Brian Kelly delivers on player development pledge

When Brian Kelly was hired he guaranteed player development. Six years later, the Irish head coach can hold up the NFL Combine as proof he’s delivered.

Brian Kelly didn’t promise a lot during his introductory press conference six years ago. But one guarantee he did make was that Notre Dame would develop its players at a higher rate than the Charlie Weis regime did.

There’s data to prove it.

Kelly is building NFL talent at three times the rate of Weis.

To come to that conclusion requires a look at NFL Combine invites, and the Irish scored a modern record 10 last week. Then it means looking at players only recruited and coached by that regime. For Kelly, that’s the recruiting classes of 2010-12, groups that signed with his staff and played for it. For Weis, that means the recruiting classes of 2005-06, which signed and played for him.

Within those groups, Kelly signed 62 total prospects. Nineteen of them (30.6 percent) ultimately landed invites to the NFL Combine, as good an indicator as any of development. If a player is good enough that the NFL wants to put him through that battery of tests in Indianapolis, that’s a compliment to both who you’re recruiting and how you’re developing them.

As for Weis, the results show why he’s not here anymore.

In the 2005-06 classes, Notre Dame signed 43 total prospects. Just four – Kyle McCarthy, David Bruton, Sam Young and Eric Olsen ­– picked up NFL Combine invites. That’s a 9.3 percent hit rate.

Digging deeper within Kelly’s numbers show the high mark of this season could be the new standard.

Consider that within Kelly’s first class of 22 freshmen that just four – T.J. Jones, Prince Shembo, Louis Nix and Bennett Jackson – earned combine invites. That’s just 18.2 percent.

The next class was virtually the same size at 23 signees, but eight earned NFL Combine invites, a number that includes transfer Aaron Lynch. That’s a 34.8 percent hit rate.

The banner haul was Notre Dame’s most recent senior class, which was a volatile group of just 17 players when it signed. Five players departed the program within their first couple seasons, leaving just a dozen on campus. Yet seven have earned combine invites and an eighth (Jarron Jones) should. Including Jones in that mix means 47.1 percent of that class ultimately got into the combine.

Last year’s junior class should score well too with Jaylon Smith and Will Fuller already into the combine mix and another eight players likely to make it. That would represent a 41.7 percent hit rate on combine invites for that class, which never included five-star defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes.

How impressive is putting 40 percent of your recruiting class into the NFL Combine?

It had never happened before for Notre Dame in the recruiting rankings era, dating back to 2002. The banner haul of 2003 – Brady Quinn, Victor Abiamiri, Ryan Harris, etc. – could have done it if Jeff Samardzija stuck with football. With him scratched, eight of that 23-man haul made the combine. That’s 38.1 percent of that class, which was recruited by Tyrone Willingham and coached by two staffs.

Players and assistant coaches may change, but Notre Dame continues to put out NFL Combine talent at an impressive rate under Kelly. He’s backed up that guarantee.


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