Malik Zaire, Notre Dame’s quarterback of the future, was thinking deep
into the future on Thursday night.
The junior at Kettering (Ohio) Alter High and unofficial leader of
Twitter fraternity hashtag #IrishMob13 predicted his still-building
recruiting class was going to be making the same kind of noise in the
NFL Draft “three to four years” from now that national champ Alabama
did Thursday night (four first-round picks).
CBS College Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming was hardly surprised.
“Recruits pay attention to which schools are producing draft picks,”
he said. “It’s immensely important to them. And Notre Dame getting two
first-round picks is going to generate some positive attention.
“Alabama has used it to their great advantage in recent years.
Southern Cal used it, under Pete Carroll, and used it against Notre
Dame. I’ve always said the academics are more for the parents. The
players are interested in great facilities and the quickest way to the
“Notre Dame has great facilities, but they have not shown they can get
guys to the NFL in recent years.”
Perhaps the trend started to shift Thursday night. Wide receiver Floyd
(13th to Arizona) and safety Harrison Smith (29th to Minnesota)
constitute the first multiple first-rounders that the Irish have
produced since Bryant Young, Aaron Taylor and Jeff Burris in 1994.
It was a quiet night Friday, with no Irish players being selected in
rounds 2 or 3. The draft concludes Saturday with rounds 4-7 (noon-8
p.m., ESPN). ND players Robert Blanton, a defensive back, and Darius
Fleming, an outside linebacker, are expected to have relatively short
waits to get the call.
Running back Jonas Gray and offensive guard Trevor Robinson are
“It’s a good sign that Notre Dame got two first-rounders,” Lemming
said. “I think they did a real good job with Harrison Smith, because a
year ago, not a lot of people thought he’d get drafted at all.”
Smith and Floyd were both top 100 prospects nationally coming out of
high school, as rated by Lemming, in the 2007 and 2008 recruiting
classes, respectively. But that’s hardly been a guarantee of eventual
draft status in the post-Lou Holtz coaching era.
The 2007 classes through the present still have draft-eligible
players. But from the 1998 recruiting class to the 2006 class, former
Irish coaches Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis recruited
a combined 57 top 100 prospects.
Only 19 of them were deemed among the roughly top 250 players
nationally when it came to their respective draft year. And one of
those players — tight end Greg Olsen — transferred to Miami (Fla.)
before he took his first class as a freshman.
Over the same time period, ND produced 20 NFL draft choices among its
non-top 100 prospects.
The most successful classes in producing NFL draft picks during that
nine-year run were Davie’s first two full cycles with no Holtz
influence (10 draft picks in 1998, seven in 1999) and Willingham’s
first full recruiting cycle, 2003.
But in Davie’s classes, those not expected to star at ND got to the
NFL via the draft with more proficiency than those who were. The class
in which star power did play out was the 2003 class that started under
Willingham and finished under Weis.
Six of the seven top 100s in that class were drafted, as well as
non-top 100s Chinedum Ndukwe and John Carlson. Wide receiver Jeff
Samardzija would have joined them had he not committed to a
professional baseball career.
But Willingham’s next class produced zero draft picks. The 2005 class,
a combination of Willingham and Weis recruits, sent only safety David
Bruton to the pros via the draft, and the 2006 class — ranked No. 2
nationally — produced just two sixth-rounders, touted offensive tackle
Sam Young and unheralded guard/center Eric Olsen.
“A lot of Notre Dame’s lack of draftable talent has to do with a lack
of consistency,” Lemming said. “They’ve had a lot of coaching changes
— four offensive line coaches in the past five years, about that many
offensive coordinators. No matter how talented you are, that can kind
of screw you up.
“Notre Dame should produce eight to 10 guys a year in the draft. Once
they start doing that, it should perpetuate itself to where they start
getting better and better players.
“When there’s just a few top prospects who don’t make it to the NFL,
you could say they were overrated coming out of high school. But when
you have this many, you have to start pointing fingers at the previous
regimes. Thursday night was a good night for Kelly and Notre Dame.
Maybe it’s a sign of things to come.”
Smith settles in
Former Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith unwittingly laid the
groundwork for his draft destination, Minnesota, three months ago at
the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Smith was selected to play for the North squad, and the Vikings
coaching staff was chosen to coach the North.
“When we got into our draft meetings right after the Senior Bowl, we
had our coaches, our scouts and myself write up those players while it
was still fresh in our head,” Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman
said. “That was the one huge advantage of being able to coach the
Senior Bowl, because we got to know those players inside and out and
know what they are about.”
The Vikings traded up six picks to nab Smith with the 29th pick of the
first round. They surrendered their spot in the second round (35th
overall) and a fourth-round selection.
“I was actually on the phone with them before they traded up,” said
Smith, who watched the draft from his family’s home in Knoxville,
Tenn.. “They just said keep watching the TV and you’ll see it pop up
Smith is expected to be in the mix for a starting spot as a rookie.
“We watched him play on the big stage,” Spielman said. “He has held up
against and made terrific plays against top competition. The big stage
is not going to be too big for this kid.
“He’s already been there, and has a sense of what this is about. Now
it’s going to be the learning curve, just like every rookie coming in,
but he just stuck out on the film again about how passionate he