Notre Dame Once Again A Pathway to the NFL

Recent Notre Dame alum seen before a 2014 pre-season contest between the Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings.  Seven different former Notre Dame football players were on the two rosters.  Photo: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Watching the NFL Draft became a painful endeavor for Irish fans after the departure of Notre Dame coaching legend, Lou Holtz. Notre Dame devolved into something of a run-on joke for NFL pundits who criticized everything ranging from the lack of production from Notre Dame alumni in the NFL to their increasingly dwindling number. And what made the criticisms really sting was their truthfulness.

The thirteen NFL Drafts from 1998 to 2010 saw Notre Dame place only three players into the NFL as first round selections. To put this number in proper perspective, Lou Holtz had twelve first round draft choices in ten years. The post-Holtz Notre Dame was a great place to receive an education but a poor location for those dreaming of playing on Sundays. At least until Brian Kelly accepted the Notre Dame head coaching position in 2010.

Last year’s NFL Draft saw Kelly overtake Holtz for the most first round NFL Draft selections in the first five years on the job with four. Additionally, Notre Dame had eight players drafted overall, which tied with Alabama for second most of any college program and was one player shy of LSU’s nine. And while this year’s NFL Draft will be a quiet one for Notre Dame due to only losing three starters in Kyle Brindza, Cody Riggs and Ben Koyack, the biggest reason for that silence is the return of star offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley.

Stanley played all thirteen games of the 2013 season at right tackle before being moved to left tackle in 2014 to fill the void left by former standout Zack Martin. And Stanley continued to follow in Martin’s shoes by foregoing this year’s NFL Draft for one more season of polishing at left tackle, a move supported by NFL analysts like Daniel Jeremiah who feel Stanley could be truly special.

Stanley’s decision to stay was very likely influenced by the historic benefits Zack Martin received by heeding the advice of NFL experts and staying in college one more year. Martin was taken with the 16th overall pick by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2014 draft before embarking on a nearly unprecedented rookie campaign. The former Notre Dame star would win the starting right guard spot and help anchor an offensive line that allowed running back DeMarco Murray to capture the NFL rushing title. Martin would become one of only three rookies named to the NFL Pro Bowl and was the first rookie named to the AP’s All-Pro team since 1947.

Ronnie Stanley will lead a host of Notre Dame talent to the NFL in 2016 that will likely include Sheldon Day, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and numerous others who may consider an early NFL career. And as Notre Dame has seen with its track record of NFL tight ends, once a successful foundation is laid the process becomes easier to replicate. The success of Zack Martin in the NFL and the buzz around Ronnie Stanley are already creating ripple effects within the Notre Dame program. Kelly and his staff signed one of the most coveted offensive lineman last year in the nation in 5-star Quenton Nelson – who gained Internet fame last year when he bench-pressed 225 pounds 26 times as a high school senior, a higher number than No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick Jadeveon Clowney – who is projecting to start at guard for Notre Dame this fall.

That momentum has continued into the current recruiting cycle, with Notre Dame securing the commitments of two of Ohio’s best offensive line talent in Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg. The fact Kelly has been able to lock down two of Ohio’s best players in the same year Ohio State captured a national championship is a testament to the power of producing NFL talent.

For over a decade Notre Dame has had to fight an uphill battle against claims that it couldn’t get players to the NFL. Brian Kelly has completely transformed that perception, and Notre Dame can now use the NFL as a source of strength on the recruiting trail.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at scottjanssenhp@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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9 comments

  1. Ray 5 years ago

    They left John Sullivan out of this picture and though he could not snap the ball in a shotgun when he played for us his blocking was never suspect and he apparently learned to snap the ball in the shotgun.

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  2. Damian 5 years ago

    Weis is probably laughing all the way to the bank (though I think he wants to coach). In a way Kevin White and the AD of Kansas are the dopes. White panicked thinking Weis was going to bolt for the NFL, yet Weis really hadn’t proved anything at that point. I’m still dismayed Weis got that huge contract extension after a loss (granted an exciting game where ND almost toppled a great USC team). I think that’s part of the reason Swarbick was a little more judicious with BK’s contract (not to mention White’s move was just moronic).

    Even worse was Kansas’ AD. A huge contract for a coach who has not yet proved himself, and probably never will.

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  3. Shazamrock 5 years ago

    Two divorced men and the smartest guy in football?

    There is only one thing worse than divorced men….

    it’s men who insist on perpetuating a failed marriage, no matter how unhealthy it is, or how fake it is, all in the name of social acceptance and personal image.

    As for CW thinking he’s the smartest guy in football…. besides his white board and marker, he probably has a degree in finance and marketing from the University of Notre Dame.

    With ND, he originally signed a 6yr. $2 million dollar contract, that after 1 year was extended to 10yrs $40 million that was intended to keep him in South Bend through the 2015 season.

