Tag: Eric Olsen


NFL Ready? Irish players still aren’t there


With the heart of the NFL draft set for Saturday, a handful of Irish prospects waited to hear their names called. But as rounds four through seven slid by, no Irish players were drafted after the Vikings selected Kyle Rudolph in the second round on Friday. Seven rounds, and only one player from Notre Dame selected. If you’re looking for schools that had a better weekend than the Irish, you don’t have to look far.

In a weird twist of fate, it was Brian Kelly on set with the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen, Charles Davis and Mike Mayock, watching as Ian Williams, Darrin Walls, Armando Allen and a handful of other Irish seniors failed to entice an NFL team to take a chance on them.

For as at home as Kelly seemed on TV, talking about player development and a path to the NFL (definitely not a small-timey performance by BK), it was clear that the marketplace had spoken on Notre Dame’s job of producing football players — mostly under head coaches Charlie Weis, Ty Willingham and Bob Davie — and the results aren’t pretty.

Under Weis, known as an elite recruiter, the Irish had only six players drafted from 2009 to 2011, ranking them 40th in college football, well behind programs like TCU, Utah, Pitt, Brian Kelly’s Cincinnati team, UConn, South Florida, and Rutgers. It’s been almost 20 years since the Irish have had a Top 15 player, when Bryant Young went seventh in the 1994 NFL Draft. (Only Renaldo Wynn, Luke Petitgout, Jeff Faine, and Brady Quinn have been first-round draft picks since Lou Holtz left Notre Dame.)

Here are the recruits signed by Charlie Weis that heard their name called during the NFL Draft.

2009 — David Bruton, 4th Round – Denver Broncos (Three-star recruit)
2010 — Jimmy Clausen, 2nd Round – Carolina Panthers (Five-star recruit)
2010 — Golden Tate, 2nd Round – Seattle Seahawks (Four-star recruit)
2010 — Sam Young, 6th Round – Dallas Cowboys (Five-star recruit)
2010 — Eric Olsen, 6th Round – Denver Broncos (Four-star recruit)
2011 — Kyle Rudolph, 2nd Round – Minnesota Vikings (Five-star recruit)

There’s plenty of ways to analyze that output, but none stack up all that favorably for Weis, the Irish, or their ability to develop and produce NFL-ready players, which goes a long way in explaining why the Irish haven’t played as good of football as their fanbase would expect.

For a coach that recruited players into an NFL system and comes from a lineage filled with Canton-level coaches, there’s no good way to understand Weis’ inability to produce players with the talent he allegedly brought to campus, except to blame his ability to identify and develop high school athletes into excellent college football players.

In 2005, working with a class started by Tyrone Willingham, Weis was able to cobble together a recruiting class 15 strong, rated 40th in the country by Rivals. It produced David Bruton. In 2006, Weis’ monster class of 28 was rated 8th best in the country, but only yielded 6th rounders Sam Young and Eric Olsen. The 2007 class, again ranked 8th in the country, was a little more star-heavy, and produced the best output of the Weis era, with Clausen and Tate going in round two, and Gary Gray looking like he’ll have the chance to get selected next year. The 2008 class has already produced Rudolph, will see Michael Floyd get drafted, and likely see an NFL team take a shot on guys like Dayne Crist, Darius Fleming, and potentially a guy like Kapron Lewis-Moore or Ethan Johnson. (We’ll have the Manti Te’o, Cierre Wood, and Zack Martin conversation later.)

If we want to play the “let’s look back at the recruiting rankings” and draw conclusions, Matt Hinton at the very excellent Dr. Saturday blog does just that. At first glance, the hit-rate that Rivals produced is indeed pretty impressive. But if you’re looking to dig a little bit deeper and maybe even get to the problem of why the Irish (let’s just keep this to the Charlie Weis era) have struggled, consider the process in which Weis assembled a roster.

Of the guys that were drafted out of Charlie Weis’ Irish program, half of them had all but punched their ticket before they got to the program, with Clausen, Young and Rudolph all five-star recruits. Rudolph and Clausen left the program after three seasons, getting the absolute least development from Irish coaching as possible, while a guy like Sam Young — starting every game of his Irish career — never managed to develop into more than just a bottom of the draft type of player, something he probably was when he first stepped foot on campus in 2006. Golden Tate, another three-year player in the Irish football program, ascended quickly, going from a freshman season with only six catches to a 18 touchdown, Biletnikoff Award winning junior year. But Tate’s development as a football player was far from complete, struggling in his first season in the NFL, failing to have more than four catches in a game or a single touchdown, all while being held off the stat-sheet or out of uniform for five games.  Topping off the problems of the Weis era, only Bruton came from the defensive side of the ball.

As Brian Kelly sat on the NFL Network’s set during Saturday’s draft festivities, he had an illuminating conversation with Mike Mayock, Rich Eisen and Charles Davis about developing NFL-caliber players and winning college football games. Quite simply, it isn’t Kelly’s job to develop NFL players, and he was unapologetic about the fact that the spread offense might not be the best precursor to success in the NFL for quarterbacks. But there’s also a reason that Kelly has had a hand in more players drafted at his two previous coaching stops (Central Michigan and Cincinnati) than Notre Dame has since 2007. It’s his ability to target and develop players for success.

