Blue and Gold Illustrated

June July 2018

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

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42 JUNE/JULY 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED I n some very important ways, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has brought the program its best NFL Draft success since Lou Holtz was manning the job from 1986-96. Looking at Kelly's draft results clearly shows that he has improved the program, but it also points to where there is still work to be done. Thirty-three players have been drafted by NFL teams following the eight seasons Kelly has coached at Notre Dame. That total number isn't really an improvement — the Fight- ing Irish produced 33 draft picks in the eight drafts before he arrived. The difference is the quality of the draft picks. Notre Dame has produced 19 picks in the first three rounds during Kel- ly's tenure, notably eight first-round selections. The previous eight drafts produced only 14 picks in the first three rounds and merely two first- round choices. For players, the higher you get drafted the more money you receive in your first contract, and in most cases teams are more patient with higher picks. Harrison Smith in 2012 was the first Notre Dame defensive back to get chosen in the first round since 1994 (Jeff Burris), and Michael Floyd was the first wide receiver to go that high since 1988 (Tim Brown). In ad- dition, tight end Tyler Eifert was the program's first tight end to go in the first round since 1992 (Derek Brown). All three happened during Kelly's tenure. In fact, Notre Dame has pro- duced a pair of first-round picks at wide receiver. Beginning with Notre Dame's 2012 12-1 campaign in Kelly's third season, there have been three Power Five pro- grams that have stood above the rest. Alabama posted a 77-8 mark from 2012-17, Ohio State went 73-8 and Clemson compiled a 72-11 record. Those three programs have won all but one of the national titles during that span, and they are the programs Notre Dame must have in view if it wants to once again be a legit power program. From 2011-18, Alabama's 66 NFL Draft selections outpace everyone in college football. During that same period, Ohio State produced 50 draft picks and Clemson racked up 42. Notre Dame has matched Clem- son's 19 selections in the first three rounds, while Ohio State has pro- duced 32 and Alabama has churned out 40. Offensively, Notre Dame has pro- duced 13 picks in the first three rounds since 2011. That output more than doubles Clemson's six, and is right in line with what Ohio State (15) and Alabama (17) have had. It is clear that Notre Dame is in the same league with those power programs when it comes to producing high- end talent on offense. Where the gap becomes enormous is on defense. Since 2011, Notre Dame has pro- duced only six defenders who were selected in the first three rounds, with Smith the lone first-round pick. Clemson has produced 13 defensive players in the first three rounds, while Ohio State has generated 17 and Alabama has developed 23. Those numbers are staggering, and while draft results are not an end all in the discussion of where Notre Dame must be as a program, they show a stark contrast in the product the Irish have been able to put on the field compared to the nation's pre- mier programs. Consider that nine of Notre Dame's 13 drafted defensive players were starters on the 2012 defense, and another (Sheldon Day) was a top backup on that team. Notre Dame's best team since 1993 was filled with NFL players on defense. Notre Dame was last a premier program from 1988-93. During that stretch, the Irish went 64-9-1 and had 12 defensive players selected in the first three rounds. During the last four seasons, Notre Dame has had three top-25 finishes on offense according to the Fremeau Efficiency Index — the same number as Clemson, and just one fewer than Ohio State and Alabama. In each of those four seasons, the Tigers, Buckeyes and Crimson Tide have finished in the top 10 of defen- sive efficiency, while the Irish have had zero top-10 finishes and just one top-20 showing (2017). The numbers here do not lie. If Notre Dame wants to get back to be- coming a dominant program, it will need to improve its talent base on defense, do a better job developing players on that side of the ball and start performing at an elite level. ✦ The Lack Of NFL Talent On Defense Shows CLOSER LOOK BRYAN DRISKELL Bryan Driskell has been a football analyst for Blue & Gold Illustrated since April 2015. He can be reached at Head coach Brian Kelly and Notre Dame must start producing more NFL talent on defense if they want to compete with the nation's premier programs. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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