Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s Top 10 Returning Players in 2024 Include Howard Cross III, Benjamin Morrison

    These top 10 returning players can put Notre Dame in playoff contention as the Fighting Irish has plenty of talent to call upon in 2024.

    The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have a spot in the College Football Playoffs in their minds and return an abundance of talent to help their cause in 2024.

    Despite losing experienced players to the NFL, Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman has young talent and these top 10 returning players to fill the void for the Fighting Irish.

    Notre Dame’s Top 10 Returners in 2024

    Analyzing the returning players at every school is a difficult task in the transfer portal area. As such, we’ve included transfer-portal athletes on each team’s roster page to open spring camp in addition to the rostered players from last year.

    10) Kris Mitchell, WR

    Kris Mitchell moves to South Bend from FIU, bringing across experience and production. The explosive wide receiver has the deep play threat to add a needed dimension to the Irish offense, especially with Chriss Tyree no longer with the program.

    2023 was Mitchell’s breakout year, hauling in 64 catches for 1,118 yards and seven touchdowns with the Panthers. The speedy receiver averaged an impressive 93.2 yards per game, and if Notre Dame can use that potential, Mitchell can be as explosive with the Irish.

    9) R.J. Oben, DE

    R.J. Oben is another transfer portal addition and is likely to replace Javontae Jean Baptiste as a starting defensive end. His five sacks in 2023 would have equaled Jean-Baptiste’s total last season as Oben looks to fill a similar role on the Irish defense.

    In his last three seasons as a starter with the Duke Blue Devils, Oben has registered over four sacks per campaign and has recorded 58 total tackles,18 tackles for a loss, and 13.5 sacks.

    8) Christian Gray, CB

    Christian Gray impressed as a freshman in 2023, playing in 12 games. The Fighting Irish corner is now primed for a more significant role in 2024 after excelling in coverage when called upon as a freshman. Gray played just 198 snaps last season but showed enough that he should be trusted with a starting role.

    The ascending cornerback was clutch when asked to step up in big moments in 2023 and gave up just seven completions all season. Gray should give the Fighting Irish another athletic, quick boundary corner who can thrive in man coverage. Notre Dame loses Cam Hart to the NFL Draft, but Gray can step up and fill the void in 2024.

    7) Jack Kiser, LB

    Jack Kiser is one of the top returning linebackers in the nation and was one of the stars of the Notre Dame defense in 2023. Despite being behind Marist Liufau and JD Bertrand on the depth chart, Kiser made impact plays on defense and special teams and was named 2023 Notre Dame Special Teams Player of the Year.

    Kiser put up 62 total tackles, 1.5 for a loss, 1.5 sacks, one interception, one pass deflected, and one forced fumble last fall. With an increased role in 2024, Kiser will be a leader on the Fighting Irish defense and a called-upon veteran, having played in 50 career games in his four seasons in South Bend.

    6) Mitchell Evans, TE

    Mitchell Evans finished the 2023 season with 29 receptions for 422 yards, good enough for second on the team despite only playing eight games. With Tyree transferring out, Evans is the most productive pass catcher remaining on the Irish roster.

    MORE: 2024 Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football Roster

    An ACL tear ended Evans’ season. However, he showed that he can be one of the top tight ends in the nation. The TE factory at Notre Dame has churned out another great player, and number 88 is expected to have a great year in 2024.

    5) Rylie Mills, DT

    The defensive line is a bright spot for Notre Dame, and it starts with their stars on the interior. Rylie Mills announced his return for 2024 and, despite being incredibly impressive, still has the talent level to grow.

    In his first year exclusively as a defensive tackle (after splitting time between the edge and interior early in his career), Mills had 47 total tackles, 5.5 for a loss, 2.5 sacks, and two fumble recoveries.

    That production has the chance to improve in 2024 as the powerful, explosive, and athletic DT locks down a starting spot on one of the nation’s top interior defensive line depth charts.

    4) Xavier Watts, S

    Xavier Watts had an outstanding 2023 season, gaining national recognition as one of the top safeties in the sport. The standout playmaker returns to South Bend for his final year of eligibility after winning the Bronko Nagurski Award.

    In 2023, Watts had 52 total tackles, three for a loss, seven interceptions, four passes deflected, and a touchdown. His outstanding year was epitomized by two picks against Caleb Williams and USC, and his seven interceptions led the nation.

    3) Riley Leonard, QB

    Riley Leonard transfers to the Irish from Duke and will replace the outgoing Sam Hartman as the starting QB in 2024. The former Blue Devil passer has already caught the eyes of NFL scouts and is looking to put an injury-affected season behind him.

    In 2023, Leonard only played in seven games, completing 95 of his 165 passes for 1,102 yards, three touchdowns, and three picks. However, 2023 doesn’t tell the whole story. A year before, the former Duke standout completed 250 of his 392 passes for 2967 yards, 20 touchdowns, and six interceptions.

    Expected to hit the ground running in South Bend, Leonard is an essential addition for Freeman and the Irish, who look to make the expanded playoff format in 2024.

    2) Howard Cross III, DT

    Howard Cross III put together the most productive year of his career in 2023 and looks to be one of the top interior defensive linemen in the nation heading toward the 2024 season. The DT was the master of consistency throughout the year and flashed supremacy on the Irish front.

    With 66 total tackles, seven for a loss, two sacks, two passes deflected, and two forced fumbles, Cross was named to CFN’s 2023 Honorable Mention All-American Defense and can be even more effective and explosive in 2024.

    1) Benjamin Morrison, CB

    Benjamin Morrison, one of the top returning cornerbacks in the nation, returns to the Irish with a big future ahead of him. Over his two seasons at Notre Dame, the elite CB has proven his production, intelligence, and athletic profile, which has him on NFL radars.

    Morrison was named CFN’s All-Independent Cornerback of the Year and was a Thorpe Award semifinalist in 2023 after recording 31 total tackles, 3.5 for a loss, three interceptions, and a team-leading 10 passes deflected.

    KEEP READING: 2024 FBS Independents Weekly Football Schedule

    If Morrison can put together another season like his first two, you can expect to see his name in early 2025 NFL mock drafts.

    College Football Network has you covered with the latest news and analysis, rankings, transfer portal information, top 10 returning players, the 2024 college football season schedule, and much more!

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