    Then Kansas paid him $15 mil over 5yrs… plus… 2 cars, a country club membership, a $2 million dollar term life insurance policy, Jayhawk basketball tickets and 50 tickets for all home football games.
    He is still owed $5.625 million by the university

    In other words, Notre Dame and Kansas will pay CW a total of $4.6 million…”Not to Coach”

    Smartest guy in (or out of) football???

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  4. Damian 5 years ago

    AJ, I have to agree. I’ll admit it is taking longer than even I expected, but I see BK moving the program in a positive direction. Until BK was in the job for a while, I hadn’t realized how much damage 15 years of Davie-Willingham-Weis mediocrity did to ND football. There were real structural deficiencies that BK and Swarbick have been working to correct. More than anything, I believe that’s why it has taken a long time. That being said, I really do believe this will be judgment year for BK. There is no reason this team should not be playing in, at minimum, a NY Day six bowl. If they don’t get that far this year, I really don’t see anything they can change or do. This team and coaching staff is about as top notch as you can get in CFB.

    Duranko, I will say Weis is not quite so full of himself as he once was (frankly, unless he’s delusional how could he be). He is not a good head coach, he cannot develop a team. That’s not to say there’s not a role he could play in football, but I believe his niche would be a technical coaching role on an NFL team.

    I still get cracked up when ND haters used to throw the old ND got rid of Willingham for Weis thing out there. Total disregard for history. They got rid of Willingham for 2 reasons, 1st he was not a good head coach (his time at Washington put the nail in his HC coffin) and 2, they wanted Urban Meyer, not Weis. They thought they had a once in a lifetime shot at Meyer (and he really didn’t dispel that notion). Weis was what, the 3rd choice after Meyer spurned them.

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  5. AJ 5 years ago

    That’s why I continuously say Kelly is the guy for ND. We got a good one. I know we all want the national championship and thought we had it 2012. However, Kelly is building something special and I know he’s been at it for 6 years, but remember, we stunk for 15 years and with all the positives we have grown to love about ND, the negatives are what gets pitched to 16-18 year old recruits. I have said it before, Notre Dame is one of the hardest places to recruit to. Yet it can be one of the easiest if you know how to use those positives. Kelly, unlike his predecessors, knows those positives and how to recruit ND type of players and best of all, he gets them to the NFL. This is why we take the two best o-linemen from Ohio State’s (fresh off a Natty) back yard. If you get guys in that you can coach, get the best out of them, do it the right way. Good things will happen. I myself was originally from Ohio and I am always proud to say I am Irish!

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  6. Storespook 5 years ago

    There is a great irony that the man with out NFL involvement is on his way of sending out bone fide young men who stand to potentially do well. Chip Kelly is right, it’s about the football culture you create. Bobby Davie, Tyrone W, and Charlie boy didn’t know how to create that culture needed to go on to Sunday and play well.

    Go ND

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  7. duranko 5 years ago

    Weis is a walking mess, choked, at stop after stop by his own arrogance.

    Weis is best understood in juxtaposition to Chip Kelly. Kelly has spoken the truth”
    “it is culture, not play calling that wins football games.”

    Weis had a white board and a marker. Chip Kelly has wisdom. that’s why he got to a national championship game and nearly beat Cam Newton’s Auburn team. Kelly, in one foul twelve month period, lost HOME games, on hitherto hallowed turf, to Navy Syracuse and Connecticut.

    He could not meet even those laughably low expectations in Lawrence Kansas for the Jayhawk Football team.

    Weis was also a disgrace to Notre Dame traditions, ignoring Leahy Rockne and Parseghian. Instead he bragged about two divorced men, Parcells and Belichick and tom Brady he of the bastard child.

    And you can bet this. In his private moments, mystified and disoriented like a recently spayed cat, Weis still thinks he’s the smartest guy in football.

    Pride goeth before the Fall, in South Bend, Gainesville or Lawrence.

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  8. Ron Burgundy 5 years ago

    Not very difficult to be an effective assistant working for Belichick and calling plays for Tom Brady.

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  9. Damian 5 years ago

    Interesting, considering Charlie Weis came from the NFL and used his 3 Superbowl rings to woo recruits, and very few of his players had NFL sucess. And here’s BK, with no real NFL pedigree preparing kids well for the NFL. I find that ironic on many levels.

    Brady Quinn was a bust in the NFL–though frankly not sure if that was entirely his and Weis’ fault. Being drafted by the Cleveland Browns can be career suicide even for the best rated QB. And I tend to wonder if Clausen will ever pan out in the NFL. He hasn’t been given many chances, but he has not taken advantage of the opportunities that have come his way very well.

    BK and his staff have done a great job developing players and preparing them for the NFL. Weis is a good technical, X’s and O’s guy, but not nearly as good at developing and nurturing players. Frankly, being an offensive coordinator is probably Weis’ niche-designing and calling plays (at least considering our issues during most of his tenure–taking out the disastrous 2007 season–was our defense, ND was scoring a lot of points much of the time, we just couldn’t stop opposing teams from scoring).

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