Irish running back Wood runs for a 68 yard touchdown against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during the first half of their NCAA college football game at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend

Cierre Wood will enter the NFL Draft

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In one of the worst kept secrets surrounding the Notre Dame football team, running back Cierre Wood has declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft, bypassing his final year of eligibility with the Irish. Wood sat out his freshman year before leading the Irish in rushing in two of the last three seasons, including an 1,100 yard campaign in 2011. ESPN’s Joe Schad reports that Wood was told he could be a third-round pick, a slot the graduating senior hopes to improve in the months leading up to the NFL scouting combine.

In Wood’s three seasons at Notre Dame, he never averaged less than 5.1 yards per carry, and his senior season included a healthy 6.5 average. Yet Wood lost the role of primary back to Theo Riddick this season, with Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin choosing the converted receivers versatility and north-south style over Wood’s better pure runner skills. During Wood’s 2011 season, where he led the Irish in rushing, he also ceded primary ball carrier duties to Jonas Gray, who burst onto the scene during a phenomenal senior season before a major knee injury.

There is plenty to like about Cierre Wood the NFL prospect. He’s expected to run an impressive 40 yard dash, and shows great elusiveness for a running back that’ll likely weight close to 220 pounds when he performs for NFL scouts. He doesn’t have a ton of wear and tear on him either, as he’s shared the load in each of the past three seasons. His versatility will also be an asset, while he wasn’t featured much in the pass game this season, Wood caught 47 passes over his first two seasons in the backfield, and showed some kick return ability as well.

That being said, Wood isn’t leaving Notre Dame with his stock at an all-time high. Wood’s final two games for the Irish — two key match-ups against USC and Alabama — included a combined stat line of 12 carries for 22 yards. His crucial fumble at the goal line in overtime against Pitt nearly cost the Irish the game. Add to that some off-field worries after being suspended for the season’s first two games for a violation of team rules, and a fifth year in Notre Dame’s backfield could have given Wood another chance to boost his stock with a big season. Yet Wood’s decision to leave, a decision largely influenced by his young daughter, will open up the Irish backfield this spring.

With Wood and Riddick both departing, the Irish will have to replace the majority of their carries. Yet with George Atkinson and Cam McDaniel both looking very good this season, Will Mahone and Amir Carlisle preserving a year of eligibility, and blue-chip recruits Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston on their way in, there won’t be a shortage of candidates to replace them.

Wood exits Notre Dame with a career stat line of 450 carries for 2,447 yards, a healthy 5.4 yards a carry. He added 16 rushing touchdowns and two receiving. His career best game came at Purdue in 2011, where Wood ran for 191 yards on 20 carries.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”