Replacing Notre Dame’s ’14 NFL Bound Talent: Offense

Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley (78) battles with Michigan State Spartans defensive end Marcus Rush (44) in action during the 2013 game between the Notre Dame and Michigan State.  Notre Dame won the game by a score of 17-13. (Photo: Robin Alam / Icon SMI).
Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley (78) battles with Michigan State Spartans defensive end Marcus Rush (44) in action during the 2013 game between the Notre Dame and Michigan State. Notre Dame won the game by a score of 17-13. (Photo: Robin Alam / Icon SMI).

The 2014 NFL Draft has come and gone with Notre Dame being represented better than they have been in a long, long time with eight players drafted and another five from the 2013 roster signing free agent contracts.  With all of that NFL bound talent preparing for their professional careers the obvious question for Notre Dame is how do they replace all of that talent?  We’ll take a look at just how they will one side of the ball at a time.

First up is the offensive side of the ball where the Irish will have to replace players who were #1 on the depth chart at quarterback, running back, left tackle, wide receiver, tight end, and left guard.

LT:  Ronnie Stanley replaces Zack Martin

Zack Martin was Notre Dame’s highest draft player in 2014 as the #16 overall pick by the Dallas Cowboys. He also left Notre Dame with more career starts on his resume, 52, than any player in the history of Notre Dame.  Despite not garnering much All-American hype, Martin skyrocketed up NFL Draft boards and was off the board exactly midway through the first round.

Replacing Martin will be no small order and in many ways it’s impossible to expect anyone to step in and replace someone who started 52 games and was the anchor of the offensive line the last four years.  Ronnie Stanley already has one season under his belt at right tackle where he started in 2013 and performed well but will have to slide over to the left side where he will be more in the spotlight in 2014.

Stanley is a very talented player who has a lot of potential, but it seems obvious that there will be at least some drop-off at left tackle this year for Notre Dame given just how good Martin has been.

TE: Ben Koyack replaces Troy Niklas

Ben Koyack - Notre Dame TE
Ben Koyack (18) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in front of Navy Midshipmen cornerback Brandon Clements (1) and cornerback Parrish Gaines (2) in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. (Photo: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)

Troy Niklas made the surprising move to leave early for the NFL in January and his decision paid off about as good as he could have hoped.  Niklas wound up being selected #52 overall by the Arizona Cardinals.  That was about as high as any projection had Niklas going and continued Notre Dame’s streak of tight ends being  round two or better draft picks that started with Anthony Fassano (2nd, ’06) and followed with John Carlson (2nd, ’08), Kyle Rudolph 2nd, ’11), and Tyler Eifert (1st, ’13).

Ben Koyack began to emerge as a junior after a disappointing beginning to his career and will now be asked to step in and take over Niklas’s starting job.  There will likely be some drop off here for Notre Dame as Koyack is not nearly the physical specimen that Niklas was and will need to really improve on his blocking in fall camp.  Despite the best season of his career in 2013, Koyack still has just 14 career receptions for 215 yards.  Of his 10 catches in 2013 though, three of them went for touchdowns.  

LG: Steve Elmer takes over full time for Chris Watt

Like Martin, Watt has been a mainstay in the Notre Dame offensive line for years.  Up until the end of his senior season, Watt started every game at left guard right next to Martin since the beginning of the 2011 season.  Watt injured his PCL against Air Force though and missed the Navy game before reinjuring it against Stanford and sitting out the Pinstripe Bowl.  Watt didn’t get quite the attention as Martin, but he did capture the Chargers’ eyes enough to get draft in the 3rd round.

With Watt and Martin both in the NFL, Notre Dame has to replace the entire left side of it’s offensive line.  Steve Elmer received plenty of experience as a true freshman in 2013 due largely to the injuries up front that forced him into action.  The good news for Notre Dame here is that Elmer as all of the looks of a top notch collegiate offensive lineman who very well could follow Martin’s footsteps as a first round pick someday.

It’s never easy to replace a three year starter like Watt, but in Elmer Notre Dame might just have a replacement ready to step in that could eventually be an improvement.  Considering Watt was just a 3rd round NFL Draft pick, that is saying something.

