Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

The Annual Talent Drain

A year ago, Notre Dame lost a ton of weapons to the NFL draft and fell to 4-8. With most of the 2016 team returning, the Irish are much better positioned in 2017.

With the completion of the three-day NFL draft and about 48 hours for teams to sign free agents, Irish Illustrated presents the third annual “talent drain” story as it relates to Notre Dame and its upcoming 12 opponents.

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.

Who among Notre Dame and its 12 opponents in 2017 lost the most in the NFL draft and on the free-agent market this past week?

For the record, last year’s spring talent drain analysis among Notre Dame and its 2016 opponents had Army losing the least talent from the previous season to finish No. 13 on the evaluation, followed by No. 12 Nevada, No. 11 Navy, No. 10 Syracuse, No. 9 Virginia Tech, No. 8 Duke, No. 7 Texas, No. 6 Miami, No. 5 N.C. State, No. 4 Stanford, No. 3 USC, No. 2 Michigan State and No. 1 Notre Dame with its seven draft picks.

Draft choices are denoted by round, choice in round, and overall selection (example: 5-24-168). Free agents listed are those who had signed by Monday morning, May 1.

13. NAVY (9-5)
• Draft Choices (0)
• Free Agents (0)
• Recap: The Midshipmen had eight seniors listed as starters on offense and five on defense. Gone are Nos. 3-4 rushers Dishan Romine and Shawn White, leading receiver Jamir Tillman, two offensive linemen, top defensive lineman Amos Mason, co-top interceptor Josiah Powell, and free safety Daiquan Thomasson.

But as Irish fans have learned in the last 10 years, there’s little-to-no correlation to Navy’s talent drain and its ability to defeat Notre Dame, which it has done four of the last 10 years.

12. MIAMI (OHIO) (6-7)
• Draft Choices (0)
• Free Agents (3): OG-Collin Buchanan, DE-J.T. Jones, DE-Austin Gearing
• Recap: Former Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin, who lost 25 of his first 30 games as head coach of the Redhawks – including the first six of 2016 – responded by winning six straight and getting to a bowl game.

In free agents Jones and Gearing, the Redhawks lost 10½ sacks and 18½ tackles for loss from the ’16 season. Just six seniors began last season as starters for Miami (Ohio). Top rusher Alonzo Smith (720 yards), quarterbacks Gus Ragland and Billy Bahl, top receiver James Gardner, four starting offensive linemen, and the five top tacklers on defense return in 2017.

11. WAKE FOREST (7-6)
• Draft Choices (1): OLB-Marquel Lee (Oakland 5-24-168)
• Free Agents (2): DE-Josh Banks, CB-Brad Watson
• Recap: Mike Elko’s No. 40 total defense with 41 sacks (No. 12) and 27 turnovers (tied for No. 10) took the biggest hit. Lee led the team in tackles (105) and tackles for loss (20) to go with 7½ sacks. Banks had eight tackles for loss and 4½ sacks. Watson was second on the team in interceptions.

Besides Lee, Banks and Watson, only four other senior starters departed.

10. BOSTON COLLEGE (7-6)
• Draft Choices (2): S-John Johnson (L.A. Rams 3-27-91), OLB-Matt Milano (Buffalo 5-19-163)
• Free Agents (0)
• Recap: For the third time in four seasons, head coach Steve Addazio led the Eagles to a seven-victory season, and they did it with 14 non-seniors in the starting lineup. Johnson led the team in interceptions (3) and passes broken up (9). Milano was third on the team in tackles for loss (11) and second in sacks (6½).

The four top receivers return as does leading rusher Jon Hilliman (604 yards). Boston College must replace erratic QB Patrick Towles.

9. NOTRE DAME (4-8)
• Draft Choices (2): QB-DeShone Kizer (Cleveland 2-20-52), DE-Isaac Rochell (L.A. Chargers 7-7-225)
• Free Agents (3): DT-Jarron Jones, OLB-James Onwualu, CB-Cole Luke
• Recap: Whereas last year the Irish lost two first-rounders, two-second rounders, two third-rounders and a fourth to the draft, they return most of their squad in 2017 with the exception of their quarterback, the rock of their defensive line, and three defensive free agents.

8) N.C STATE (7-6)
• Draft Choices (3): S-Josh Jones (Green Bay 2-29-61), CB-Jack Tocho (Minnesota 7-27-245), RB-Matthew Dayes (Cleveland 7-34-252)
• Free Agents (3): WR-Bra'Lon Cherry, C-Joe Scelfo, DB-Dravious Wright
• Recap: During Saturday’s third and final day of the draft, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock warned that the 2018 NFL draft “will be filled with N.C. State d-linemen.”

The Wolf Pack lost a couple of good ones on the back end in Jones and Tocho. RB Dayes was a weapon. Do-it-all fullback/running back/tight end Jaylen Samuels returns, as does quarterback Ryan Finley, who never got a chance to show his wares in last year’s hurricane game with the Irish.

7. GEORGIA (8-5)
• Draft Choices (1): Isaiah McKenzie (Denver 5-29-172)
• Free Agents (6): OG-Tyler Catalina, OG-Greg Pyke, C-Brandon Kublanow, CB-Marcus Sayles, S-Quincy Mauger, S-Maurice Smith
• Recap: Kirby Smart’s first Bulldog team was a young one with just five senior starters when the 2016 season began, although three-fifths of the starting offensive line was tabbed as free-agent picks following the draft. Fifth-round pick McKenzie led the team in receptions (44), yards (633) and touchdown receptions (7). The Bulldogs also took a hit in the secondary where three players signed as free agents.

The top three running backs return, including Nick Chubb (1,130 yards, 8 TDs). Quarterback Jacob Eason threw for 2,430 yards while doubling up on touchdowns (16)-to-interceptions (8). The bulk of the front seven on defense returns from a unit that allowed just 327.5 yards total offense per game.

