Two more former Irish players had their names called in the NFL Draft today, with Robert Blanton and Darius Fleming getting selected in the fifth round of the draft. That makes four players selected from the 2011 squad, joining first-round picks Michael Floyd (#13) and Harrison Smith (#29).
Blanton went with the 139th overall pick to the Minnesota Vikings, joining Smith in the Twin Cities as the Vikings revamp their secondary. Fleming was the 165th pick in the draft, joining Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco squad and a 49ers defense that was already a dominant unit. He’ll join former teammate Ian Williams in the Bay Area.
Blanton’s selection by Minnesota continues a wave of Notre Dame players on the Vikings roster, joining John Sullivan, Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson and Smith. After playing cornerback for the Irish, Blanton’s projected as a safety at the next level, but will likely be given a chance to play corner in the Vikings Cover 2 defense under head coach Leslie Frazier.
Fleming opened some eyes with an impressive Pro Day showing. He’s the first Irish linebacker selected in the draft since Courtney Watson went in the second round of the 2004 draft. Playing with both his hand on the ground as a defensive end and as a ‘Cat’ linebacker in Brian Kelly’s 3-4 system, Fleming has also cross-trained as a inside linebacker in his draft prep, where the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Chicago native profiles. He’ll also have the chance to be an immediate contributor on special teams.
Jonas Gray, who suffered a major knee injury late in the season, still expects to hear his name called in the draft’s seventh round.