WR: Chris Brown & Will Fuller will battle to replace TJ Jones

Will Fuller - Notre Dame Pinstripe Bowl
Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver William Fuller (15) cannot make a catch as Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive back Anthony Cioffi (31) defends during the first quarter in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Mills/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

For the life of me, I won’t know why TJ Jones was not drafted before the 6th round.  Jones had great college production despite never being the beneficiary of elite quarterback play, he ran well at the combine, and showed consistent improvement every year he was in college.  This was a historically deep draft at the wide receiver position, but I still think there will be a number of teams – including one I follow closely who reached for an Oregon wide receiver in the 3rd round – kicking themselves for taking some receivers over Jones.

This is one position for Notre Dame, where the hardest part of replacing Jones will be figuring out who the replacement is from a group of highly qualified candidates.  Chris Brown looked great in the Blue Gold game and showed he might not just be a one-route receiver anymore. Will Fuller also has the looks of a complete wide receiver capable of replacing TJ Jones’ big play production.  Assuming Davaris Daniels comes back from his academic exile for the spring semester, I expect either Fuller or Brown to start opposite him.

Notre Dame is stocked at wide receiver unlike they have been in a long time.  While they might not have one wide receiver completely replace Jones’s production, they should have a stable of them ready to power what could be a dangerous vertical passing game.  Also keep an eye on Corey Robinson and Justin Brent here.  

QB: Everett Golson steps back into a starting role to replace Tommy Rees

Tommy Rees was not draft by a NFL team over the weekend, but was quick to sign a free agent contract with the Washington Redskins.  Rees’s career, limitations, and production have been discussed adnaseum so there is no need to go too deep into that here, but the bottom line is Notre Dame does have to replace the quarterback who currently sits #2 all-time in career passing touchdowns in Notre Dame history.

Everett Golson returned this spring and despite talk of a quarterback competition between he and Malik Zaire, it would be a surprise if Golson was not the starting quarterback when Rice came to town at the end of August.  Golson will have the weapons around him to lead a high powered offense this fall, but did show some signs of rust in the Blue Gold game.  He will need to spend a lot of time working on his accuracy and timing this off-season with his receivers and utilize every minute of practice this summer, but given his physical attributes and what we saw from him in 2012, it will be very hard to argue that Notre Dame isn’t in a much better position talent wise at quarterback this fall.

RB: Tarean Folston picks up where he left off replacing George Atkinson

George Atkinson surprisingly left Notre Dame following his junior season as he looked up at a logjam at running back on the Notre Dame depth chart but went undrafted this past weekend.  Instead of hearing his name called, Atkinson had to settle for being an undrafted free agent witht he Oakland Raiders similarly to Darius Walker seven years ago.  Some will argue that Atkinson made a bad choice leaving early, but he had already been supplanted on the depth chart and likely would have served a very limited role in 2013.

Tarean Folston - Notre Dame vs. Stanford
Tarean Folston (above) is going to have to fight off Greg Bryant for the top spot on the Notre Dame depth chart this spring. (Photo: Tommy LaPorte/Icon SMI)

Atkinson’s role would have been limited because of the emergence of Tarean Folston.  The sophomore to be running back came on strong at the end of the season and has the looks of being Notre Dame’s next go-to running back.  Fellow sophomore Greg Byrant also figures to be in the mix at running back after a strong spring and like the quarterback position, this is an area where Notre Dame is going to be much stronger in 2014 than they were in 2013.

In summary, Notre Dame lost six starters to the NFL, but despite all of those losses, it could be argued that the only position where Notre Dame will be at an obvious disadvantage in 2014 is left tackle simply because of how good Zack Martin was over the last four years.  Tight End is another position where there will also likely be some drop-off although not as much as left tackle.  At left guard, Notre Dame should be able to maintain status quo with Steve Elmer stepping in.  At running back and quarterback, Notre Dame should be upgrading at both positions, and at wide receiver the Irish have enough depth to be able to sustain the loss of a player as talented as TJ Jones.

