This is my thinking on who the top 25 players at Notre Dame were since the time I started watching. The first one is a no-brainer, but if anyone disagrees with any of the others I would love to hear from you.
1. Joe Montana QB: Who else? Joe Montana is a legend among legends. He wasn’t the biggest, the strongest or the fastest but Montana just had something that few others had. Montana won a national championship at Notre Dame and then the Super Bowl in the NFL. He was a true leader and a guy
you want Quarterbacking your team whether you are ahead or behind.
2. Dave Casper TE: When the NFL changes rules because of your game there is something special about you. Dave Casper was special. I ranked the best Tight Ends at Notre Dame here: Tight Ends
3. Ross Browner DE: One of the most outstanding players in Notre Dame history and also probably the best of the magnificent Browner family. Browner was a 4 year starter in South Bend and a 2 time All American. He won most every award his junior and senior seasons. Browner was a fixture with the Cincinnati Bengals after they picked him in the 1st round in 1978.
4. Tim Brown WR: Brown could be rated #2. Not only did he win the Heisman Trophy while at Notre Dame, he was also a 2 time All American and he won multiple awards. In the NFL, he played 16 seasons and last year was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. One of college football’s greatest players and also the NFL’s greatest.
5. Raghib Ismail WR: The Rocket was a game changer as a receiver and as a return man. He finished 2nd in the Heisman, but probably incorrectly. After making All American in 1990, Ismail signed a record contract to play Canadian Football. After 2 seasons, he returned to the States and played for Oakland.
6. Mark Bavaro TE: One of the greatest Tight Ends in the history of the game. Unbelievably, the
New York Giants drafted him in the 4th round. Some might not agree with this pick because he was at Notre Dame at a bad time in the years of Gerry Faust.
7. Ken MacAfee TE: Another of the greatest Tight Ends in the college game. MacAfee was the most productive at Notre Dame and helped Joe Montana and Ross Browner win a national title in 1977. MacAfee quit in the prime of his career in the NFL to become an Oral Surgeon.
8. Bob Golic LB: The older of the two Golic brothers was an All American in 1977 and 1978 and also a member of the national championship team. Golic played 14 seasons in the NFL with the New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns and the Los Angeles Raiders.
9. Jerome Bettis FB: At 5-11, 255 Bettis was one of the best Running Backs/Fullbacks of all time. Bettis ran for 13,662 yards and he scored 94 Touchdowns. Last year, Bettis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I probably should have ranked Bettis a little closer to number 1 on this list.
10. Manti Te’o: Forget about the internet girlfriend scandal for Te’o, the guy could play some ball. Te’o was an outstanding Linebacker at Notre Dame. He finished 2nd in the Heisman to Johnny Manziel and that was about the only national award that he didn’t win. Te’o currently plays for the San Diego Chargers.
11. Bob Crable LB: Crable was a legendary figure at Linebacker for the Irish. He was a consensus All American in 1980 and 1981 and he was a tackling machine. He was a first round pick by the New York Jets, Crable played 6 seasons in the NFL, but knee injuries cut his career short.
12. Chris Zorich DT/NG: Very intense beast of a man from the Southside of Chicago. Zorich was a 2 time consensus All American in 1989 and 1990. He was also a starter on the 1988 national
championship team. Zorich was a second round pick by his home town Bears and he lasted that long because he wasn’t ideal sized for an NFL Defensive Lineman. He still managed to play 7 years in the NFL and make the Pro Bowl.
13. Michael Stonebreaker LB: Besides having one of the best Linebacking names in the history of the game, Stonebreaker could play. He was a consensus All American in 1988. Stonebreaker did little in the NFL, but that takes nothing away from his accomplishments at Notre Dame.
14. Jaylon Smith LB: Maybe Smith should be ranked closer to the top 10 or even lower. He was an outstanding Linebacker after starting as a true freshman in 2013. Smith started from day one and improved every season. He is expected to be a first round pick this season, but injured his knee in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. He’s 6-2, 240 and an excellent combination of speed and power.
