(UHND) – With the Sun Bowl victory capping off Notre Dame’s late season resurgence, the attention of Notre Dame fans now turns to the decisions juniors Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph make regarding entering the NFL Draft or returning for their senior seasons.
From the moment Floyd and Rudolph stepped foot on campus in the summer of 2008, it was obvious that both were elite talents that would see the field early.
Floyd recorded a touchdown with his first career catch in the second quarter of the 2008 season opener. That touchdown was a sign of things to come with Floyd racking up a Notre Dame record 28 receiving touchdowns throughout his career.
Rudolph didn’t start his career with quite as big of a bang as Floyd, but even before injuries pushed Rudolph into a prominent role in 2008, it was clear that he was destined to see the field early.While Rudolph didn’t put up the gaudy stats that Floyd did , his 95 yard touchdown against Michigan will go down as one of the great plays in Notre Dame history and was a prime example of the elite talent Rudolph possesses.
If there are any knocks on either Floyd or Rudolph, it’s been their durability. Both have battled injuries over the course of their three seasons in South Bend.
As a freshman, Floyd injured his knee in the 10th game of the season against Navy. A year later Floyd broke his collarbone in week 3 against Michigan State causing him to miss the next 5 games. This season Floyd enjoyed his healthiest season to date, but still had to sit out the Navy game. Add that all up and Floyd missed 8 complete games out of 38 with Notre Dame going 4-4 in those games.
Rudolph hasn’t been any luckier with injuries. He made it through his freshman year unscathed, but missed 3 games last year with a shoulder injury and then missed 7 full games this year, including the Sun Bowl, while being limited in several others with a hamstring injury.
Injury concerns could affect both of their draft stocks, but Floyd figures to be more affected by his past injuries because of the depth of the wide receiver position in this year’s draft. Rudolph, on the other hand, is still likely to be considered the top tight end on most teams draft boards this year because there just aren’t many elite tight ends available this year.
Wide receiver, however, is a completely different story. Floyd will be facing stiff competition with fellow juniors AJ Green (Georgia), Julio Jones (Alabama), Jonathan Baldwin (Pitt), Ryan Broyles (Oklahoma), DeVeir Posey (Ohio State), Torrey Smith (Maryland) and Justin Blockman (Oklahoma State) all possibly entering the draft a year early as well.
Before the Sun Bowl, NFL Draft Countdown’s Scott Wright project Floyd as a second round pick. “The durability continues to be a major concern and he just looks too big/stiff. Those issues, coupled with what figures to be an outstanding crop of wideouts, could push Floyd into the second round,” Wright told me.
Did Floyd’s 105 yard, 2 touchdown performance do anything to change that in Wright’s opinion?
“My opinion of Floyd is unchanged. That Sun Bowl was a microcosm of his college career – dominant then got hurt.”
These durability concerns normally would not be as big of an issue for a prospect as talented and productive as Floyd, but this year’s wide receiver class is just so deep. “Most years Floyd would be a sure-fire first rounder but this is a rare crop of wideout prospects and that, along with the durability, will push him into the second round,“ Wright said over the weekend.
A year ago Golden Tate declared for the NFL Draft and fell to the second round, but it’s likely that Tate would not have improved his draft stock much more had he returned this year. The big knock on Tate coming out was his size and there wasn’t anything he could have done to change that.
Floyd could improve his stock with another season in South Bend if he could stay healthy, but the real benefit for Floyd would come from a weaker crop of receivers to compete against for draft positions.
As for Rudolph, his draft stock could improve with a healthy 2011 season as well, but if NFL scouts determine he is the top tight end prospect in the draft, he would likely be a first round pick this year. There’s been at least one tight end selected in the first round in each of the last 11 drafts. You have to go back to 1999 to find a draft without a tight end selected.
The difference between a first and second round pick could be substantial financially. For instance , take the two dynamic wide receivers currently playing for the Philadelphia Eagles. DeSean Jackson was a second round draft pick in 2008 (49th overall) and has gone to back to back Pro Bowls. Jeremy Maclin, meanwhile, was a first round pick (19th overall) a year later and while he had a great season for the Eagles this year, the former Missouri Tiger hasn’t been as productive as Jackson. Because Maclin was a first round pick, however, he signed a 5 year $15 million contract while Jackson has been playing on a rookie contract that paid him $3 million over 4 years.
For a little more perspective on the different values of contracts, let’s bring in another Eagles wide receiver to the discussion. Former Michigan standout Jason Avant was a 4th round pick by the Eagles in 2006 and signed a 4 year, $2 million contract.
Now, the real wild card here is the NFL labor situation. A rookie wage scale, which would be aimed at reducing the disparity in contract values from round to round, has been widely considered one of the concessions the NFL Players Association will have to make in order to strike a new labor deal.
A rookie wage scale could negate the benefit of returning for a senior season and improving ones draft stock while increasing the risk a player takes by coming back to school for a final year.
Unfortunately a new labor deal will most likely not be in place before juniors need to declare for the draft this year making the decisions for prospects such as Floyd and Rudolph even more difficult.
We should know fairly soon what Floyd and Rudolph decide. Brian Kelly said the NFL Advisory Committee’s evaluations of both were in before the Sun Bowl and that he would review them with his two star players once they were back in South Bend. Kelly has also said previously said that he is actively recruiting both to return for another season.
Kelly’s been an outstanding recruiter for Notre Dame far, but this may be his toughest test to date with the expectations for next season hinging on his success.