Michael-Floyd

Floyd’s NFL decision not so cut and dry

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It’s not like we didn’t see this coming.

From the first Saturday Michael Floyd stepped on the field at Notre Dame, he looked the part of an NFL wide receiver. Whether it was the freshman records he set in touchdowns, receptions and yards, the pure ball skills that make him a red zone match-up nightmare, or the NFL-ready physicality, everybody that’s watched Floyd play these last three seasons knew there was a very real chance that Floyd only spent three seasons in a Notre Dame uniform.

So as the Irish go through their last-minute preparations for the Sun Bowl, the Notre Dame coaching staff and the Irish faithful are bracing for the very possible reality that Michael Floyd will be playing his last game in an Irish uniform this Saturday.

Let’s take a look at some of the key factors in the decision that lies ahead of Floyd.

THE DRAFT

Let’s deal with the elephant first. Any decision Floyd makes should be based on what he’ll likely get monetarily to forgo his final season at Notre Dame, and all of that is contingent on where he’ll go in the NFL Draft.

Both Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph have asked for evaluations from the NFL Advisory Board, trying to get a better grasp on where they’ll be selected if they enter this spring’s draft as underclassmen. There’s a general consensus among pundits that Floyd’s among the top-five wide receivers in this year’s draft, though he’s closer to the bottom of that grouping than the top, which could mean just about anything when it comes to hearing his name called.

Over the past six years, there have been 21 wide receivers taken in the first round. Three times, six wideouts have gone in the first, once none did. It isn’t hard to do the basic math and understand that Floyd’s far from assured that he’ll hear his name called in primetime this spring. With that type of variance in the first round, let’s take a closer look at the type of wide receivers that heard their names called in round one.

One of Mike’s assets is his physicality. He’s 6-foot-3, almost 230-pounds and on film looks every bit as physical as his size dictates. That said, Floyd isn’t likely to clock in with a blazing 40-yard dash time, making it’ll a little easier to group him with a segment of past round one wide receivers. Without elite speed, it’s pretty easy to look at the past few years and say that if Floyd is going in round one, it’ll be the bottom half of the round, a place where guys like Hakeem Nicks and Dwayne Bowe went, receivers similar to Floyd in both size and speed.

Of course, it isn’t hard to look back at the recent history of Notre Dame skill players in the draft and wonder what that means for Floyd’s future. Whether it was Golden Tate and Jimmy Clausen’s tumble down the board or someone like Brady Quinn, there’s a very real issue of Irish players being over-hyped on draft boards when they make their decisions. To Floyd’s credit, he’s taking the patient approach, and waiting to hear from the advisory board before he makes any decision.

“Right now it doesn’t come into my head,” Floyd said. “A lot of people ask, and my answer doesn’t change for anybody. I still say I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

As if the decision wasn’t hard enough, Floyd and the rest of the underclassmen will have to monitor the NFL’s stalemate for a new collective bargaining agreement, a negotiation that could have major implications on the rookie wage scale and whether or not there’s even NFL football in 2011. There’s a lot of bluster out there right now on what may or may not happen, but for a junior making a jump to the next level, there’s an unprecedented amount of uncertainty.

THE LEGACY

Floyd’s role in Irish lore likely doesn’t play a part in his decision to return to the Irish for his senior season, but if he does, you can all but pencil Floyd at the top of every career mark in the school’s receiving record books.

Right now, Floyd sits fifth in receiving yards and third in receptions in school history, marks that’ll be easily shattered if Floyd comes back for 2011. Floyd is only one touchdown catch behind record holder Jeff Samardzija with 26 on his career, one where he’s missed nine games because of various injuries. (Something NFL teams certainly notice.)

Those injuries and a turbulent three seasons in South Bend all will frame the legacy Floyd leaves behind at Notre Dame. Like his former teammates Tate and Clausen, it’s hard to argue against their statistical brilliance in their short careers. But Floyd would walk away from the Irish after just a so-so season individually, on top of a transition year for a team that clearly struggled to find an offensive identity.

The idea of a legacy for a 21-year-old college athlete is a dizzying proposition, and any status you’ll earn with an rabid fanbase won’t do anything to help pay the bills for both you and your family. (Unless you go the route of guys like Cam Newton, Reggie Bush, and Terrelle Pryor.) The Irish have been snakebit all the way back to Justin Tuck’s early departure, and Floyd’s return would be the first high-profile senior season since Brady Quinn’s.