15. Todd Lyght CB: Some may also disagree with my choice of Lyght, but I was always impressed with him in both college and the NFL. He played a lot as a true freshman and then started 3 seasons at Cornerback for the Irish and made consensus All American in 1989 and 1990. He was the 5th pick in the NFL Draft by the Rams and went on to a 12 year career and 37 Interceptions. Lyght is currently the Defensive Backs coach at Notre Dame.
16. Tony Rice QB: Rice did not initially qualify to enter Notre Dame as a freshman. But, he finally made it and became a legend by leading the Irish to their last national championship in 1988. Rice was not the greatest of passers, but did enough through the air and he was a great runner coming out of the backfield.
17. Steve Niehaus DT: A consensus All American in 1975, Niehaus played on the 1973 national championship team. After a great career at Notre Dame, he was the first ever draft pick by the Seattle Seahawks before their first ever season.
18. George Kunz OT: Simply dominating Offensive Lineman and a consensus All American in 1968 after starting in 1967. He was a member of the 1966 national championship team as well. Kunz was the 2nd player picked in the 1969 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons and he was one of the best Offensive Tackles in the NFL for years for the Falcons and later with the Baltimore Colts.
19. Walt Patulski DT: An All American in 1971 and also the winner of the Lombardi Award. Patulski was the very first player taken in the 1972 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. He was not a great NFL player, but the first player taken in the Draft has to be considered for the best player list.
20. Rick Mirer QB: Yes, Mirer was a disappointment in the NFL especially since he was the 2nd man taken by the Seahawks of Seattle. There was a reason that Mirer was taken with the Seahawks
1st pick in the draft. He was outstanding for the Irish.
21. Dave Huffman OL: Huffman was one of 3 brothers that played for the Irish. Dave and Tim Huffman both played in the NFL. Dave Huffman was a Center at Notre Dame and was dominating. He was a second round pick by the Vikings and he played there for 10 seasons.
22. Joe Theisman QB: Backing up Terry Hanratty as a sophomore, Theisman got his chance when Hanratty was injured so he was basically a 3 year starter for the Irish. Theisman led the Irish to some of their better seasons in 1969 and 1970. He finished 2nd in the Heisman voting to Stanford’s Jim Plunkett in 1970. Theisman went to the Canadian Football League before joining the Redskins and throwing for over 25,000 yards.
23. Mike McCoy DT: The 2nd guy picked in the 1970 NFL Draft after being named a consensus All American. McCoy played 11 seasons in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers, the Oakland Raiders and the New York Giants.
24. Luther Bradley DB: Bradley was a 4 year starter from 1973 until 1977. The Irish won the national championship in 1973 and 1977. Bradley was picked with the 11th pick of the first round in 1978 by the Detroit Lions. He was something of a disappointment in the NFL, but he was a star in the USFL.
25. Pete Holohan TE: While Holohan was a Wide Receiver at Notre Dame, he was a Tight End in the NFL and he played there for 12 seasons with the San Diego Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and the Cleveland Browns. While in the league, he caught 363 passes.
Tom Gatewood WR 1970
Larry DiNardo OL 1970
Clarence Ellis DB 1971
Greg Marx DL 1972
Mike Townsend DB 1973
Pete Demmerle WR 1974
Gerry DiNardo OL 1974
Tom Schoen DB 1967
Terry Hanratty QB 1968
John Scully OL 1980
Frank Stams DE 1988
Mirko Jurkovic OL
Aaron Taylor OL
Jeff Burris – DB
Bobby Taylor – DB
Shane Walton – DB
Jeff Samardzija – WR
Golden Tate – WR
Ronnie Stanley – OT
Kyle Rudolph TE
Tyler Eifert TE
Vagas Ferguson RB
Justin Tuck DE
Brady Quinn QB