Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 APRIL 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED T hrough all the high school re- cruiting chatter about academic achievement, campus atmosphere and coach/player relationships, most top prep players fail to mention the priority that likely tops their college choice criteria — best route to the NFL. Developing recruits is just as impor- tant as landing recruits, and be sure that top prep players are paying close attention to which schools are putting the most players in the NFL. Expect Notre Dame to again demonstrate its professional prowess late next month at the 2020 NFL Draft in Las Vegas, a developmental deficiency from when Lou Holtz departed in 1996 to when head coach Brian Kelly arrived in 2010. In the six drafts from 2001-06, Notre Dame produced only one first-round pick — center Jeff Faine in 2003. And in back-to-back drafts in 2005 and 2006, just five total Irish players were selected, and only one of those — tight end Anthony Fasano — went in the first two rounds. Highlighted by 11 total Irish taken in the 2007 and 2008 drafts — in- cluding six selections in the top three rounds — player development im- proved under former head coach Charlie Weis, at least temporarily. But not until Kelly took the Notre Dame job in December 2009 did re- cruiting and development align again and begin to produce a grow- ing number of NFL selections with an increasing early round presence. "Notre Dame's draft performance has been a huge improvement from where they were before Brian Kelly arrived," said draft analyst Scott Wright, founder and president of The 2014 season is the best place to start evaluating Kelly's player devel- opment data because that's the year that his first true recruiting class, the 2011 group, became seniors. Kelly's 2011 recruiting class pro- duced four draft picks, notably three second-rounders — defensive end Stephon Tuitt, tight end Troy Niklas and center Nick Martin. The 2012 Fighting Irish recruiting class featured four more draft picks, all chosen in the first four rounds, with offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, the No. 6 overall pick. Had All-American linebacker Jay- lon Smith not dropped to the sec- ond round after a knee injury in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, he would've joined wide receiver Will Fuller and offen- sive tackle Mike McGlinchey as first- round picks developed out of Kelly's 2013 recruiting class. Notre Dame hasn't had three first- round picks from the same recruiting class since defensive tackle Bryant Young, offensive tackle Aaron Taylor and defensive back Jeff Burris went together in the 1994 draft from the 1990 recruiting class assembled under Holtz. (Fullback Jerome Bettis and cornerback Tom Carter were first- round picks as juniors a year earlier.) First-round offensive lineman Quen- ton Nelson highlighted a three-man draft class from Kelly's 2014 recruiting haul. Linebacker Drue Tranquill — a classmate of Nelson's and a case study in Kelly and company's ability to de- velop marginal recruits into NFL play- ers — became a fourth-round selection. The 2015 Irish recruiting class had five more players drafted in 2019, highlighted by defensive tackle Jerry Tillery in the first round and wide re- ceiver Miles Boykin in the third round. That brings us to Kelly's 2016 re- cruiting class, which could be well represented in the 2020 and 2021 NFL Drafts. Former Irish cornerback Julian Love became the first draftee from this '16 class when he was a fourth-round se- lection in 2019 as an early entrant after his junior season at Notre Dame. Recruiting classmates Chase Clay- pool, a coveted wide receiver and potential first-round selection, along with cornerback Troy Pride Jr. plus de- fensive ends Julian Okwara and Kha- lid Kareem are expected to be early round 2020 selections in late April. Two other former Irish from this 2016 recruiting class — running back Tony Jones Jr. and safety Jalen Elliott — were invited to the 2020 NFL Com- bine and could also hear their names called in Vegas next month. And this current 2020 draft list doesn't include former Irish tight end Cole Kmet and safety Alohi Gilman, both of whom will be selected next month, but nei- ther came from the 2016 Irish class. Add five fifth-year seniors to the mix from the class of '16 that will play for the Irish in 2020 and be draft eligible in 2021 — offensive tackle Liam Eichen- berg, offensive guard Tommy Kraemer, defensive end Daelin Hayes, quarter- back Ian Book and defensive end Ade Ogundeji — and 10, 11 or maybe even 12 members of the 23-player 2016 haul could eventually become draftees, the most from one class under Kelly. It is more evidence that Notre Dame and its coaching staff are strengthening a vital bond between high school re- cruitment and professional pursuits. ✦ Notre Dame Rekindling Holtzesque Player Development UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at There could be as many as 12 players from Notre Dame's 2016 recruiting class — including wide receiver Chase Claypool (above) — selected in the NFL Draft between 2019-21. PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS NOTRE DAME'S 2016 RECRUITING CLASS Players: 23 Rivals Class Ranking: No. 13 Players Drafted To Date: 1 (CB Julian Love in 2019) Projected To Be Picked In The Top Three Rounds (Draft Year): WR Chase Claypool ('20), DE Julian Okwara ('20), DE Khalid Ka- reem ('20), CB Troy Pride Jr. ('20), OG Tommy Kraemer ('21) and OT Liam Eichenberg ('21). Other Potential Draftees: S Jalen Elliott ('20), Tony Jones Jr. ('20), QB Ian Book ('21), DE Daelin Hayes ('21) and DE Ade Ogundeji ('21).

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