Brian Kelly’s All-Time Notre Dame Team: Offense

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.

Quarterback

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.

Running Back

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.

Wide Receiver

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.

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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.)

Tight End

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.

Offensive Line

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.

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20 comments

  1. KB 3 weeks ago

    NeedJeff Samardzija on there

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  2. Damian 3 weeks ago

    You’d think with all that talent ND’s record would have reflected that. Ironic in a way. When BK was first hired there was a lot of excitement because ND finally got the guy they wanted on the first try. But there was concern as to whether he could recruit top players. One thing Weis did bring to the table (probably the only thing in retrospect) was his ability to recruit. BK showed in large part he can recruit too.

    But his development has been lacking, esp. at QB. I keep beating a dead horse but he had so many promising QB’s come in and flame out. Wimbush is just the latest (unless he shows a dramatic turnaround this season). I’m starting to believe it’s a coaching issue at this point.

    With such strong players as those noted above, we should be doing better than we are.

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    1. ChrisJ 3 weeks ago

      Weis’s offenses were pretty good, Damian. It’s his lack of defenses that got him fired.

      I agree about Kelly and the QBs. When you make them feel they are on a short leash and can be pulled at any given moment for the next guy in line, how are you supposed to play relaxed? Just one example…

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      1. Damian 3 weeks ago

        Yeah, true. We got into too many shootouts under Weis. And defense was always an issue.

        I think part of the problem was the constant changes in coaching. I sort of thought he pulled the plug on Corwin Brown too quickly. He thought he got a big hire when he got Tenuta, but we all know how that turned out. But when Brown was the DC I thought the defense was starting to show some signs of life again. It was still a work in progress, but at least IMO I thought it was starting to look up a bit. We’ll never know what would have happened if Weis had stuck with Brown as sole DC. But going from a 4-3 under Minter, then 3-4 under Brown and back to 4-3 with blitzing on pretty much every down definitely was a dud.

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    2. Rayjay 3 weeks ago

      Wimbush’s issues are not on Kelly. He plays like a high school star because of his athletic ability. Yes, he was highly rated but these clowns don’t realize the difference in out athleting people in high school and having the know how to play QB. Wimbush is learning and hopefully will learn to play like a QB and not an athlete but sprinkle in his ability to make athletic plays when a play breaks down.

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      1. southside 3 weeks ago

        Rayjay , I think Wimbush will be better. The next level from high school — to playing live action of college football — is quite an adjustment. 2017 , was his first taste of action–on the field of play. 2018 — he’s good to go leading Irish to numerous wins. Must stress the importance of an Irish D — for any chance at Final Four. Need to stop opponents–especially in the crucial games on schedule.

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    3. southside 3 weeks ago

      Yes Damian , we should be doing better than we are. To do that , Irish need a strong D to win a National Championship. Like ’66 , ’73 , ’77 and ’88 — Irish won with defense. QB’s were not All Americans in the 4 titles since 1966. It’s hard to imagine — with Brady Quinn stats that Irish did not win a national title in 2005/2006 ! Why ? No D. Name one player on 2005/2006 team that played D–that will be remembered ? I”ll give you a hint —his last name starts with a Z. Go Irish.

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      1. Damian 3 weeks ago

        Zbikowski (sorry if I misspelled that–I had to pull that from memory 😉 ). But yes, defense was the key. It will be crucial this upcoming season too. I was upset when Elko left but retaining Lea blunts that quite a bit since I expect he will keep the basic Elko system in place. I was worried we’d have to face another defensive overhaul, that thankfully won’t happen.

        But I think Wimbush is going to have to show some decent improvement, esp. in his accuracy, for ND to have any hope. Defense is critical, but you still gotta score some points.

