Irish roster nears full bloom

Notre Dame has about a dozen seniors/fifth-year seniors and another 10 or so juniors that – as of this moment – are legitimate candidates for the 2016 NFL draft and beyond.

No wine before it’s time.

In college football, that’s not always true. Sometimes, when the talent is so good and the timing, chemistry and coaching are right, all it takes is for a key play here or a significant break there to launch a run at a national title.

Those who stockpile talent on a regular basis are most inclined to make such a run.

Notre Dame doesn’t stockpile talent, at least not compared to the handful of schools that compete for major bowls/playoffs on an annual basis. But the Irish attract their fair share of superior talent, and thus, when well-coached – which they are under Brian Kelly and his staff – there’s a chance for a double-digit victory season.

To be sure, the graduating Class of 2015 had its fair share of talent when it signed on the dotted line in February, 2011, much of which rose to the forefront of the 2012-14 teams.

Seventh-round draft pick Ben Koyack – the only Notre Damer in this past weekend’s NFL draft -- Everett Golson, Nick Martin, Cam McDaniel and Conor Hanratty on offense; Jarrett Grace and Matthias Farley on defense were/are significant contributors.

But it’s no wonder that for the first time since 2011, Notre Dame had just one player tabbed in the NFL’s selection process. Consider the players lost for one reason or another from the graduating senior class.

Stephon Tuitt, Aaron Lynch, Troy Niklas, Ishaq Williams, DaVaris Daniels, Golson, George Atkinson, Eilar Hardy, Tony Springmann, Ben Councell, Chase Hounshell, Brad Carrico and Grace all missed significant time with their class due to a) leaving Notre Dame early, b) suspension or c) injury.

Such are the cruel breaks of football. To suggest that the coaching staff flat-out failed in the signing of the Class of 2011 is shortsighted. You can always recruit better, but this class was star-crossed. It crumbled at the seams for a variety of reasons, so when Roger Goodell et al announced the names in Chicago, Notre Dame’s players were strikingly absent.

That’s the good news, at least as it pertains to the 2015 season because the Irish are loaded with talent – 1988-93 Notre Dame talent when the Irish went 64-9-1.

That’s not to say the Irish are about to go on another extended run because an incredible amount of talent will walk out the door next year at this time – from the senior/fifth-year senior classes as well the junior class. In fact, the departure of significant talent from the senior classes likely will have a domino effect on the junior class.

The last three times the Irish had just one or two players drafted – 2011, 2009 and 2005 – Notre Dame went 12-1 in ‘12, 8-5 in Brian Kelly’s first season (’10) following a 6-6 campaign, and 10-3 in ’06 as part of Charlie Weis’ 19-6 run.

The last time the Irish didn’t have any players selected in the draft was the spring of 1977. The 1976 team under Dan Devine went 9-3 with a Gator Bowl victory over Penn State. That propelled the Irish to an 11-1 season in 1977, and nine NFL draft choices in the spring of ’78 -- led by three first-rounders (TE-Ken MacAfee, DL-Ross Browner, and DB-Luther Bradley) – were at the forefront of the magical run.

There’s so much talent on the current Notre Dame roster that it’s difficult to get a handle on just how many players will be drafted from the upcoming team. Consider the seniors/fifth-year seniors alone: Golson, Ronnie Stanley, Sheldon Day, KeiVarae Russell, Jarron Jones, Elijah Shumate, Romeo Okwara, Amir Carlisle, Chris Brown, C.J. Prosise, Matthias Farley, Jarrett Grace and Joe Schmidt. That’s 13 players right there that are legitimate draft candidates, several of which have top-three round ability.

Then there are the juniors, who, particularly if the Irish have the kind of success that their talent base seems to indicate they will, could make a splash in the ’16 draft if they so choose. Offense – Will Fuller, Tarean Folston, Steve Elmer, Corey Robinson, Greg Bryant, and Mike McGlinchey; defense – Jaylon Smith, Isaac Rochell, Max Redfield and Cole Luke.

There are about two dozen juniors/seniors/fifth-year seniors on the 2015 Notre Dame roster who likely will get drafted at some point, and that’s not even counting players who should establish themselves in the future such as Durham Smythe, Malik Zaire and perhaps Torii Hunter, Jr., not to mention all the underclassmen.

Where these players project in the 2016-17 NFL drafts is much too premature to speculate upon, although that hasn’t deterred some from the ambitious effort, which is rife with throw-a-dart-at-the-target speculation.

Those who say Stanley would have been a first-round draft choice could be right, but we’ll never know. We don’t know how he would have withstood the scrutiny of the Indianapolis Combine and Pro Day. Stanley may have stacked up well, but what if his bench-press numbers were down compared to the competition? Those are factors the speculators don’t take into consideration.

And so we’ll leave such speculation for future months and allow the Greg Gabriels of the world – in other words, those with some perspective and less hyperbole – to determine where Notre Dame’s players will slot in the pecking order of future professional football players.

Notre Dame didn’t fail with the recruitment of the Class of 2011 as much as the colliding of worlds sabotaged them. But even if you conclude a poor job was done by Kelly and his staff in 2011, you can’t deny that what came into Notre Dame in 2012-13 appears to be on par with many of the great classes that led the Irish to glory during the Lou Holtz era.

Bored by the NFL draft this year due to the lack of Notre Dame names? Rest easy. It’s going to be a long, productive three days next spring when Goodell and the rest of the NFL brass announce the draft picks.

When it comes to the fall of 2015, here come the Irish…right on through the 2016-17 NFL drafts. Top Stories