There are far too many reasons why Ian Williams, Darrin Walls, and Armando Allen didn’t get drafted, and blaming coaching transition, poor player development, or underachievement only get you so far. There are also plenty of good reasons why players like Chinedum Ndukwe and Sergio Brown, guys that slipped to the bottom of the NFL Draft or signed via free agency, now have great careers in the NFL.

It’s obviously too soon to grade Kelly’s ability to produce NFL ready talent at Notre Dame, but his ability to look outside the star system and target physical attributes is a good look inside his process of finding good football players. For Irish fans looking for a reassuring trend, consider that Notre Dame, with a roster missing Kyle Rudolph, Theo Riddick, Dayne Crist and Ian Williams finished 8-5 with a schedule rated 22nd by Jeff Sagarin. Meanwhile North Carolina finished 8-5 with the 29th rated schedule. The big difference? The Tar Heels had nine players drafted, the Irish had one.

The role of scrappy over-achiever is certainly uncharted territory, but after the last 15 years, it’s one that Irish fans should certainly embrace. Succeeding during NFL Draft weekend? Let’s just call that a nice little bonus.

What to make of the combine

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The big news of the day is that Notre Dame football players Jimmy Clausen, Kyle McCarthy, Eric Olsen, Golden Tate, and Sam Young are in Indianapolis for the annual NFL Scouting Combine, which starts today.

Draftniks and people like Todd McShay and Mel Kiper will talk about the importance of the Combine and give stock reports on athlete’s workouts as if they were publicly traded stock. That’s only partially true, if you look back at what one NFL executive told Peter King.

But while the top of draft boards may already be made up, there is plenty of moving in the middle rounds if an athlete has a great workout. Bruce Feldman had a great interview with Tony Villani, a trainer that works with a small group of elite athletes each year to prepare them for the combine and it’s pretty hard to argue with the results he’s gotten and the importance the combine workouts had for some of his athletes.

All that being said, here’s a quick look at what the combine means to the Notre Dame athletes that are taking part in the annual cattle call.


Clausen won’t work out at the combine because of offseason toe surgery, but Jimmy’s “stock” will rise and fall with his individual meetings. If you watched Clausen play last season, you’re pretty sure he’s got the arm and IQ needed to make all the plays in an NFL offense. More importantly, if you watched the junior quarterback play, you saw a guy mature and become a leader on the field. What these meetings will decide for teams is if Clausen can be the face of an NFL franchise, playing a position that’s got the highest burn rate in the business. He’ll have the chance to talk about football and what he learned in Charlie Weis’ offense, as well as show teams that he’s dedicated to football. Clausen is projected to go anywhere from the top five to the second round, so the combine is the first step of a very important process. A great interview and an elite throwing session, and Clausen should find himself in contention to be the first quarterback taken in the draft.


McCarthy’s production on the field won’t necessarily convince NFL scouts that he has what it takes to play in the league, even if he did put up a record-setting two year run at safety. A combine where McCarthy shows good speed and athleticism is what he needs to do to put together a draft-worthy portfolio. From people I’ve talked to, McCarthy is all over the board. As I’ve expressed before, they wonder about his ability to cover at the NFL level, though his sheer tackling output gives him special teams value, though that might not be enough to get him taken before the final rounds. All indications are that Kyle could have a future in the NFL, it’ll be up to him to prove that he has the athleticism needed to stick. He can do that with impressive running numbers.


Olsen’s invitation to the Senior Bowl and inclusion on a few All-American teams shows that he’s held in high regard by evaluators. It’s important that Olsen shows that his listed size and weight are legit this week, and that his strength numbers are up to par for an interior lineman. A good combine and Olsen could find a team targeting him for his versatility as high as the fourth or fifth round. It also wouldn’t be that surprising to see him slide down into the bottom of the draft or be signed as a preferred free agent. The game film that scouts watch on Olsen will be important, and Olsen’s relative inexperience, his leadership role with the Irish, and the fact that he’s only 21-years-old, make him an intriguing developmental project for an NFL team.


I’m admittedly biased with Golden Tate, but I think he’ll impress teams during the private interviews as well as with his explosiveness during running drills. Tate is anywhere from the first receiver to the fourth receiver on experts’ draft boards, but his ability to produce from multiple positions, as well as his relative inexperience at the position, make him a guy that I expect will come off the board at the end of round one. For Tate to make that decision easier on teams, he’d help his cause by running a forty in the 4.4s. It helps to have players like Jeremy Maclin and Percy Harvin, two wideouts that slid to the bottom half of round one put together very nice rookie campaigns, even without the 6-foot-5 height that many associate with elite receivers. 


You can’t teach a frame like Sam Young’s and the fact that he started every game he played in a Notre Dame uniform has to be appealing to NFL teams. The Chicago Tribune thinks the Bears might target Young in the third round, giving him a chance to start right away opposite Chris Williams. NFL evaluators already got a look at Young at the Senior Bowl, where he didn’t overwhelm anyone, and it’ll be up to him to put together a strong performance to prove he has the athleticism to play on the edge of an offensive line. Young is another guy that could go just about anywhere in this draft. While he may not be the first-round pick many thought he’d be, he’s got the chance to become a solid pro after he hits an NFL weight room and development program.