The 2014 NFL Draft is in the books, and with it comes a reflection on success. For the eight Irish players who were drafted, they’re basking in some form of success. But what I want to examine in today’s piece is whether or not there is a difference in the success enjoyed by, say, Prince Shembo, and the success enjoyed by Troy Niklas? I also want to examine whether, or not, with this draft class, we can say that Coach Brian Kelly’s regime has been a success? Is the program successful? Let’s see.
With eight players selected in the draft, this was Notre Dame’s best class since 1994, when 10 players were selected and one better than 2007’s previous “modern era” record haul of seven. In fact, Notre Dame’s eight tied Alabama for second-most draftees, one behind LSU. That’s pretty strong company for an independent school, and puts us ahead of our peers, as it were. Stanford had 6 players drafted, FSU had seven, Boston College had four, North Carolina had three, Michigan had three, and USC had three. Rice had one player selected. USC’s relatively poor draft performance, interestingly, eroded its historic lead over the Irish at the head of the “Most Players in the NFL” list to a very narrow two: USC has 487 players selected to the NFL over the years. Notre Dame now has 485. In third place, OSU has 413 players in history.
Kelly saw 6 players drafted in 2013, 4 in 2012, and 1 in 2011. This class, 2014’s, was the first class recruited one hundred percent by Coach Kelly, if you include Louis Nix, III, who committed to Notre Dame when it was without a head coach.
If Notre Dame takes the lead over the Trojans, though, it’s not going to be because players are leaving early. GAIII, Troy Niklas, and Stephon Tuitt all left early for the 2014 draft, much to Coach Kelly’s chagrin. Eric Hansen at the South Bend Tribune hit this issue out of the park ten days ago and his article is well-worth a read, if only to see in black-and-white that recruits who talk about leaving early for the NFL will talk themselves out of Notre Dame’s consideration.
But for a player like Tuitt, who left early, his slip from the first round to the second round, the Steelers took him with the forty-sixth overall pick, cost him about $3.4 million. If Stephon, or Troy Niklas, also a second-rounder, comes back to get his degree, good for him. But what about GAIII, who had to settle for an undrafted free agent contract with the Raiders? For him, his ND experience resulted in no degree and a long-shot to make a 53-man roster.
The opposite example, from a pure football perspective, is found in Prince Shembo. He played, stayed, got his degree, and his impressive fourth round selection puts some major coin in his pocket, when you consider that he was projected to go in the sixth round. Niklas may have improved his draft position by coming out, given the relatively weak offerings, but who is to say he couldn’t have improved his stock with a strong showing in 2014 and who’s to say he wouldn’t be better situated with another season at the position and a diploma on his wall?
Looking at graduation rates overall, Notre Dame’s football Graduation Success Rate of 94 is right there with the best. Rice’s 96 is better, sure, but Stanford is 93, Boston College is 94, Michigan is 66, and Florida State is a 58. The NCAA’s other graduation metric, which somehow uses math to account for players who go pro but come back to get their degree but not if they wear blue shoes or whatever, APR, is another strong stat for the Irish. Notre Dame’s APR is 973. Stanford’s is 978. Boston College’s is 982. Michigan’s is 951. Florida State’s is 954.
So, I think it’s fair to say that the BK years have been a success. Starting with the 2011 draft, Notre Dame has seen twenty-three players drafted into the NFL, a GSR that has dominated the charts like Michael Jackson in the 1980’s, and one appearance in the National Championship. In fact, it can be argued that Everett Golson’s academic gaffe took away ND’s chances of making back-to-back appearances. Whether his return in 2014 brings the boys back to the big game remains to be seen, but clearly, Notre Dame is succeeding on the field, in the classroom, and in the draft.