The Annual Talent Drain

There were 21 draft picks within the first four rounds from ND and its 12 opponents this fall. Exactly one-third of those players – seven – played for the Irish in 2015.

With the completion of the three-day NFL draft, Irish Illustrated presents the second annual “talent drain” story as it relates to Notre Dame and its upcoming 12 opponents.

It’s now the media’s time to really delve into what might transpire this fall with pre-season practice beginning in about three months. Before we do that, however, we want to take a minute to evaluate the personnel losses within college football, first and foremost, Notre Dame’s 12 opponents this fall.

As we do throughout the summer with our First Rate series – a ranking of Irish opponents by position – we include Notre Dame in the study so as to determine how much talent the Irish have in comparison to the teams they will play in September, October and November.

But before we start that process, let’s look to see which schools did the best in the draft and on the free-agent market this past week, which directly correlates to a “talent drain” that must be replenished.

Which team among Notre Dame and its 12 opponents lost the most talent? It’s not that close.

13. ARMY (2-10)

• Draftable/Free Agent Prospects (0)
• Draft Choices (0)
• Free Agents (0)
• Recap: What can we say about the Cadets? They haven’t won more than four games since 2010 and a total of just 12 during that time span. No Army player was listed among our draft/free-agent prospects, so you can’t say they lost a ton of talent. Tough to say how much HC Jeff Monken’s squad had or has.

12. NEVADA (7-6)

• Draftable/Free Agent Prospects (3)
• Draft Choices (0)
• Free Agents (1)
• Recap: HC Brian Polian only had 11 starters returning last season with all seven senior starters on the defensive side of the football. The Wolf Pack produced just three draftable/free-agent prospects on a team that ranked 86th in the country in both total and scoring offense. The most noteworthy loss is DE Lenny Jones, a free-agent pickup of the 49ers, who had seven sacks in ’15 and finished with 20 in his career. It will be a challenge for Polian and his staff to exceed last year’s seven victories.

11. NAVY (9-4)

• Draftable/Free Agent Prospects (2)
• Draft Choices (1)
- QB/ATH-Keenan Reynolds (Baltimore, 6th round, 7th pick, 182nd overall)
• Free agents (1)
• Recap: The Naval Academy has lost a ton of football talent. Sixteen of the starting 24 (including kicker and punter) from ’15 are no longer on the roster. Among those gone is QB Keenan Reynolds – thank God! says a dozen defensive coordinators – as well as FB/1,000-yard rusher Chris Swain. Equally important is the loss of six senior starters on defense that ranked No. 26 in scoring allowed, which was second-best among Notre Dame’s upcoming 12 opponents.

10. SYRACUSE (4-8)

• Draftable/Free Agent Prospects (5)
• Draft Choices (1)
- P-Riley Dixon (Denver, 7th round, 7th pick, 228th overall)
• Free Agents (3)
• Recap: Talk about a dearth of upperclassman talent. The Orange had just one player drafted and that was punter Riley Dixon. Syracuse had just five draftable prospects and three were signed as free agents, which is a pretty good percentage. But the Orange are 7-17 the last two seasons, which is why long-time offensive guru Dino Babers is the new head coach. His Bowling Green offense was No. 4 in total offense and No. 6 in scoring offense last year. His best players besides Dixon – CB Julian Whigham and OG Rob Trudo – are gone. Look for Babers to eventually create a formidable offense.


• Draftable/Free Agent Prospects (7)
• Draft Choices (2)
- CB-Kendall Fuller (Washington, 3rd round, 21st pick, 84th overall)
- LB-Dadi Nicolas (Kansas City, 6th round, 28th pick, 203rd overall)
• Free agents (1)
• Recap: New HC Justin Fuente has his hands full rebuilding a Hokie program under Frank Beamer that dipped to 29-23 the last four seasons. Only eight of 22 offensive/defensive players were seniors last year. In addition to two draft picks, Virginia Tech also had just one free agent signed. This has become a very average program. Did the program grow stale under Beamer, did the talent level fade, or both? Fuente infuses optimism from the outset.

8. DUKE (8-5)

• Draftable/Free Agent Prospects (11)
• Draft Choices (0)
• Free Agents (6)
• Recap: Although the Blue Devils did not have a player drafted, the six free agents signed tells you a little something about David Cutcliffe’s program, which won 27 games the last three years, including a noteworthy 15-10 mark in ACC play. Perhaps the greatest loss is K Ross Martin, who was 26-of-30 on FGs, including 4-of-4 from 50 yards and beyond.

7. TEXAS (5-7)

• Draftable/Free Agent Prospects (10)
• Draft Choices (1)
- DT-Hassan Ridgeway (Cleveland, 2nd round, 8th pick, 116 overall)
• Free agents (4)
• Recap: The one draft pick and handful of free agents says more about the youth of Charlie Strong’s program than a lack of talent, although only one of the 10 “draftable prospects” was selected, and that was DT Hassan Ridgeway. Strong has spent the last couple years reworking the attitude/approach. Personnel turnover might have been needed with Texas’ No. 83 total offense the best of the four major categories. The 5-7 record in ’15 does not accurately reflect the progress, although the Longhorns remained dreadful in all the major statistical categories.

