And so fall the Irish…
After months of speculation and endless debate between Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, Jimmy Clausen plummeted out of the first round of the NFL Draft. So too did his Biletnikoff Award-winning teammate Golden Tate, making two of the most prolific offensive players in college football, and two of Notre Dame’s best offensive weapons in a decade dropping out of the first 32 picks at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
For Clausen, the slip must have been agonizing. A candidate to go to St. Louis with the very first pick of the draft, he was looking at a potential $50 million guaranteed contract. Now the earliest Clausen looks to be selected is with the 34th pick. To compare, last year’s 34th pick, safety Patrick Chung, received a signing bonus of $2 million.
The slip of Clausen wasn’t completely out of the blue. Once Clause slid beyond the San Francisco 49ers at the 17th pick, there wasn’t a team with a glaring need at quarterback. Still, you’ve got to wonder what Clausen didn’t do to be considered worthy of a first round pick.
While many believed Clausen’s background in Charlie Weis’ pro-style offense would be an asset, it turned out to be a hindrance. Like Brady Quinn before him, NFL teams have downgraded a Notre Dame quarterback with a working knowledge of an advanced system and instead chosen to pick a player perceived to have a higher upside. In Quinn’s case, that quarterback was LSU’s JaMarcus Russell, who wowed teams with his size and raw tools, even though he played in a rudimentary offense. For Clausen, it was Bradford, who spent most of his senior season in a sling, and took most his snaps before then from the shotgun in a spread attack. Add in the perceived “character issues” that were touted for four straight months by talking heads like Todd McShay, and Clausen sits unpicked.
Tate’s drop into round two was a bit less surprising, but had similarities to Clausen’s. Even though Tate was recognized as the best wide receiver in college football, and showed a versatility and electricity with the ball in his hands like few others, two wide receivers with questionable production, but perceived upside went before him. Neither Demaryius Thomas, a lanky wide receiver from Georgia Tech with only 46 catches in Paul Johnson’s option offense, nor Dez Bryant, the mercurial Oklahoma State wide receiver that was suspended for the final nine games of the 2009 season for lying to the NCAA, produced close to the results of Tate, but both found themselves taken in the first 24 picks, question marks be damned.
When Clausen and Tate sat next to the recently fired Weis to announce their decision to forgo their final year of eligibilty, it was unlikely either saw even a possibility that they’d be unpicked at the end of the first round four and a half months later. Now they’ll likely be two of the best values of the second round, playing with a contract worth millions less than they originally hoped for. For two Notre Dame students that gave up a final year on the field and in the classroom, it was a costly final class in economics.