Brian Kelly

Irish positioned well for the future

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As part of their build up for the upcoming season, ESPN’s Insiders took a look at the health of major programs as they are positioned for the future. While Power Rankings have turned into a staple of just about every daily website, a Future Power Ranking was a cool idea.

The group of Travis Haney, Brock Huard, Tom Luginbill, Todd McShay, and Mark Schlabach broke down the odds for team’s success over the next three seasons. Using a weighted evaluation system, the group used the following formula for future success: Coaching (27.5%) Current Talent (27.5%), Recruiting (15%), Title Path (10%), and Program Power (20%).

From the looks of the group’s evaluation, Notre Dame’s 2012 season was hardly a fluke, but rather precursor of things to come.

Even taking into consideration the loss of Everett Golson and the departure of high profile recruits like Aaron Lynch, Davonte Neal and Eddie Vanderdoes, the Irish come in ranked No. 6 in the future power rankings.

Here’s the Top 10:

1. Alabama
2. Ohio State
3. LSU
4. Florida
5. Michigan
6. Notre Dame
7. Florida State
8. Texas A&M
9. Georgia
10. Stanford

Here’s what ESPN had to say about the Irish:

Coaching (8.0): “Notre Dame could not have a better fit at head coach than Brian Kelly,” says Huard. “He’s shown it on the field and off the field. That’s the most important factor for them for years to come, because it’s a unique situation there, with high standards both academically and athletically.”

Current Talent (6.8): The Fighting Irish scored lower in this category than the other teams in the top 10, but their talent level appears to be on the rise. “I don’t think last year was a one-hit wonder,” says McShay. “In voting for these rankings, I ranked Notre Dame as the fifth-most-talented team coming into this season. I’m not saying they’ll be in the national title hunt year in and year out, but their talent level will give them a chance to be a perennial top-10 team.”

Recruiting (8.2): The Irish’s recent recruiting momentum (ESPN’s No. 4 class in 2013) should continue to improve that talent level. Says Huard: “When you stack up Kelly’s recruiting there to some of the other Notre Dame coaches before him, it’s no comparison.” Luginbill adds: “I really believe that for them to compete at a high level, they’re going to need to upgrade in the trenches and go in to the SEC’s backyard to do it. That’s what they did to land their current crop of defensive linemen — I don’t think people have given them enough credit for that.”

Title Path (8.2): The Irish play the most unique schedule of any team in these rankings, but earned high scores because they play a challenging-enough schedule to earn a title game bid, and don’t have an Alabama- or Florida-like obstacle on the slate each year.

Program Power (8.4): With the Irish’s run to the BCS title game last season, it appears that their on-field play has begun to match the school’s tradition and fan support. “‘Relevance’ is always the word we use with Notre Dame,” says Luginbill. “My response to that has always been that they’ll be relevant when the great high school football players around the country think that they are relevant. You create and maintain that relevance by winning.”

Taking a closer look at the numbers, it’s interesting to see where the Irish slot in among the top ten.

Coaching: T-4 (Behind Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, and tied with Stanford.)
Current Talent: T-9 (with Stanford for last)
Recruiting: 8th (only Georgia and Stanford behind them)
Title Path: 4th (Behind Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State)
Program Power: T-4 (Behind Alabama, Ohio State and LSU)

A quick analysis: It looks like the Irish are well respected in the coaching ranks, slotted behind Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and — huh? — Les Miles. But this panel feels like the personnel on the Irish roster still lags behind just about everyone, though it’s interesting to see another underrated team, Stanford, somehow continues to have their personnel so under-appreciated, yet puts up dominant statistical teams even after their coaching change.

Other rankings of note: Future 2013 opponent Oklahoma ranks 14th, with Bob Stoops now being rated with a 6.6 coaching, quite a fall for a guy that was once thought elite (and still is by some Notre Dame fans). And the demise of USC is almost shocking even when you take into consideration their NCAA sanctions, considering the Trojans were the No. 1 team in the country heading into the season. Lane Kiffin and his staff were awarded a really ugly 4.4.

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.”