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Defensive Preview: Predicting The Top Notre Dame Defenders of 2024

Written by Owen O'Connor ⏐ Writer ⏐ Twitter/X: @Ocon54

Photo by The Irish Tribune


As we slowly approach the season, we revisit the topic of predicting the top playmakers for the Fighting Irish this year. After reviewing the offensive side of the ball in our last piece, it's time to view our top projected playmakers for the 2024 Fighting Irish defense. When viewing the 2024 schedule for the University of Notre Dame, it's easy to find many defensive-friendly opportunities to make plays for this team. The Fighting Irish are projected to have a weaker schedule than recent years, even while facing some tough opponents. This also brings high expectations for not only the team, but for some players ready to finally fill their role as the next star of the defense. Despite the predictions on Notre Dame's strength of schedule, there are still some very tough matchups that will test this team well before the potential College Football playoffs.


The first tough battle Notre Dame will face is week 1 in College Station to take on Texas A&M at 7:30 PM on ABC. Not only is this the first test of the season for this program, but arguably the toughest. In a recent article, I discussed how Texas A&M LB, Taurean York, will most likely be a problem for the Notre Dame offense as they try to get the season started in a very loud environment. He will not be the only defender causing trouble on the field, as we expect these Notre Dame stars to answer the call week 1. Take a look at who we are projecting to be the biggest playmakers on the defensive side of the ball for the Fighting Irish this season:



Benjamin Morrison - CB


2023 Stats: 31 TOT Tackles, 0 Sacks, 3 INTs

Projected 2024 Stats: 38 TOT Tackles, 1 Sack, 7 INTs


Benjamin Morrison is currently one of the most talented and experienced defensive players in the Notre Dame program if not the entire NCAA. When looking at his upcoming matchups this season, Morrison is ready to prove he is an NFL-caliber CB worthy of a first-round draft selection. Morrison has the blessing of facing a less competitive offensive slate compared to his previous seasons. Marvin Harrison Jr is one challenge that Morrison answered the call to last season.


When the 2024 season starts, Morrison will have to be at the top of his game right away. In the highly anticipated Notre Dame vs. Texas A&M matchup, Morrison will most likely have to guard Aggies WR Evan Stewart. A young up-and-coming player for A&M who is expected to have a huge role this season. After seeing him make some tremendous plays on the biggest stage for the Irish, there should be no worries about Morrison's matchups this season. Expect him to show scouts why he belongs at the professional level.




Xavier Watts - S


2023 Stats: 52 TOT Tackles, 0.5 Sacks, 7 INTs

Projected 2024 Stats: 57 TOT Tackles, 1.5 Sacks, 5 INTs


Along with Benjamin Morrison, Watts is another top defensive back that South Bend happily welcomed back. During his 2023 campaign, he collected a vast amount of hardware along with some impressive stats. Xavier Watts was honored with being named a Unanimous All-American, the Bronko Nagurski Award winner, & the Notre Dame Defensive Player of the Year. Watts standout statistic comes from his NCAA-leading 7 interceptions, averaging an impressive 0.5 INTs per game. 2 of these impressive turnovers were against 2024 #1 overall pick Caleb Williams. This game against USC was easily his most impressive in a Fighting Irish uniform. He also managed to collect 6 solo tackles, force a fumble, and return it for a Touchdown.


As we look towards week 1, projected starting Texas A&M QB Connor Weigman collected 8 TDs and 0 INTs in his limited time last season. Watts' ballhawk ability against Weigman's limited turnover percentage will be a battle to watch. Thanks to his veteran experience against former elite quarterbacks & wide receivers, this schedule should have defensive players excited. Thanks to his amazing competitiveness and playmaking ability last season, there should be no backward steps taken for Watts.




Howard Cross III - DT


2023 Stats:  66 TOT Tackles, 2 Sacks, 7 TFLs

Projected 2024 Stats: 62 TOT Tackles, 3.5 Sacks, 9 TFLs


One of the bigger Fighting Irish news stories immediately after the 2023 season was the commitment by Cross to stay for another shot at a national championship. Like Watts, Howard Cross was one of the very productive players who was predicted to enter the NFL Draft after a solid year. He managed to collect an impressive 66 tackles, doubling his total from the previous season. He also had an impressive 2 sacks and fumbles each for the defense.


It seems that Cross is in line to be a main interior defensive starter for the Fighting Irish this year. Head Coach Marcus Freeman has officially seen the potential in Cross and is assumed to have influenced Cross's decision to stay. The decision shows that Cross not only trusts his head coach to give him the proper opportunities but also believes in Notre Dame's chances to compete for a national championship. If Cross ends up starting every game this season, expect him to rack up more sacks and forced fumbles for this defense.




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