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Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Looking closer at ND in draft

By Matt Fortuna

No Notre Dame players will be at Radio City Music Hall for this weekend's NFL draft. No matter. The event could end up being one of the biggest pro showcases the Irish have ever been a part of.

There is a chance, albeit an outside one, that Notre Dame could hear 12 of its former players' names called in New York. If that happens, it would mark the Irish's biggest draft haul in 64 years, since the program had 13 former players taken in the 1950 draft. Notre Dame's two biggest drafts came several years before that, as it had 16 former players taken in the 1946 draft and 15 taken one year before that, in 1945.

Let's not forget that Danny Spond was in position to play himself into a draft pick before retiring last summer, which would have swelled the Irish's potential picks this weekend to 13. (Note: This number does not include transfer Aaron Lynch, an early entrant from USF.) The fact that a dozen former Irish players have a chance to be drafted is an obvious testament to the strides made in the Brian Kelly era.

Of course, it can be argued that only three of the Irish's 12 draft hopefuls -- Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas and George Atkinson III -- were true Kelly recruits, but as our friend Scott Janssen over at uhnd.com recently noted, the Irish's draft success under Kelly is more than just a coincidence.
If Notre Dame’s ability to develop NFL talent is connected to its long-term success, one look at Notre Dame’s draft history since the last national championship in 1988 clearly highlights why the Fighting Irish have been largely mediocre during the years after Lou Holtz’s departure and before Kelly’s arrival.

Notre Dame’s ability to produce elite, first-round NFL talent has been nearly non-existent since Lou Holtz’s departure in 1997. Bob Davie and Charlie Weis each oversaw five different draft classes and were only able to produce one first round draft selection. Tyrone Willingham, who oversaw two fewer NFL draft classes while head coach at Notre Dame, managed to produce one first round draft choice in center Jeff Faine, making Willingham’s production of first round selections slightly better than that of either Weis or Davie.

At this stage of the spring, Zack Martin is a virtual lock to be taken in the first round. Louis Nix and Tuitt could be as well. All three getting drafted Thursday would give Kelly six first round picks at Notre Dame, doubled the combined total of Willingham, Weis and Davie.

Looks like the pots of gold could be getting a bit heavier for high schoolers thinking about the Irish.