Skimpy NFL draft awaits Irish

In the last 35 NFL drafts, Notre Dame has averaged 4.7 selections per year, including 24 first-rounders. The Irish have had at least one first-rounder chosen in each of the last three NFL drafts.

In the 2014 NFL draft, Notre Dame was represented in five of the first six rounds (in a seven-round draft) with eight players selected, including first-rounders Zack Martin (OL), second-rounders Stephon Tuitt (DL) and Troy Niklas (TE), and third-rounders Louis Nix III (NT) and Chris Watt (OG).

Since 1980 – a total of 35 NFL drafts – Notre Dame has had 182 players drafted for an average of 4.7 players per year. Twenty-four Irish players have gone in the first round in the last 35 drafts, including at least one (WR-Michael Floyd and S-Harrison Smith in 2012; TE-Tyler Eifert in 2013; Martin in ‘14) in each of the last three drafts.

The high-water mark for Notre Dame players during that time came in 1991 and 1994 when the Irish had 10 players selected in each draft, including the No. 5 overall pick in ’91 – cornerback and new Irish secondary coach Todd Lyght – and three first-round picks in ’94 – Bryant Young (DL), Aaron Taylor (OL) and Jeff Burris (S).

The greatest influx of talent from Notre Dame to the NFL came during the Lou Holtz era (1986-96) when the Irish had at least eight players selected per year and a total of 46 in a five-year span (1990-94).

Regardless what happens in the 2015 draft – a three-day event in Chicago from April 30-May 2 – Notre Dame’s average over the last 35 years will not be met with just three eligible players: TE-Ben Koyack, WR-DaVaris Daniels and K/P-Kyle Brindza.

When the annual NFL Scouting Combine concluded last week in Indianapolis, the three former Irish players were about where they were projected heading into the event.

The highest player on the board is Koyack – a projected third or fourth rounder – who generally is considered among the top four or five tight ends available. Koyack, who measured/weighed at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, chose not to participate in any of the strength/speed/athleticism drills conducted at the combine. He will instead test in those areas at the March 31 on-campus Pro Day.

Clinging to hope of a late draft selection is Daniels, who missed the 2014 season due to academic suspension, but put up noteworthy numbers (49 receptions, 745 yards, 7 TDs) during his red-shirt sophomore season in 2013.

At 6-foot-1 and a bulked up 201 pounds, Daniels appeared to catch the ball well in the passing drills, but his best 40-yard dash time was 4.62, which ranked well down the list of the 40 wideouts who were invited to the combine. He did 13 bench presses of 225 pounds, measured 37 inches in the vertical jump, and measured with nine-inch hands. projects Daniels in the sixth-to-seventh round.

Brindza, at a robust 6-foot-1, 236 pounds, was among the top kickers in a small group at the combine. He showed good strength with 14 bench-press reps of 225 pounds, but it’s his accuracy that will come under question after a relatively sporadic three years, particularly in his final season in ’14 when Notre Dame struggled with operational issues.

Brindza will be given a chance in someone’s camp, but it is unlikely he’ll be drafted at a position that thrives on free agency.

Since the inception of the NFL draft in 1936, Notre Dame has had at least one player chosen ever year except 1937.

This will rank as one of the skimpier years for the Irish, joining 2011 (TE-Kyle Rudolph 2nd round), 2009 (S-David Bruton 4th), 2006 (TE-Anthony Fasano 2nd, WR-Maurice Stovall 3rd, OG-Dan Stevenson 6th), 2005 (DE-Justin Tuck 3rd, TE-Jerome Collins 5th) and 2000 (QB-Jarious Jackson 7th).

Working in Daniels’ favor is the great demand for wide receivers. A total of five receivers were chosen in the first round last year, 12 in the first two rounds and 33 overall.

There’s an even greater premium on tight ends. Only one was chosen in the first round last year (North Carolina’s Eric Ebron), four in the first two rounds and nine overall.

Only two kickers were drafted last year, both in the seventh round.

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