        If Wimbush falters and is pulled, then I think our chances of a playoff spot are pretty much nil (the same thing will happen if our defense falters down the stretch too)

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      2. Bruce Gregory Curme 2 weeks ago

        Yes Southside, but all of those NC teams had amazing offenses. Come on, 66 Eddy Conjar Wolski w/ Hanratty to Seymour…then in 73 maybe our best fullback ever, (not counting Bettis) Wayne Bullock and Eric Pennick with Clements and Dave Casper…then in 77 Jerome Heavens and a bunch of good slashing, leaping backs to compliment Joe Montana’s passing and McAfee at tight end…then 88 Tony Rice, the Rocket, Ricky Waters, and besides them, enough good running backs to run the ‘Bone’ near the goal line!

        And two of these four NC teams had big time offensive lines that were littered with future NFL guys…although some would say three of the four did!

        So Southside, yes, “D” wins NC’s, no doubt. But these were all great offenses too. This year, I think we match up quite well in the “O” line with an NC caliber line (we did last year too!) But this year, I would say our receivers (possibly including the TEs) also match up well with previous ND National Champion receiving corps. But the backfield (though it shows promise) is an unknown quantity for me at this time.

        BGC ’77 ’82

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  3. David Knight 3 weeks ago

    Holy Jesus, look at the Offensive Line. You may as well pencil yourself in at running back.

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  4. Greg Kelly 3 weeks ago

    Someday and most of us will be gone, the front of the helmet will read “ KELLY”

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  5. Rayjay 3 weeks ago

    Give me Golson over Kizer. Golson showed an ability to bring the team back many times. Kizer did once against Temple but failed miserably six times in 2016. Golson led us in 2012 and possibly could have again in 2014 if the call against us in the Florida State game was not made. He drove us to what should have been a win in that game too.

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    1. ndcrazymike 3 weeks ago

      Golson was pulled in 2012 for TOMMY REES when the IRISH fell behind in games and needed to pass!!! KIZER was a much better QB than GOLSON check the stats!!! KIZERS stats in 2016 are still better than anything GOLSON did passing!! IRISH would have made 2015 PLAYOFFS if the DEFENSE could have stopped STANFORD in the final game of the season!! Remember 20 Seconds left 3rd down and….STANFORD completes pass to their tight end for 32 yards over the middle!! KIZER to FULLER WAS UNSTOPABLE!!!

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      1. Rayjay 3 weeks ago

        To me the value of the QB is what he shows in making a team able to come back. Stats do lie. Though golson struggled against Michigan in 2012 he performed very well most of that season and drastically improved as it went on. He was pulled against Pittsburgh too and Rees stunk against Pittsburgh and thank God Kelly put Golson back in because he definitely led us back in that game.

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    2. NotreDan71 3 weeks ago

      Guess you weren’t a fan when they played Virginia?

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    3. David Knight 3 weeks ago

      Do you think that maybe Everett felt the need to press more because of our injury-riddled defense? I thought he was the best QB as well.

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      1. ndcrazymike 3 weeks ago

        you mean the injury riddled DEFENSE OF 2012? THAT DEFENSE LED THE IRISH TO THE TITLE GAME!! NOT THE BUMBLING OFFENSE WHERE THEY TOOK GOLSON OUT OF GAMES AT THE END FOR TOMMY REES!! GET SERIOUS!!! OBTW GOLSON WAS SUSPENDED FROM SCHOOL FOR THE 2013 SEASON!! RETURNED IN 2014 FOR A 8-5 SEASON, AND WAS REPLACED BY ZAIRE IN BOWL GAME VS. LSU!!

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  6. David Kouvek 3 weeks ago

    I’ve heard ridiculous things before, but lordy, what nonsense. Did Donald Trump help you make
    those selections? Did you ever hear of George Gipp? Johnny Lujack? Moose Connor? Tim Brown?
    Dave Casper? Paul Hornung? You and your idiotic sole reliance of statistics, statistics, and more
    statistics. Your choices are an unforgivable insult to the No. 1 football program in hiatory. Grow up,
    Buster!

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  7. Jack 3 weeks ago

    Great read! Only one I might argue about was Adams. If he had stayed healthy last year he would have been in New York. He made a horrible decision when he left ND!

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    1. Doc Savage 2 weeks ago

      Jack, that horrible decision has probably been countered with some big bucks whadda ya think?

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