There was a lot of talk around NFL draft time about the number of first round picks out of Notre Dame during the Kelly era. I even mentioned it in a piece a couple years ago; he’d accumulated more first round picks during his (at the time) 8 seasons than the previous 14, and it wasn’t even close–seven first round picks to four, and the number has grown to nine since last season.
It got me thinking, what would Brian Kelly’s all-time Notre Dame team look like? My initial thought was it would be stacked, and I think that turned out right.
I put the team together with the thought of constructing it to play an actual game, and I tried as best I could to leave out how their NFL careers have turned out. This is a Notre Dame thing after all. So, draft position is relevant, since this is a result of their college career, but NFL performance does not. Also, the player had to play at least two full seasons with Kelly. So someone like Kyle Rudolph would be out.
DeShone Kizer (2014-2016)
5,805 career passing yards, 61% completions, 8.4 y/a, 65 total touchdowns, 19 interceptions, 997 career rushing yards, 3.8 ypc
When this idea first came into my mind, I thought I was going to go with Everett Golson. Their passing stats are remarkably similar, with Golson posting identical passing touchdown numbers, and throwing one more interception, although Kizer was superior as a runner. I’m just really a fan of Golson’s game. But, Golson had moments where he simply wasn’t ready to play mentally (2012 Michigan, 2014 Arizona State, 2014 USC). Plus, the turnovers.
Kizer arrived at the best time and then the worst time. He inherited a phenomenal situation in 2015, and then a toxic one in 2016. His career is marred by how it ended. But, at his peak, there is no better option at quarterback. He was clutch at times, he could win with his legs, he can serve as the de-facto short yardage back, and wasn’t a turnover machine.
CJ Prosise (2013-2015)
1,155 yards, 6.9 ypc, 12 touchdowns, 62 receptions, 896 yards, 3 touchdowns
It was between Prosise and Adams for the “home run” type back. I found Prosise to be more elusive, and tougher to bring down, although the difference isn’t enormous. Prosise is also the better weapon in the passing game. Both were banged up throughout their careers, although Adams displayed more of a willingness to play through it. In the end, if both are at their peak, give me Prosise.
Theo Riddick (2009-2012)
364 touches, 2,432 scrimmage yards, 13 total touchdowns
From a stats perspective, this is probably indefensible, but I watched him play in 2012 and the guy had stones and I want him on the team. I figure the home run threat is occupied by Prosise and Riddick is a solid inside the tackles runner who is invaluable in the passing game. I’ll put it like this, if it’s 3rd and 3 with the game on the line, I want Riddick in there ahead of any back Notre Dame has had in the Kelly era to either run it, make the block, or catch it out of the back field.
Will Fuller (2013-2015)
144 receptions, 2,512 yards, 17.4 ypc, 30 touchdowns
A no-brainer pick. I’ll never forget his opening touchdown against Rice in 2014, for how badly he eviscerated their secondary and how instantly apparent it was he had that ludicrous speed and was basically unguardable. Imagine being in the defensive back film room the next week and seeing that. There is fast and then there is a guy flying past the safety while tracking a ball being thrown 60 yards in the air. Man, Will Fuller was exciting to watch.
Michael Floyd (2008-2011)
271 receptions, 3,684 yards, 13.6 ypc, 37 touchdowns
Again, a no-brainer to be on this team, so let’s move on to a more interesting topic. If you could only pick one, would you go with Floyd or Fuller? It’d be hard to look away from the size and speed of Floyd, he’s a matchup concern for any corner, and seemingly without weakness. He also developed into a superb blocker in the running game.
But, speed is intoxicating and Fuller has all of it. He also was a touchdown machine. Floyd scored a touchdown once every 7.3 receptions, while Fuller brought in one every 4.8 receptions. Give Fuller a comparable number of games and we’re probably looking at around 50 total touchdowns. No small thing. But, he’s also slight, and has been known to drop a pass or two.
Personally, I’m going Fuller. Can’t get over the speed.
(If we are going to a three wide set, the third receiver has to be TJ Jones. 181 catches, 2,429 yards, and 19 touchdowns. Great out of the slot, effective on jet sweeps, and a perfect compliment to Floyd and Fuller. Unstoppable group actually.)
Tyler Eifert (2009-2012)
140 receptions, 1,840 yards, 11 touchdowns
Eifert burst onto the scene in 2011 with 63 receptions and 800 yards, and was Notre Dame’s best receiver on the 2012 team, leading to his first round selection in the 2013 draft. The perfect combination of size, speed, and physicality as a blocker, it’s unfortunate he got the 2011 Tommy Rees and 2012 Golson during his ascent, and not someone like the 2014 Golson or 2015 Kizer. His numbers had the chance to be astronomical.
Eifert also effectively employed the literal meaning of the term boxing out in the end zone for a jump ball. Usually, announcers use the phrase “he can box out the defender” but that action doesn’t actually take place. It’s just something they say. Eifert put a stop to that against Wake Forest in 2012, when he ran to the back of the end zone and turned around with the defender on his back, not even pretending to run an actual route. Pretty great.
By the way, this team at wide receiver and tight end features three first round picks and a sixth round pick in TJ Jones. Only Floyd was a five star, with Fuller a low four star, and Eifert a three star. Kelly has consistently developed players at the skill positions.
Left tackle: Ronnie Stanley
Left guard: Quenton Nelson
Center: Nick Martin
Right guard: Zach Martin
Right tackle: Mike McGlinchey
Speaking of developing players. Among this quintet is two #6 picks, a #9 pick, the 16th pick, and the runt of the group at the 50th pick. They account for three, first team All-Americans, and a third team All-American. Since 2010, you’d be hard pressed to find a five man unit anywhere in college football better than this one. Incredibly, the 2015 unit had four of these guys in the lineup at the same time, although Nelson and McGlinchey weren’t at their full powers yet, they were just very good and not yet elite and other worldly. As you might have expected, that team was good at running the ball (#1 in nation, per S&P+). Let’s hope for the 2018 version, the trend of stellar linemen continues.