Next up we’ll take a look at the defensive side of the ball where the picture isn’t quite as rosey for the Irish in terms of replacing NFL bound personnel.


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  1. Woody, there is a great object lesson in Reggie Brooks’ career path.

    Tony’s lil’ brother struggled early in his career and had a traumatic
    afternoon against Stanford when Reggie was miscast as a defensive back.

    But Reggie hung in there and was as explosive as Woody avers.
    His run against Michigan was an all-timer, right up there with Ray Zellars and Irv Smith’s powerful bristling runs.

    Kind of nice to have Reggie around, even if he’s in a nominally non-football capacity. He’s a living symbol of staying with it until the
    waters part. Ishaq Williams and John Turner, are you listening???????Qillopoormku

  2. reggie brooks had the most amazing ND season I ever saw….unreal. He was explosive. “can’t touch this” speed. Hell, I saw it first hand in LA Coliseum when he blew away Trojans. It was a sight to behold….wow!


  3. we havent had a conjar, bettis or reggie brooks for a good while. is reggie working with the team’s backs?

  4. there is a subtext here. In the initial articles about Notre Dame’s potential interest in Ty Isaacs there was a hint that Notre Dame may be involved with some other potential running back transfers.

    This might get interesting.

    As far as Alabama’s roster goes, watch the film of Derrick Henry. He is the kind of specimen playing for the Tide that we just don’t see around here. He’s terrifying, much more so than Yeldon.

    1. We would show him that youtube clip and everything, but we don’t personally know him. Although I’m sure that clip would be reason enough for him to come to ND.

  5. Isaac looked pretty good when I watched him, he’s powerful, has a good forward lean and runs North/South. He seemed more like a power back who had enough speed to extend runs. He would be a nice counterpoint to
    Bryant and Folston, and would likely be the goal line and fourth and 1 back. I hope we get him. Shaz cites his outstanding high school credentials, but, frankly, he validated them as a frosh and you can see it on film.

    He’s from Joliet Catholic, yeah, Ruettiger’s school, so he knows the drill.

  6. Former 5 star running back recruit Ty Issac, a Joliet Catholic product who picked USC over Notre Dame and Michigan, has been released from his scholarship and granted a transfer.

    Rumor has it that he wants to return to the Midwest.

    With the current level of uncertainty surrounding Will Mahone, Cam McDaniel in his Senior year, and not much left behind Folston and Bryant, I hope Kelly gives this kid a look.
    (He was heavily recruited by Kelly back in 2012)

    USC listed him as 6’2″ 220 lbs.

    I know when ND releases a player for transfer it is normally with the condition that the player transfers to a school that ND does not play.
    Not sure if the same condition exists for USC.

    I think one of the top running backs to come out of high school in 2012 and holds the Joliet Catholic rushing record (5,300 yards) might be worth taking a shot at.

    1. Amir was able to transfer to ND so maybe they don’t have same rules in place. Might be coach dependent.

  7. Personally, I am really going to enjoy watching the ND side of the scoreboard lighting up frequently….looking forward to hearing our victory march often, as well.

    Concur with Duranko!

    This will give me a…


    1. Big-D,

      Ease up with the “paradigm shift” talk…. your getting poor Woody all worked up!

      He’s quickly gone from Woody O’Hardy to a hardy ol woody!


  8. EVERYBODY is a correct in what they said about the Offensive Line.

    But we may be in the midst of the most dreaded phrase in American commerce and athletics: “paradigm shift.”

    Milt Tenopir at Nebraska was credited with his “pipeline” the seemingly inexhaustible fountain of OLS who would reload the spots vacated by the departed Husker linemen.

    Do our Fighting Irish now have or are we on the verge of a “pipeline?”

    When you compare the 2014 line with the line that somehow got to the 2012 National Championship game, the contrast is striking, the most striking upgrade on the team. Mike Golic was a willing warrior, but the opinion here is that he would, in 2014, be stuck behind Hegarty and Hanratty, who will likely be the top SUBS. Ask yourself, when was the last time we had two substitute linemen who were as competent and accomplished as Hegarty and Hanratty?