6) MICHIGAN STATE (3-9)
• Draft Choices (2): DT-Malik McDowell (Seattle 2-3-35), S-Montae Nicholson (Washington 4-17-123)
• Free Agents (6): QB-Tyler O’Connor, WR-R.J. Shelton, TE-Josiah Price, OL-Brandon Clemons, ILB-Riley Bullough, S-Demetrious Cox
• Recap: A year ago, the Spartans lost five players to the NFL draft and another five to free agency. Following a 3-9 season in 2016, only a handful of draft-worthy prospects emerged, led by McDowell and Nicholson, although several recognizable names were signed as free agents.

Price and Shelton were one-two in receptions, but Donnie Corley will lead the receiving corps. L.J. Scott – just six yards shy of 1,000 yards rushing – headlines the ball carriers. A mere three of the top eight tacklers will be back in 2017.

5) STANFORD (10-3)
• Draft Choices (2): DE-Solomon Thomas (San Francisco 1-3-3), RB-Christian McCaffrey (Carolina 1-8-8)
• Free Agents (2): WR-Michael Rector, WR-Francis Owusu
• Recap: It was a light year for Stanford draft picks…after the first eight picks of the draft! Thomas (8 sacks, 15 tackles for loss) was the backbone of a defense that ranked 38th nationally. The Cardinal struggled to find their triggerman at quarterback, but McCaffrey accounted for nearly 2,000 yards rushing/receiving.

Just five seniors started for the Cardinal in ’16, so this looks like another double-digit-winning team, which it has been five of David Shaw’s six years as head coach.

4) TEMPLE (10-4)
• Draft Choices (3): OLB-Haason Reddick (Arizona 1-13-13), OG-Dion Dawkins (Buffalo 2-31-63), CB-Nate Hairston (Indianapolis 5-14-158)
• Free Agents (6): QB-Phillip Walker, RB-Jahad Thomas, TE-Romond Deloatch, TE-Colin Thompson, DE-Praise Martin-Oguike, OLB-Avery Williams
• Recap: It’s no wonder Temple won 20 games its last two seasons. Matt Rhule, now at Baylor, was one of the hottest young coaches out there, and the Owls were packed with NFL-caliber talent.

After losing 2015 defensive standouts Tyler Matakevich and Matt Ioannidis late in the draft, the best was yet to come. Arizona tabbed Reddick with the 13th overall pick, and two other free-agent signees on defense. The offense that averaged nearly 33 points per game loses its triggerman at quarterback, two-year 2,200-yard rusher Thomas and two tight ends.

3) NORTH CAROLINA (8-5)
• Draft Choices (5): QB- Mitchell Trubinsky (Chicago 1-2-2), WR-Mack Hollins (Philadelphia 4-12-118), WR-Ryan Switzer (Dallas 4-27-133), RB-T.J. Logan (Arizona 5-36-179), RB-Elijah Hood (Oakland 7-24-242)
• Free Agents (3): WR-Bug Howard, C-Lucas Crowley, CB-Des Lawrence
• Recap: One of just three 2017 Irish opponents with as many as five draft picks, the Tar Heels have a whole bunch of talent to replace, beginning with those offensive playmakers at quarterback, receiver and running back.

The bulk of the defense returns under coordinator Gene Chizik. After North Carolina allowed 39.5 points per game in ’14, in came Chizik, whose defense allowed 24.5 points per game in ’15 and 23.4 in ’16.

2) USC (10-3)
• Draft Choices (5): CB/KR-Adoree Jackson (Tennessee 1-18-18), WR-JuJu Smith Schuster (Pittsburgh 2-30-62), OG-Zach Banner (Indianapolis 4-31-137), S-Leon McQuay (Kansas City 6-35-218)DT-Stevie Su’kolovatu (Tampa Bay 7-5-223)
• Free Agents (6): RB-Justin Davis, WR-Darreus Rogers, WR-Isaac Whitney, OT-Chad Wheeler, OG-Damien Mama, OG-Jordan Simmons
• Recap: Football Talent University rarely lacks players. This year, it’s five draft picks, including one each in the first and second round. The Trojans lost the second-most players to the draft/free agency among Irish opponents with 11.

Some offensive firepower has left USC, as well as 60 percent of the offensive line. But with quarterback Sam Darnold and 1,082-yard rusher Ronald Jones II back, they have two of the best skill-position players on the 2017 Irish schedule. The Trojans also have the bulk of the defensive players who wreaked havoc up front in its 10-victory 2016 season.

1) MIAMI (9-4)
• Draft Choices (9): TE-David Njoku (Cleveland 1-29-29), S-Rayshawn Jenkins (L.A. Chargers 4-6-113), OG-Danny Isidora 5-37-180), CB-Corn Elder (Carolina 5-8-152), DE-Al-Quadin Muhammad (New Orleans 6-12-196), QB-Brad Kaaya (Detroit 6-32-215), WR-Stacy Coley (Minnesota 7-1-219), S-Adrian Colbert (San Francisco 7-11-229), FB-Marquez Williams (Jacksonville 7-22-240)
• Free Agents (4): WR-Malcolm Lewis, LB-Jermaine Grace, S-Jamal Carter, P-Justin Vogel
• Recap: No opponent on Notre Dame’s 2017 slate lost as much as the Hurricanes -- who reached the nine-victory mark for just the second time since 2010 -- including three-year starter Kaaya and three of the top four tacklers.

Only five seniors started the season for the Hurricanes in 2016, but with such a talent drain and the inconsistency of the program, it’s uncertain where Mark Richt’s program is headed in his second year in Coral Gables this fall.


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