Unexpected boosts

A year ago Notre Dame lost the NFL Draft departure game. Now, not only did the Irish win by getting Ronnie Stanley and Sheldon Day to return, but a handful of opponents next fall will have their own unexpected holes to fill due to draft defections.

The NFL Draft will be a non-event for Notre Dame this spring.

It figures to carry much more weight come fall when the Irish will get a boost from the returns of Sheldon Day and Ronnie Stanley paired with early departures that dot the upcoming schedule. Those early defections range from predictable to surprising to bizarre, but they should all boost Notre Dame’s chances of pushing toward the College Football Playoff.

Half the teams on this fall’s schedule were hit with early NFL Draft departures, including the season’s two opening opponents.

So, as much as the departures at USC may grab the headlines for their quantity and quality, more than the Trojans will be forced to replace talented juniors or even red-shirt sophomores making the NFL jump.

Compared to Notre Dame’s position of losing only DaVaris Daniels early following the receiver’s season-long suspension tied to last fall’s academic misconduct investigation, it’s a good place for the Irish to be. There was no Troy Niklas or Stephon Tuitt departure this year, with Daniels, Ben Koyack and Cody Riggs the only expectant NFL talent to exit the program.

USC lost the most of any opponent in receivers Nelson Agholor and George Farmer, defensive lineman Leonard Williams and running back Buck Allen. That trio of offensive talent combined for 319 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns against the Irish last season. Williams projects as a Top 5 pick.

More interesting is the season’s opening opponents – Texas and Virginia – that got hit in the front seven.

The Longhorns lost defensive tackle Malcolm Brown early after an All-American junior season of 15 tackles for loss, six sacks and eight quarterback hits. He’d started 25 straight games for Texas and ranked as the program’s best defensive player. His departure means Texas loses both opening day starters at defensive tackle and its top defensive end.

Virginia got hit harder by draft departures when junior defensive end Eli Harold and red-shirt sophomore linebacker Max Valles exited. Both were 12-game starters last season as Harold went out No. 10 all-time at Virginia in tackles for loss while Valles tied for the ACC lead among linebackers in tackles for loss with 12.

Combined, Harold and Valles totaled 27 tackles for loss and 16 sacks last season. Their departures mean Virginia must replace five of its top six tacklers and 27 of the team’s 34 overall sacks.

Stanford lost two juniors to the draft in left tackle Andrus Peat, a former five-star prospect who projects in the first round, and cornerback Alex Carter, a Notre Dame legacy. Carter is the son of former Irish defensive back Tom Carter, who played under Lou Holtz and was a first round selection.

Despite losing Peat, the Cardinal still returns four starters along the offensive line and virtually everyone on that side of the ball. His replacement could be former Irish recruiting target Casey Tucker, a high school teammate of corner Cole Luke. The Stanford defense won’t be as fortunate, with Carter’s departure leaving Stanford with just one starter back in the secondary, former Notre Dame target and fifth-year senior Wayne Lyons.

If those were the logical draft departures among Notre Dame opponents, Massachusetts got hit with an odd one in tight end Jean Sifrin while Clemson got dinged with a bizarre roster move in punter Bradley Pinion. That’s right, a punter declared early for the NFL draft despite ranking fourth in average yardage per punt in his own conference. The Minutemen losing Sifrin made more sense considering he posted 42 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns last year, measured 6-foot-7, 250 pounds and is already 27-years old.

Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Navy, Boston College and Temple did not lose a player early to the NFL Draft this off-season.

Brian Kelly has tried to make a living at Notre Dame with his “Next Man In” mantra. That shouldn’t be necessary next season with virtually the entire two-deep back. For USC, Texas, Virginia and Stanford, that talking point is much more applicable.

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