6. MIAMI (8-5)

• Draftable/Free Agent Prospects (11)
• Draft Choices (2)
- CB-Artie Burns (Pittsburgh, 1st round, 25th pick)
- FS-Deon Bush (Chicago, 4th round, 26th pick, 125th overall)
•Free agents (6)
• Recap: Mark Richt inherits an underachieving program that has lost 33 times in the last six seasons. He’ll have QB Brad Kaaya to run the show again, but the loss in the secondary of first- (CB Artie Burns) and fourth-rounders (FS Deon Bush) is noteworthy. The bulk of the talent in the program returns after starting just six seniors, five of which were on the defensive side of the ball. That unit ranked No. 77 in scoring defense in ’15.

5. N.C. STATE (7-6)

• Draftable/Free Agent Prospects (9)
• Draft Choices (3)
- OG-Joe Thuney (New England, 3rd round, 15th pick, 78th overall)
- QB-Jacoby Brissett (New England, 3rd round, 26th pick, 89th overall)
- CB-Juston Burris (New York Jets, 4th round, 20th pick, 118th overall)
• Free agents (1)
• Recap: The Wolfpack’s 7-6 record in ’15 is a bit deceiving when you consider that the victories came against Troy, Eastern Kentucky, Old Dominion, South Alabama, Wake Forest, Boston College and Syracuse, and the six losses were by an average margin of 15 points per game, including five by double digits. For a program like N.C. State’s, the loss of three draft choices in the first four rounds is significant, although most of the starters return on the 29th-ranked total defense.

4. STANFORD (12-2)

• Draftable/Free Agent Prospects (13)
• Draft Choices (4)
- OG-Joshua Garnett (San Francisco, 1st round, 28th pick)
- TE-Austin Hooper (Atlanta, 3rd round 18th pick, 81st overall)
- ILB-Blake Martinez (Green Bay, 4th round, 33rd pick, 131st overall)
- QB-Kevin Hogan (Kansas City, 5th round, 23rd pick, 162nd overall)
• Free agents (3)
• Recap: Even in a year when Stanford produced just four draft picks and three free agents – a combined total of five less than Notre Dame – the Cardinal still managed to win 12 of their last 13 games, including a victory over the Irish and a lambasting of USC in the Pac 12 championship and Iowa in the Rose Bowl. With five years under his belt as head coach, David Shaw (54-14) will have to rebuild his offense without some of his stars and a defense, which bent more than previous campaigns, no longer as dominant as it once was.

3. USC (8-6)

• Draftable/Free Agent Prospects (14)
• Drafts Choices (4)
- OLB-Su’a Cravens (Washington, 2nd round, 22nd pick, 53rd overall)
- C-Max Tuerk (San Diego, 3rd round, 3rd pick, 66th overall)
- QB-Cody Kessler (Cleveland, 3rd round, 30th pick, 93rd overall)
- CB-Kevon Seymour (Buffalo, 6th round, 43rd pick, 218th overall)
• Free agents (6)
• Recap: A lack of talent has not been at the forefront of USC’s 34-20 record over the last four seasons. The limitations prompted by probation and a lack of continuity at both the head coaching position and at the top of the athletic department has eroded much of what Pete Carroll built. Now Clay Helton must move forward without QB Cody Kessler and a vast array of talent on defense that was never close to being greater than its parts.


• Draftable/Free Agent Prospects (14)
• Draft Choices (5)
- OT-Jack Conklin (Tennessee, 1st round, 8th pick)
- DE-Shilique Calhoun (Oakland, 3rd round, 12th pick, 75th overall)
- QB-Connor Cook (Oakland, 4th round, 2nd pick, 100th overall)
- WR-Aaron Burbridge (San Francisco, 6th round, 38th pick, 213th overall)
- OG-Donavon Clark (San Diego, 7th round, 3rd pick, 224th overall)
• Free agents (5)
• Recap: Much of the foundation of Michigan State’s 36-5 record over the last three years is gone, including prolific QB Connor Cook, three offensive linemen -- led by No. 8 overall selection Jack Conklin -- as well as defensive end Shilique Calhoun. The Spartans will be hard-pressed to match last year’s No. 60 scoring offense and No. 73 total offense considering the weapons it possessed in ’15.

1. NOTRE DAME (10-3)

• Draftable/Free Agent Prospects (13)
• Draft Choices (7)
- OT-Ronnie Stanley (Baltimore, 1st round, 6th pick)
- WR-Will Fuller (Houston, 1st round, 21st pick)
- LB-Jaylon Smith (Dallas, 2nd round, 3rd pick, 34th overall)
- C-Nick Martin (Houston, 2nd round, 19th pick, 50th overall)
- CB-KeiVarae Russell (Kansas City, 3rd round, 11th pick, 74th overall)
- RB-C.J. Prosise (Seattle, 3rd round, 27th pick, 90th overall)
- DT-Sheldon Day (Jacksonville, 4th round, 5th pick, 103rd overall)
• Free agents (5)
• Recap: Notre Dame had a 7-to-1 or 7-to-0 ratio of draft choices compared to eight of its 12 opponents this fall. The Irish had more draftable prospects this year than four of its opponents combined. What this means as it relates to this fall will be decided down the road, but there’s no question that among the Irish and their 12 opponents in 2016, Notre Dame saw the most talent walk out the door, led by OT Ronnie Stanley, WR Will Fuller, LB Jaylon Smith, C Nick Martin and DT Sheldon Day. Top Stories