    McGovern shone in the Spring and Bivin had some early moments before getting passed by McGovern. Big John Montelus just started playing this Spring. And Quenton Nelson and Bars lead the frosh.

    Compare and contrast with last year’s tight end conundrum after Eifert left for the Bengals. While no one “replaced” Eifert, Niklas and Koyack, with Koyack taking a few games to get going, were a solid duo. It was potent ordnance, just ordnance different from Eifert. Losers look back, winners, and winning coaches, look forward.

    We have not had this kind of depth and roster and class balance since 1993, and, frankly, there is more balance in recruiting and depth chart right now.

    I fully welcome this as an annual rite for Notre Dame Football under this “paradigm shift.”
    We marvel at the performance and skill of the departed and begin to enjoy their Sunday play. Yet we smile in delight of the young studs who are taking their place.

    With Stanley, Elmer and McGlinchey we are taller, more athletic, rangier.
    Compare and contrast Martin/Lombard with Cave/Golic.

    And prepare to watch a lot of points scored.

  9. Replacing Martin (blind side tackle) is huge and the steady play of Chris Watt is very big also.

    1. But if Zaire starts it won’t really be the blind side tackle, this could get confusing.

      1. Guess what drunken one, if you really think Zaire is going to start then you know even less than I thought.

      2. I’m a man who discovered the wheel and built the Eiffel Tower out of metal and brawn, that’s the kind of man I am.

    2. “If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour you’re gonna see some serious shit!”

  10. Dont underestimate Zaire. He will get playing time and will do well. He
    can run better than Golson and is a real competitor.We will have to score alot of points.

  11. Guys, I see our offense being significantly better this year. Main difference is QB. Nothing against TR, but Golson and Zaire are much better athletes. The ability for the QB to run the ball and throw deep will open up the field for the offense. We are going to score frequently.

    On defense, we would stink in 2014 if we utilized Diaco’s philosophy. BVG’s style is perfectly suited for our defensive talent. I think we will give up some big plays, but we will get more sacks and interceptions. Our D will be improved from last year.

    We are going to win a lot of games!

    Go IRISH!!!


  12. Not so sure about the glaring size/physical difference between Koyack and Niklas.

    Troy Niklas was listed as a Junior at 6’6″ 270
    Ben Koyack, also a junior last year, was listed as 6’5″ 261.

    It’s not really that farfetched to see Koyack grow an inch from last year and add 10 lbs of muscle. If he does, he’s right there with Niklas.

    As far as a receiving threat, I would have expected a falloff in receptions for the TE this year no matter if Niklas had stayed or not.

    With so many options in the passing game, from players who can stretch the field from sideline to sideline and vertically, improved speed at the slot, match up nightmares in Robinson, and running backs catching the ball out of the backfield more, a drop off in TE receptions should be expected.

    But if Koyack can add that size and improve his blocking, that could be the difference between a good running game, and a great running game.

    1. “Big question mark is defense,” maybe. But, and I’ll admit this may just be me, (though I do think there are other fans thinking similarly) I have some real confidence in BVG. I believe if the D does what it’s coached to do we are going to be pretty-damn-good.

      1. I’m a tad of two minds on the defense. I think the team is way more than competent at 9 positions, the DL (4 men) the secondary (the move of Farley to cornerback was addition by subtraction) and wherever the truly great Jaylon Smith plays.

        The salient question is the other two linebacker spots. But the coaches seem pleased with John Turner, and September’s four games give him time to acclimate.

        The rub is middle linebacker. You can tell that Kelly both likes Schmidt but is highly cognizant of his limitations. There are solutions: a healthy Grace (arguably unrealistic) Councell adjusting to the inside, spotting Kendall Moore, Rising Deeb or wunderkind frosh Nyles Morgan. Solve the middle and the defense may be a highly pleasant surprise.

        People are sleeping on what Riggs’ arrival and Redfield’s ascendance mean in the secondary. I expect our secondary to be spectacular, and that’s the word I mean.

  13. I’m not worried about the offense but the defense could be awful. I will say that with a more aggressive defensive scheme it will be fun to see where this team ends up.

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