Koyack lone ND certainty in NFL draft

Ben Koyack put together a solid senior season with the Irish. But his average speed, strength at the Indianapolis Combine – even in a weak year for tight ends – likely puts him in the mid-to-late rounds of this weekend’s NFL draft.

Not since the spring of 1977 has Notre Dame gone without a player selected in the NFL draft. The streak of consecutive years with at least one player drafted should reach 38 straight years this weekend (Thursday through Saturday) when the NFL holds its annual draft.

Tight end Ben Koyack – a likely mid-to-late-round selection – could very well be the only Irish player chosen in the three-day, seven-round draft in Chicago. If Koyack is the only Notre Damer to be selected, it would mark the third time in seven years that the Irish have had just one player picked.

Free safety David Bruton (Denver, 4th round) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (Minnesota, 2nd round) were Notre Dame’s lone selections in 2009 and 2011 respectively.

Of course, when it’s slim pickings for Irish players in the NFL draft, that usually bodes well for Notre Dame the following fall. When the spring of ’77 produced no NFL draft choices from Notre Dame, that meant a bunch of talent was returning to the fold, which led to a national championship in the fall.

When Koyack is drafted – likely on Saturday – he will become the seventh Irish tight end from Notre Dame to be drafted in the last 11 years, joining Troy Niklas (2nd round, 2014), Tyler Eifert (1st round, 2013), Rudolph (2nd round, 2011), John Carlson (2nd round, 2008), Anthony Fasano (2nd round, 2006) and Jerome Collins (5th round, 2005).

As Irish Illustrated has throughout the entire draft process, we called upon long-time NFL/Chicago Bears Director of College Scouting Greg Gabriel to provide the latest on the Irish draft prospects.

• Last Notre Dame TE drafted – Troy Niklas (2014, 2nd round)
• Top projected TE – Maxx Williams (Minnesota, 2nd round)
• Consensus Koyack TE ranking – No. 5 to No. 8
• TEs in 2014 draft -- 10
• Combine –Koyack, who measured/weighed 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, chose not to participate in any of the strength/speed/athleticism drills conducted at the combine. He continued to show that he’s a capable pass catcher and left enough of a positive impression to place him among the top 10 tight ends in the draft.
• Pro Day – Koyack’s 16 bench-press reps of 225 pounds was deemed “terrible” by Gabriel. Added Gabriel: “That means you’re a 320-pound bench-press guy, which for a tight end is not very good.” Koyack’s 4.75 time in the 40 was about a tenth of a second slower than it needed to be in order to compensate for the pedestrian bench-press numbers.
• Teams with TE needs – 1st tier: Denver; 2nd tier: Atlanta, Cleveland, Green Bay
• Most likely landing spot – Cleveland, Round 5
• Gabriel’s take: “I think (between the fifth and eighth tight end) is about right for him. Nothing has changed much since his Pro Day. He’s a 4.75 guy in the 40 and he plays that way. He was never a strong blocker at Notre Dame, although he was better (in 2014). He’s better blocking on the move than he is in-line. He’ll get drafted because he can get open and he has good hands. Other years he might not get drafted at all, but it’s a weak group of tight ends this year.”

• Last Notre Dame CB drafted – Bennett Jackson (2014, 6th round)
• Top projected CB – Trae Waynes (Michigan State, 1st round)
• Consensus Riggs CB ranking – Top 30-35
• CBs in 2014 draft -- 35
• Combine – Not invited
• Pro Day – Riggs ran a 4.45 and a 4.46 in the 40, which is good but not great for a cornerback, and the pulled hamstring at the end of his second run was a real negative. Gabriel called Riggs’ 9-foot, 7-inch broad jump, 33-inch vertical and 13 bench-press reps of 225 pounds nothing special. His greatest asset remains productive tape from his days at Florida and Notre Dame.
• Teams with CB needs – 1st tier: Dallas, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tennessee; 2nd tier: Baltimore, Detroit, Green Bay, Jacksonville, Oakland, San Francisco, Washington
• Most likely landing spot – Dallas, Round 7 or free agent
• Gabriel’s take: “There is his size and in his case, fair or not, you’re going to have a durability question. He missed some time this past year, and then on Pro Day, he runs good on his first time and then he pulls a hamstring on his second. Subconsciously, pro scouts are going to go, ‘What the hell?’ He didn’t go to the combine, and if you didn’t go to the combine, you’ll get drafted if teams bring you in and you get a medical. You’ve got a good chance.
“I do know there are some people who really like him. His tape is good; he’s just a little guy. When healthy, the guy played pretty damn good football.”

• Last Notre Dame WR drafted – TJ Jones (2014, 6th round)
• Top projected WR – Amari Cooper (Alabama, 1st round), Kevin White (West Virginia, 1st round)
• Consensus Daniels WR ranking – Top 40
• WRs in 2014 draft -- 33
• Combine – 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.
• Pro Day – Daniels’ 39 ½-inch vertical jump was an improvement over the combine effort and an impressive number. His improvement to 4.57 and 4.58 in the 40 made him a prospect ascending out of Pro Day. The 11-foot, 1-inch broad jump was “outstanding” according to Gabriel.
• Teams with WR needs – 1st tier: Baltimore, Cleveland, Houston, Miami, Oakland, Seattle; 2nd tier: Carolina, Cincinnati, New England, St. Louis
• Most likely landing spot – Free agent, although the need for receivers always is great and any one of the above-mentioned teams might take a flier. Also keep an eye on Chicago where his father finished his career. His best years, however, were spent in Washington.
• Gabriel’s take: “Haven’t heard anything on him. Could he get drafted late? Yes, but because he didn’t play all last year and when he did play, he was inconsistent, he’s going to be more of a free-agent type guy, and then he’s really going to have to take off once he gets into a camp, starting with the rookie mini-camp. He ran better at the Pro Day, but he’s got no tape from last season.
“He’ll get into a camp for sure, but I’d be surprised if he got drafted, although I can’t say he won’t get drafted. There are always a ton of receivers available. You want guys who are reliable, and Daniels is not reliable.”

Gabriel believes running back Cam McDaniel and kicker Kyle Brindza have a chance to land a spot in a camp as a free agent with the former in a better position than the latter.

McDaniel’s size and average speed will work against him, although his quickness and effort/desire will play well and make him a candidate as a third running back with a main concentration on special teams.

Brindza hurt his chances with an inconsistent senior season and five missed field goals at the combine, but he’ll likely get a camp invite.


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