With more than a month remaining in the 2015 regular season and a half-year left before the 2016 NFL Draft, Notre Dame junior Will Fuller surprised everyone by offering that he planned to remain in South Bend for his senior season.
Financial reality and common sense ruled thereafter, and with the help of his head coach and support staff, Fuller reconsidered his stance and instead made himself available for the professional ranks.
The decision paid off Thursday night as Fuller became the first early draft entrant from Notre Dame to earn a first round selection since cornerback Tom Carter and running back Jerome Bettis in 1992.
Fuller is the sixth player under Brian Kelly to be selected in the first round since the head coach took over at the program prior to the 2010 season. He joins former teammate Ronnie Stanley – tabbed No. 6 by Baltimore earlier tonight – as the second set of teammates picked in the first round under Kelly.
Fuller and Stanley follow Michael Floyd and Harrison Smith (2012), Tyler Eifert in 2013, and Zack Martin in 2014 as first round draft picks under Kelly’s tutelage.
The former Irish speedster started 26 consecutive games as a sophomore and junior, earning the program’s prestigious Monogram Club Most Valuable Player Award in 2015 – that after being named the squad’s Offensive Player of the Year in his breakout sophomore campaign of 2014.
Fuller’s selection at No. 21 overall is the third highest for a Notre Dame wide receiver over the last three decades, trailing only the aforementioned Floyd (No. 13 in 2012) and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown (No. 6 overall in 1988).
Ranked No. 179 overall by Scout.com and as the 22nd-best receiver prospect in the 2013 class, Fuller compiled 138 receptions for 2,352 yards and 29 touchdowns in his last two seasons in South Bend. The yardage and touchdown totals exceed those posted by position record-setter Michael Floyd during his junior and senior seasons under Kelly.
(Floyd amassed 2,172 yards with 22 scores from 2010-11, snaring a remarkable 176 receptions in that span.)
Fuller’s 2015 touchdown parade was highlighted by scoring receptions of 66, 59, 39, 46, 66, 30, 75, 47, 46, and 73 yards out – the 39-yarder proved to be the game-winner against Virginia in Charlottesville with 12 seconds remaining.
Fuller also scored the game-winning touchdown for his Irish from 17 yards out with 2:09 on the clock at Temple in early November.
He scored touchdowns in 21 of his final 26 collegiate contests including six multi-score games.