DT this season while tying for the team lead in TFLs with 8.5. Jayson might have been leaning towards moving on from ND before the coaching change, but the Freeman Factor might motivate him to come back to help lead the team in Coach Freeman’s first full season Prediction: Returns to ND

Justin Ademilola – The other half of the Ademilola dynamic duo had a breakout year in 2021 and finished 2nd on the team with 5.5 sacks. He should be back next season and will continue to wreak havoc in opposing backfields. Prediction: Returns to ND

Kevin Austin – The hype around Kevin Austin in recent years was finally realized in 2021, with Austin stepping into the #1 receiver role and working to stay healthy throughout the entire season. Austin led all Irish receivers with 6 TD’s and 783 yards, but seemed to struggle against top-flight defenses. Austin can certainly boost his draft status with a return to ND, but his injury history makes this one tricky. Prediction: Coin Flip

Bo Bauer – Bauer has been the “hype man extraordinaire” during his four seasons in South Bend, getting in on almost every special teams play over the years and most recently splitting time with Drew White at MLB. Bauer finished the 2021 regular season 4th on the team with 45 tackles. If White chooses to move on, Bauer could finally have a shot to hold down the Mike position full time. Prediction: Coin Flip

TaRiq Bracy – Bracy bounced back from a rough 2020 to secure a regular spot in the DB rotation, bouncing from nickel back to the occasional field CB spot. Bracy will likely find himself in a similar role if he chooses to return, or he could explore possible starting CB options elsewhere. Prediction: Coin Flip

DJ Brown – Brown filled in admirably for Kyle Hamilton during a very important stretch run against pass-inclined USC and North Carolina before losing his starting role to Ramon Henderson down the stretch. Look for Brown to explore his grad transfer options in the offseason. Prediction: Will Not Return

Avery Davis – The 5th year senior and team captain has done just about everything the coaches have asked him to during his Notre Dame career – moving from QB to RB to DB to WR – so why stop now? He tore his ACL in early November and still finished 3rd on the team in receiving TD’s with four. Davis’s ACL injury will prevent him from participating in NFL pro days this offseason, which could tip the scales towards Davis returning for a 6th year. Davis would certainly be welcomed back with open arms and would provide a reliable presence in the slot. Prediction: Returns to ND

John Dirksen The interior offensive lineman has been a solid depth piece over the years but will likely not crack the starting unit given another year of development for the younger linemen. Dirksen could be a grad transfer candidate for a smaller school if he is looking to finish out his playing career somewhere else. Prediction: Will Not Return

C’Bo Flemister Flemister might as well have been in the Witness Protection Program this year, as he was nowhere to be found. An early season suspension left him behind the 8-ball, and he never really caught up. His 3 carries on the year were a vast disappointment from his flashes of potential in 2020. He’ll be a big time grad transfer candidate, perhaps somewhere closer to home in Georgia. Prediction: Will Not Return

Isaiah Foskey The true junior/redshirt sophomore came into the season with high expectations and somehow exceeded them. His 10 sacks and 8.5 TFL’s led the team and helped the Irish defense rack up 40 sacks during the regular season, only one shy of the program record set in 1996. Foskey could enter the NFL draft this year and secure good money, or he could bet on himself and go for Hamilton-level money. Once again, I think Freeman tips the scale towards the latter. Prediction: Returns to ND

Houston Griffith – Griffith already tested the waters in the transfer portal last year before ultimately deciding to return to ND. Griffith has had an up-and-down ND career but ultimately lost playing time late in the year. Prediction: Will Not Return

Kyle Hamilton – The true junior is a future top 5 NFL draft pick and will not leave tens of millions of dollars on the table. Prediction: Will Not Return

Braden Lenzy – Lenzy overcame a slow start to the year and put his injury history in the rear-view mirror in 2021. The former track star flashed his speed in spurts while hauling in 3 TD’s. However, Lenzy’s inconsistencies in route-running were often on display, and he might lean towards taking a grad transfer closer to home to finish out his playing career. Prediction: Will Not Return

Josh Lugg – The 5th year senior was a major presence on the revamped offensive line during the second half of the season and finished second on the OL in snaps played this season. A potential logjam could present itself next season if Lugg returns along with sophomore tackles Joe Alt and Blake Fisher, but Lugg has played inside before and his versatility could prove extremely valuable next season. Prediction: Returns to ND

Paul Moala – Injuries derailed Moala’s once-promising future. He’s a Mishawaka native, so perhaps sticking around won’t be as big of a commitment for Moala. He could provide solid LB depth next season. Prediction: Returns to ND

Jarrett Patterson – Patterson seemed like a lock to head to the NFL draft heading into the season, but things did not exactly go according to plan for the Irish offensive line in 2021. Another year with a veteran offensive line could significantly boost Patterson’s stock. Prediction: Returns to ND

Isaiah Pryor – The 5th year graduate student split time with Jack Kiser at Rover this season while also playing a key role on special teams. The LB room gets significantly more crowded next season as the Irish are expected to sign LB commits Jaylen Sneed, Joshua Burnham, and Niuafe Tuihalamaka next week. Prediction: Will Not Return

Shayne Simon – See Moala, only without the local ties keeping him around in 2022. Prediction: Will Not Return

George Takacs Takacs locked down the backup TE role behind Michael Mayer this season and starred as a featured blocker in various packages. He can return and will likely retain his job as the second TE without much of a challenge. Prediction: Returns to ND

Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa The 5th year senior and captain has been very productive in moving from the interior DL to DE in the offseason. MTA has the heart of a lion and finished 3rd on the team with 6.5 TFL’s. Prediction: Coin Flip

Drew White – The 5th year senior and captain finished second on the team in tackles with 49. White emerged in 2019 as an unlikely 3-year starter and has hinted that he may be ready to move on from football. Prediction: Will Not Return

Joe Wilkins – The depth piece at WR suffered an early MCL injury that kept him out for the season. Wilkins could return and serve in a similar role next year if he chooses to do so. Prediction: Coin Flip

Kyren Williams – The true junior/redshirt sophomore finished up the year with a second straight 1,000-yard season and 17 TD’s from scrimmage. However, his blocking ability, grit, and toughness are the main attributes that stand out to Irish fans. Williams will likely reluctantly leave ND to head to the NFL and earn his much-deserved pay day. Running backs unfortunately have a short shelf life, but Kyren will go down as one of the best Notre Dame RB’s of the modern era. Prediction: Will Not Return