There aren't many college football players in the nation who would deserve their own story if they were to miss a game, but one of the few who does is Notre Dame All-American safety Kyle Hamilton. He might be the first defender chosen in the 2022 NFL Draft, but the Irish will not have Hamilton's services on Saturday against North Carolina and quarterback Sam Howell, the potential No. 1 overall pick in next year's draft. The Irish are 3.5-point home favorites.
On the CBS Sports Big Board for next year's draft, Hamilton is ranked as the No. 3 overall prospect and Howell No. 5. ESPN's Mel Kiper projects Hamilton as the No. 2 overall prospect. Hamilton is projected to go No. 2 overall to the Detroit Lions according to CBS Sports NFL Draft expert Ryan Wilson's latest mock.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior left this past Saturday's win over Southern Cal in the first quarter after falling awkwardly along the sideline while pushing USC star wide receiver Drake London out of bounds on a 29-yard gain.
Coach Brian Kelly said originally there was no structural damage (more tests TK) but that Hamilton is definitely not playing this week: "There's a lot of moving pieces here, but I can tell you there's some confidence here that we'll have him back. Our medical people have done their due diligence. We want to be sure to give everyone a chance to weigh in on this matter."
Last year, Hamilton was an All-American, first-team All-ACC (Notre Dame was in the ACC last season only) and a Bednarik Award semifinalist. He had 63 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and an interception. This season, Hamilton has 35 tackles, four passes defensed and three picks. On Monday, Hamilton was named one of 12 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, which goes to the nation's top defensive back. No Notre Dame player has won the award since it was established in 1986. Junior DJ Brown is expected to start in Hamilton's place.
The Irish (6-1) still have an outside shot of reaching the College Football Playoff but would have to win out convincingly and get plenty of help. North Carolina has been a moderate disappointment at 4-3 and comes off a bye week. Howell has not been quite as good this year, completing 61.1 percent of his throws for 1,851 yards, 18 TDs and six picks.
The Heels hosted the No. 2 Irish last season and lost 31-17. Howell was 17-for-27 for 211 yards and a TD. Kyren Williams rushed 23 times for 124 yards and two scores to lead ND. Hamilton had six tackles but missed the second half due to a targeting penalty.
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