THE FUTURE

Floyd returning to school likely means he thinks he can boost his draft stock after a resurgent senior season. And if that’s the decision he ultimately makes, it’s pretty easy to support it. Floyd’s averaging a career-low in yards-per catch, and his 10 touchdowns isn’t much of an improvement on his previous two seasons when you consider the games he sat out with injuries. Entering the 2010 season, Floyd was the primary focus of every defense that faced the Irish and his three 100-yard games are less than he put up his freshman season, where he had four.

In 2011, Floyd would return to an offense that loses only Chris Stewart from the Sun Bowl starting lineup, and welcomes back two quarterbacks with significant minutes triggering Brian Kelly’s spread attack. He’ll have Theo Riddick anchored in the slot, John Goodman and TJ Jones playing on the edge along with some talented freshman and Tyler Eifert (or potentially Kyle Rudolph) occupying defenses at tight end. Add to that equation a competent running game and it isn’t hard to see why Floyd could buoy his draft stock with a prolific senior season in an offense that’ll evolve in season two of Brian Kelly’s tenure.

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Still, if Friday is the last time we see Michael Floyd in an Irish uniform, he’ll leave behind a standard of hard work and dedication for his teammates.

“Michael Floyd is somebody that impacted our entire football team,” Kelly said. “He set a standard from my perspective, of how you want champions to practice and prepare. What he leaves is a standard I can point to moving forward: That’s how you prepare, that’s how you practice. Look at Michael Floyd.”

While it’d be fun to have Michael Floyd in the blue and gold for another autumn, you can’t blame him either way.

Path to the Draft: Will Fuller

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 14: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on November 14, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won 28-7. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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Part two of a seven-part series looking back at Notre Dame’s impressive 2016 draft class. 

 

Will Fuller
No. 21 overall to the Houston Texans

For as much flack as Will Fuller took from the moment he declared for the NFL Draft until his named was called after Houston traded up to land him with the 21st pick, most of it missed the biggest story of them all. We were talking about Will Fuller.

Perhaps Notre Dame’s least likely All-American since Shane Walton ditched his soccer cleats for the gridiron, Fuller was an unlikely superstar, all but a recruiting afterthought who had a mostly anonymous freshman season before two years of productivity never seen in South Bend.

While Fuller ended up a four-star prospect, he was a regional recruit if there ever was one. Pulled away from a Penn State program that was amidst chaos, Fuller picked Notre Dame over other offers from schools like Boston College, UMass, Rutgers, Temple and Delaware. Like Ronnie Stanley, he was another invite to the Semper Fidelis All-American game—a second-tier All-Star game— but on Signing Day, Kelly sounded like he knew that his staff had landed a big-time talent.

“He’s also a young man that we believe that if there’s a guy that flew under the radar a little bit, it was William Fuller,” Kelly said. “The thing that really clearly stands out is his ball skills. He can run and catch the football. Any time that we got a chance to observe him, he was running and catching, just terrific ball skills. We think as he develops physically, he also has that speed, that top‑end speed that can obviously impact football games.”

Kelly’s crystal ball couldn’t have looked more prescient than it did in that moment. While he only managed to make six catches as a freshman, the 46-yard deep ball Fuller reeled in from Tommy Rees after play-action was a sign of things to come.

Fuller’s development was hardly just an arrow up proposition. The drops that had so many draft analysts talking about his hands plagued him throughout both his prolific sophomore and junior seasons. But even amidst that self-inflicted inconsistency, the game-to-game productivity is astonishing when you look at the two-season run Fuller put together.

You can learn a lot about how little analysts have seen Fuller by the criticisms they lay on him. Ted Ginn? Former top-ten bust Troy Williamson? Fuller’s hardly a one-trick pony—playing opposite DeAndre Hopkins won’t just make life easier for the Texans’ Pro Bowler, it’ll allow Fuller to see man coverage and get back to terrorizing defenses in the screen game as well.

Selected at No. 21 as just the second receiver off the board, Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after just his third season looks to be a great one. With a blazing forty time and his lack of size not changing with another season in college football, Fuller struck while the iron was hot after two of the best receiving seasons we’ve ever seen.

Not bad for a skinny kid out of the Philadelphia Catholic League.

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Looking for more discussion on Notre Dame’s 2016 NFL Draft (as well as a bunch of other stuff), here’s John Walters and I chopping it up on our latest episode of Blown Coverage. 

