Notre Dame Football: Ranking the 5 Best Offensive Weapons for the Fighting Irish

Connor Killoren@@Connor_KillorenSenior Analyst IMay 13, 2013

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 07:  Everett Golson #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs with the ball against C.J. Mosley #32 of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the 2013 Discover BCS National Championship game at Sun Life Stadium on January 7, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

With his sterling reputation as a head coach capable of developing explosive, high-octane offenses, current Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has been incredibly efficient in luring elite offensive talent to campus.

And with the finalizing of his fourth full recruiting class at Notre Dame, Kelly has stockpiled a bevy of offensive weapons to power his up-tempo spread offense.

The most lethal of those weapons will headline the 2013 edition of the Irish offense, one that is tasked with continuing a glowing program tradition.

Troy Niklas, TE

Throughout the 2000s, Notre Dame has earned the label of "Tight End U," producing four NFL tight ends—Anthony Fasano, John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert.

Eifert is the most recent of the quartet to have entered the professional ranks, leaving his job and the duty to perpetuate the success of the position to Troy Niklas.

Originally recruited to Notre Dame as a linebacker, Niklas was approached about a move to tight end in January 2012, and he hasn't looked back since.

At 6'7" and 250 pounds, the Servite, Calif., native is a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators. Used primarily as a blocking tight end in two-tight end sets a season ago—the Irish's main receiving threat—Niklas didn't compile any eye-popping statistics, finishing the season with just five receptions for 75 and one touchdown.

But as the Irish's No. 1 tight end entering the 2013 season, expect Niklas to compete for the team lead in receptions and receiving yards as Eifert did a season ago.

Everett Golson, QB

Serving a redshirt year during the 2011 season, Irish fans were forced to patiently—or impatiently—wait for Golson's opportunity to usurp Tommy Rees, who had become rather unfavorable in the eyes of the fanbase.

Fast forward to 2012, and Golson not only won the starting job, but led Notre Dame to its first appearance in college football's championship game in 24 years.

While struggling with inconsistent play early in the season—he was benched in the second quarter of a 13-6 victory against Michigan in Week 4—Golson displayed an improved grasp of the offense on a weekly basis.

From a statistical standpoint, Golson was far from impressive, though.

The Myrtle Beach, S.C., native amassed 2,405 passing yards while completing just 58.8 percent of his passes. Golson also finished the 2012 season ranked 74th nationally in passing efficiency, meaning the 6'0", 185-pound quarterback requires vast improvement in his decision-making.

Concisely, making smart throws on a consistent basis is an area of Golson's play to keep an eye on.

George Atkinson, RB

Used primarily as a change-of-pace back during his first two seasons on campus, Atkinson's opportunity to step into the lead role has finally emerged.

Former backs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick have taken their talents to the NFL, leaving Atkinson as the most experienced back on the depth chart. As the third option in the rotation last season, Atkinson accumulated 361 yards on 51 carries, good for an average of 7.1 yards per rush.

Atkinson's blazing speed goes without question—he recently left his post as a sprinter with Notre Dame's track and field squad to focus solely on football—but his effectiveness as an every-down back has come into question.

The 6'1", 217-pound Atkinson is a stiff runner who hasn't proven the ability to run between the tackles.

Because he lacks the elusiveness and fluidity of a true feature back, expect Kelly and offensive coordinator to employ a committee approach at running back in 2013. 

DaVaris Daniels, WR

After redshirting as a freshman in 2011, Daniels was on the verge of a breakout before a shoulder injury suffered put a halt on his rapid ascension.

Despite the injury—Daniels was ruled out for the final two games of the 2012 regular season—the 6'2", 190-pound Vernon Hills, Ill., product proved his worth against Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game.

Against a stingy Crimson Tide defense, Daniels racked up six receptions for 115 yards, allowing him to finish the season ranked third on the team in receiving yards with 490 on 31 receptions, which was good for an average of 15.8 yards per catch. 

Barring injury or any other unforeseen occurrence, Daniels will be a starting receiver for the Irish in 2013, along with the fifth member of this list.

TJ Jones, WR

The only four-year starter of the Kelly regime at Notre Dame, Jones returns for his senior season after having tied for the team lead in receptions with Eifert in 2012.

Jones and Eifert each recorded 50 receptions, with Jones falling 36 receiving yards short of the team lead: 649 to go along with four touchdowns. Yet as a fourth-year starter, Jones will be the Irish's No. 1 receiving threat.

That's a tall order for a player who has managed to fly under the radar for the majority of his career behind former receiver Michael Floyd and Eifert.

How Jones molds into the lead role at receiver will be a determining factor in the successes of the Irish passing game.


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