Apr 27, 2012, 12:27 AM EDT
After a first round drought in the NFL Draft, the Irish had two players selected in the first round, with Harrison Smith joining Michael Floyd as first round draft picks. The Irish safety was selected 29th overall by the Minnesota Vikings, who traded up to take Smith. He was the second safety selected in the draft.
“Harrison Smith is one of the best leaders I’ve ever had on any of my teams,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “He is an intelligent and instinctual player on the field and a true student of the game off the field. He’ll be a great fit for Minnesota’s defense and I can’t wait to watch his long and successful pro career.”
Smith joins a Vikings team filled with Notre Dame players, joining 2011 second round pick Kyle Rudolph, as well as former Irish center John Sullivan and tight end John Carlson. He’ll be counted on to play immediately in a Vikings secondary picked apart last season, and facing quarterbacks Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, and Aaron Rodgers six times a year.
Smith’s selection in the first round concludes a triumphant finish to a career that had him entrenched in many Irish fan’s doghouses. After redshirting his freshman season, Smith was bounced between outside linebacker and safety under head coach Charlie Weis, and one of the most maligned players on an underachieving Irish defense.
Brian Kelly never wavered about Smith as a player, pairing him with safeties coach Chuck Martin and turning him into an All-American caliber player. The heart of the Irish secondary for the past two seasons, Smith’s athleticism finally matched up with his football smarts, and his on-the-field potential was finally unleashed.
Smith is the highest drafted defensive player since Renaldo Wynn went 21st in 1997. Jeff Burris was the last defensive back selected as high as Smith when he went 27th in 1994 to the Buffalo Bills.