 

Path to the draft: Ronnie Stanley

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #6 overall by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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Your name didn’t have to be Mel Kiper or Mike Mayock to understand that from the moment Jaylon Smith stepped foot on campus at Notre Dame he was destined to be an early-round NFL draft pick. But as the dust settles on the Irish’s impressive 2016 draft haul, a look back at the developmental process of the team’s seven draft picks serves as a wonderful testament to Brian Kelly and the program he has built.

Notre Dame’s draftees come in all shapes and sizes. Fifth-year seniors like Nick Martin. Three-and-out stars like Jaylon Smith and Will Fuller. Consistent four-year performers like Sheldon Day and one-year wonders like C.J. Prosise.

But each followed a unique path to the NFL, one that was fostered by a coaching staff that allowed each athlete to develop at their own pace and ascend into a role where an NFL team thought highly enough to select each player in the first 103 picks of the draft.

Let’s take a trip down (recent) memory lane, as we connect the dots from recruitment, development and playing career as we look at Notre Dame’s seven success stories.

 

Ronnie Stanley
No. 6 overall to Baltimore Ravens

The first offensive lineman selected in the 2016 draft, Stanley’s recruitment saw the Irish find their first bit of success at Bishop Gorman High School, leading the way to Nicco Fertitta and Alizé Jones. A four-star prospect who hovered between a Top 100 and Top 250 player depending on the evaluation, Stanley was invited to the Semper Fidelis All-Star game, a second-tier game that all but signified his status outside of the elite, at least on the recruiting circuit.

That’s not how Notre Dame’s coaching staff felt about him, though.

“He’s probably as gifted of an offensive linemen that we have seen in many years,” Kelly said on Signing Day in 2012.

Stanley proved early that Kelly wasn’t blowing smoke. He saw the field in 2012’s first two games, earning reps against Navy and Michigan before he suffered an elbow injury that allowed him to save a year of eligibility.

But even offseason surgery didn’t prevent Stanley from stepping into the starting lineup, flipping to right tackle and playing 13 games in a very successful sophomore campaign across from first rounder Zack Martin.

Even though Stanley was blossoming into one of college football’s best players, we still openly wondered who would slide to fill Martin’s left tackle spot. (That’s how it goes with offensive linemen, their work only truly appreciated by those with either inside information or a coach’s eye of evaluation.)

In his opening comments before spring practice in 2014, Kelly named Steve Elmer, Christian Lombard and Mike McGlinchey as candidates along with Stanley, so it wasn’t necessarily a lock for the staff yet either. But it took just a few practices for the Las Vegas native to solidify his spot on the left side.

Stanley’s first season at left tackle was so solid that some wondered if there’d be two. While some of the online analysts saw Stanley as a potentially elite draft pick, the NFL Advisory Board came back with a second-round grade, perhaps all Stanley needed as he made his decision to stick around for his senior season. Still, Notre Dame took no chance. Kelly, Harry Hiestand and Jack Swarbrick traveled to Las Vegas to sell Stanley on the virtues of a final season in South Bend.

It worked. With a healthy offseason and weight-room gains needed, Stanley stuck to the script and played a mostly anonymous 2015 season. That was a very good thing—only along the offensive line can All-American honors and being named Offensive Player of the Year be considered ho-hum.

Add in the vanilla off-the-field life, and an elite academic profile that’s a comfort to teams investing millions in a potential cornerstone, Stanley’s placement as a Top 10 pick should have never been in doubt. While he lacked the dominance at Notre Dame that we saw from Zack Martin, he possesses athleticism and a body that Martin wasn’t given—a big reason the Cowboys shifted him inside to guard from day one.

Picked instead of Laremy Tunsil amidst a bizarre scenario that’ll go down as one of the draft’s cautionary tales, John Harbaugh talked openly about his relationship with Harry Hiestand and the comfort that came from Notre Dame’s offensive line coach as they pulled the trigger on Stanley. And Stanley, almost epitomizing that faith that the Ravens showed, all but embodied that when he told Joe Flacco in his first visit to Baltimore that he celebrated his selection by heading back to his hotel room and going to sleep.

Counted on by Baltimore to be a key piece of the puzzle as the Ravens look to rebuild an offensive line tasked with protecting a franchise quarterback in his prime, now it’s up to Notre Dame’s highest draft pick since Rick Mirer to continue his ascent.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.