NFL Draft shows Irish talent on the rise

27 Comments

While draft day might have been disappointing for some graduating Notre Dame players, it’s far from that when you’re looking at the overall health of the football program. The six Irish players drafted last week is another data-point that shows the talent on the roster, and the health of the program, is on the rise. After years of underachieving or overassessing the talent on the roster, the Irish had a performance on draft day befitting a twelve-win football team.

In the past, top recruiting classes inked by Irish coaching staffs rarely turned into NFL Draft picks. But over the past two years, the Irish are churning out draft picks — and high ones as well — at the level of an elite college program.

Outside of SEC programs Alabama, Georgia, LSU and South Carolina, only Florida State and Oklahoma have had more draft picks over the past two seasons. The Irish’s three first round draft picks — Michael Floyd, Harrison Smith and Tyler Eifert — were only bested by Alabama, who stands alone at the top of the personnel pyramid with seven first rounders the past two seasons.

To take a closer look at where the Irish stood this year, let’s look at the draft selections of the top fifteen programs in the final AP poll. We’ll look at both number of players selected and top 100 draft picks.

FINAL AP POLL
1. Alabama: 9 picks (5 top 100)
2. Oregon: 5 picks (3 top 100)
3. Ohio State: 3 picks (1 top 100)
4. Notre Dame: 6 picks (2 top 100)
5. Georgia: 8 picks (4 top 100)
6. Texas A&M: 5 (3 top 100)
7. Stanford: 3 (1 top 100)
8. South Carolina: 7 (1 top 100)
9. Florida: 8 (4 top 100)
10. Florida State 11 (5 top 100)
11. Clemson: 4 (1 top 100)
12. Kansas State: 3
13. Louisville: 0
14. LSU: 9 (6 top 100)
15. Oklahoma: 6 (1 top 100)

Credit should be given to not just Brian Kelly, but Charlie Weis. The ten players drafted over the past two seasons were recruited by Weis and developed by Kelly. After too many underwhelming results coming from celebrated recruiting class, we finally saw the merging of top-shelf recruiting and excellent player development.

Even better news for the Irish is what looks to be the future. As we finally exit the multi-month march that has become draft season, some “experts” have started to look forward and take their stabs at way-too-early prospects for the 2014 draft. And they are usually filled with Irish players.

One name most ID as a sure-fire first round pick is Louis Nix. As the microscope gets closer and closer, Nix will need to answer questions about his conditioning and combine measureables, but game tape and production, not to mention scarcity at his position, make Lou all but likely to leave behind his fifth year at enter next year’s draft after graduating and hear his named called in the first round.

While he won’t be ready to graduate, Stephon Tuitt also will have a decision to make. Most eyes are on South Carolina’s Jadaveon Clowney as the draft’s most dangerous defensive end, but some teams might actually prefer the skillset Tuitt possesses. At 6-foot-6 and over 300 pounds, Tuitt is a prototype 3-4 defensive end, possessing pass rush skills but also the bulk and versatility to play anywhere along a defensive front. Tuitt is on the record (and just as importantly, so is his mother) that he’s staying four years and graduating, but any decision will likely be made after next season.

With Nix and Tuitt ranked as the No. 1 and No. 2 defensive tackle and end respectively, here’s a quick look at CBS Sports’ positional rankings for the NFL Draft, which will likely change completely by this time next year:

Zack Martin – #4 OT
TJ Jones – #4 WR
Bennett Jackson – #5 CB
Chris Watt – #9 OG
Prince Shembo – #11 OLB
Dan Fox – #13 ILB

Players like Danny Spond and Carlo Calabrese could likely work their way into the draftable conversation as well, and a guy like Chris Watt looks underrated at first glance.

Of course, all of this is a long way from happening, and speculation like is more often ends up laughable than prescient. (Remember when Brian Smith was the No. 2 outside linebacker on Mel Kiper’s board? Or Matt Barkley being the lock for the No. 1 pick in August?)

But it also serves notice that the Irish football program is much closer to an elite program than many people think.