Notre Dame players have enjoyed success in the NFL draft recently at a level not seen since the Holtz years, even accounting for the occasional prospect's high-profile drop. From 1998, the first NFL draft of Irish players coached by Bob Davie tenure, to 2011, the first NFL draft of Irish players coaches by Brian Kelly, Notre Dame placed only three players in the first round: Luke Petitgout in 1999, Jeff Faine in 2003, and Brady Quinn in 2007. In the last three drafts, however, four Irish players have been chosen in the first round: Michael Floyd and Harrison Smith in 2012, Tyler Eifert in 2013, and Zack Martin in 2014. The eight players selected in 2014 were the most in a single draft since the 1994 draft featured 10 Irish players.
Barring an accidental card swap or a moment of unbridled enthusiasm by Jerry Jones - unlikely, since none of the probable Irish draftees are Texans - that first round streak will end this year. The overall Notre Dame draft class will be very small too, possibly limited to just one player. It's not entirely surprising for a team that will return 18 starters in 2015; the most talented players on the roster last year were either underclassmen or not-quite-ready upperclassmen who will stay in school. Projecting the 2016 draft, Ronnie Stanley is a top 15 lock, and Sheldon Day, Keivarae Russell, and Jaylon Smith (please don't go!) all have a shot at the first round with a great season. This year, though, the Irish will almost certainly see the first two rounds come and go without a selection.
Let's take a look at who could get drafted for the Irish, where they could be selected, why they'd be selected there, and whose professional laundry they may wear first.
Ben Koyack, TE, 6'5", 255 pounds
Combine Stats: 4.79 40 yard dash, 30" vertical, 4.52 shuttle, 16 bench reps
Pro Day Stats: 4.72 40 yard dash, 30" vertical, 4.56 shuttle, 16 bench reps
Koyack is an interesting prospect. Those who follow recruiting may remember that the Oil City, PA product was a near five-star in the 2011 class, coming in at #42 on the 247 Composite; his production hasn't matched that of the similarly ranked Kyle Rudolph, but when you're stuck behind Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas that'll happen. Plus, he did manage to record the Most Awesome Official Points of 2014*:
* This is, of course, sandwiched between the #RememberTheSix scores from FSU and Michigan on the overall list. Not that we're bitter. Really.
What's really intriguing is that the skill that might get Koyack drafted is his blocking. Any Irish fan in 2012 or the first half of 2013 probably would've put blocking last on Koyack's lists of strengths, and by a good margin. That he's now considered a plus blocker by NFL scouts is a credit both to Ben's hard work and to the coaching of Scott Booker. He profiles as a mid-round pick.
Teams that need a tight end: Atlanta, Buffalo, Cleveland, Denver, Green Bay, New Orleans, Pittsburgh
Survey says: Cleveland, Denver, and New Orleans all have a need for more of a receiving tight end, after losing Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas, and Jimmy Graham, respectively. Atlanta could use a combo tight end, and it seems more likely they'd look elsewhere. Green Bay is a bit of a wild card but could possibly be in the market for a tight end. Buffalo and Pittsburgh seem like the natural fits in this group - Buffalo needs a blocker to complement Charles Clay and Pittsburgh needs an understudy for Heath Miller. Best guess: Pittsburgh, 5th round.
Cody Riggs, DB, 5'9", 187 pounds
Combine Stats: Not invited
Notre Dame Pro Day Stats: 4.45 40 yard dash, 33" vertical, 13 bench reps
Nobody questions Riggs's toughness, intelligence, or dedication to the game. The main knock on Cody, unfortunately, is something that he'll never be able to change - there's no way around the fact that he's clearly undersized for an NFL defensive back. Another frequent concern for NFL scouts is durability; Riggs didn't do himself any favors here with a couple of nagging injuries this past season and a tweaked hammy at Notre Dame's pro day. He did get a few private workouts in for teams, though:
Even with the physique concerns, he's considered a guy who plays bigger than his size, as they say, and will definitely draw interest from a few teams. He's a tough, heady player who ran a 4.45 and logged nearly 50 starts between Florida and Notre Dame; he'll get some kind of chance in the league. He'll likely find a home with a team that needs a nickel defensive back and/or special teams expert, probably in the late rounds or as an undrafted free agent.
Teams that need a reserve/nickel cornerback: Arizona, Baltimore, Carolina, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Miami, New England, Oakland, Seattle, St. Louis, Washington
Survey says: A lengthy list indeed, and I left off everyone who's looking for safeties and starting corners. Carolina, New England, Oakland, and Washington all have secondary depth issues and could be looking to grab bodies. Detroit and Miami could use nickel corners specifically, which is where I see Riggs getting his best shot at the next level. I don't think the rest of the teams mentioned are a great fit, but you never know. Best guess: Miami, UFA.
DaVaris Daniels, WR, 6'1", 201 pounds
Combine Stats: 4.62 40 yard dash, 37" vertical, 4.52 shuttle, 13 bench reps
Pro Day Stats: 4.53 40 yard dash, 39" vertical, 4.35 shuttle
DaVaris had an uneven experience at Notre Dame that left fans frustrated as he never quite maximized his obvious physical talent. One spring session missed for grades, one full year missed for academic integrity penalties, and numerous mental breakdowns on the field left fans frustrated. He always seemed like kind of a big kid - remember the Hunger Games salute after he scored on BYU in 2013? - who just couldn't put it all together at Notre Dame.
Some NFL team will take a chance that the DaVaris who recorded six catches for 105 yards against Alabama's vaunted 2012 defense is the real deal, but with all the inconsistency it's hard to imagine a team actually using a draft pick to do so. He's still raw in terms of receiving skills, so look for a team that might need receiver help in a couple of years pick him up now on the cheap to develop him.
Teams that could add depth at wide receiver: Houston, Kansas City, New York Jets, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, Tampa Bay
Survey says: This is a really tough one to handicap just because front office opinions on Daniels could range all over the place. I could see the Jets picking him up to let him learn the pro game while Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker hold down the fort for a couple of seasons. Oakland could pretty much use anybody. The other teams might need help sooner and aren't as good a fit, although DaVaris and San Diego (the city) would seem to be an excellent fit for each other. Best guess: Jets, 7th round.
Kyle Brindza, K, 6'1", 236 pounds
Combine Stats: 14 bench reps
Pro Day Stats: 21 bench reps
Brindza, a special teams mainstay at Notre Dame for the last four years and the do-everything guy for the last two, had set a somewhat odd goal of beating the Combine record for kicker bench press - 25 set by USC's David Buehler in 2009 - and fell woefully short. Fortunately nobody in the NFL really cares about how much a kicker can bench, though, so he got away with it. And anyway, he has shown his strength on the field.
If you're scoring at home, this is the third time I've used this GIF. I love it.
Obviously the holder situation was kind of a mess last year, but even on clean holds Brindza had some accuracy issues. He has NFL leg strength, though, both as a kicker and a punter. His versatility may ultimately be his ticket to an NFL roster; he's not exceptional at any specialist job, but he's good enough at all of them to be useful. He's nearly certain to end up as an undrafted free agent.
Teams that could use a kicker: Um, well, I don't know. Nobody really tracks kicker needs in draft previews.
Survey says: Yep, still no idea. If your team's kicker made you throw something at least four times last year, you might see Brindza in camp. Best guess: For no other reason than that he's a Michigander, I'll say Detroit, UFA.
Cam McDaniel, RB, 5'9", 185 pounds
Combine Stats: Not invited
Notre Dame Pro Day Stats: 4.59 40 yard dash, 35" vertical, 4.21 shuttle, 17 bench reps