Notebook: Notre Dame's draft success has Indiana flavor

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

It wasn’t just the sheer numbers, but the geography involved that had Brian Kelly beaming the past few days.

An overlooked thread in the Notre Dame head football coach’s coast-to-coast recruiting success over the past seven years has been his diligence about not overlooking what’s in his own back yard.

Even though Indiana’s prep basketball prowess far exceeds its reputation in football.

Counting 2017 linebacker commit Pete Werner from Indianapolis Cathedral High, the Irish will have added 14 Hoosier prospects to the ND roster under Kelly’s watch. And they’re starting to show up in the NFL Draft as well.

“If they’re here in state and we believe we can develop them, Notre Dame’s going to recruit them,” Kelly said after two Indiana players from Notre Dame were selected in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft Friday night with another, defensive tackle Sheldon Day of Indianapolis, going early in Saturday's fourth round.

History says that’s no small feat.

In the first 12 NFL Drafts of the 2000s, the 15th-most populous state produced a disproportionately low 10 first- and second-rounders. But in the last four drafts, seven Indiana high school players came off the board in Rounds 1 and 2. The Irish account for four of them.

Tight end Tyler Eifert of Fort Wayne (first round, Cincinnati) in 2013 was the first Hoosier high school player from Notre Dame to reach the draft’s top two rounds since Indianapolis wide receiver Derrick Mayes in 1996.

Indianapolis Chatard offensive lineman Zack Martin (first round, Dallas) followed in 2014. Then Friday night, Fort Wayne linebacker Jaylon Smith and Chatard offensive lineman Nick Martin, were selected in the second round by Dallas and Houston, respectively.

Indiana University offensive tackle Jason Spriggs, a lightly recruited tight end when he played at Concord High, gave the state three elite draft prospects in this cycle. Those three helped Indiana move from 23rd to a tie for 18th in first- and second-rounders produced in the 2000s.

Here is the top 20, including this year’s draft: 1. Florida (141), 2. California (124), 3. Texas (110), 4. Georgia (67), 5. Alabama (49), 6. Ohio (41), 7. South Carolina (40), 8. Louisiana (34), 9. Virginia (32), 10. Michigan (31), 11. Pennsylvania (30), 12. New Jersey (27), 13. North Carolina (26), 14. Maryland (25), 15. (tie) Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi (20), 18. (tie) Illinois and Indiana (17), 20. (tie) New York and Oklahoma (16).

“Jaylon Smith obviously would have been a first-rounder, slam dunk and maybe the best pure player in the draft were it not for the injury,” Kelly said. “We’re proud that we recruit the state of Indiana well and what those players are becoming.”

Before and after

One of the strange sideshows of the NFL Draft is the annual ritual of recruiting analysts holding up the vast four-star category they tagged a player with in high school and justifying practically any draft position as proof positive of an accurate evaluation.

What they total dismiss, beyond the barely congruent comparison, is the concept of player development or, in some cases, a lack thereof.

In ND’s case, the 2016 draft class definitely leans toward the former. Since there is no star system in the draft, we took a look at how each of ND’s seven draftees was ranked nationally at his projected college position by Rivals.com.

We then compared it to how they players came of the board positionally in the draft. We used the NFL’s projection of position, so Nick Martin, for instance, is classified as a guard and not a center, his prominent position in college.

Here’s how the draftees compare, with draft position listed first:

Ronnie Stanley No. 1 OT No. 15 OT

Will Fuller No. 2 WR No. 19 WR

Jaylon Smith No. 3 LB No. 1 OLB

Nick Martin No. 3 OG No. 66 OT

K. Russell No. 12 CB No. 9 ATH

C.J. Prosise No. 4 RB Unranked S

Sheldon Day No. 13 DT No. 18 DT

A few notes:

• Smith would likely have been the No. 1 linebacker taken had he been healthy.

• Russell’s overall ranking gives a better apples-to-apples comparison than trying to size up a cornerback vs. the more talent-diluted “athlete” category. He was Rivals’ No. 124 prospect in the 2012 class and was drafted 74th overall in 2016.

• Prosise wasn’t ranked among Rivals’ top 60 safeties in 2012.

So if you factor in Smith’s knee injury, you could make a case that all seven ND draftees carried as good or — in most cases — a significantly better rating going out the door as they did coming in.

Undrafted free agents

Five undrafted former Notre Dame players on Saturday evening came to terms with teams as rookie free agents, including two of them who will remain teammates.

Safety Matthias Farley and slot receiver Amir Carlisle are headed to Arizona, while wide receiver Chris Brown heads to Dallas, safety Elijah Shumate to Tampa Bay and defensive end Romeo Okwara to the New York Giants.

Players who began their careers as undrafted free agents comprised 28.5 percent of the players on opening-week, 53-man rosters last season.

Brown, Shumate and Okwara all played in the East-West Shrine Game in January and were all considered late-round draft possibilities. Instead the Irish draft roll ended early in the fourth round, with defensive tackle Sheldon Day heading to Jacksonville as the draft’s 103rd overall selection.

Had just one of them been drafted, ND would have tied USC for all-time draft picks. The seven Irish selections closed the gap from four to one (493 to 492).

Notre Dame’s seven picks in the first four rounds tied the school’s four-round record for draftees, set in 1955 and matched in 1967, 1993 and 1994.

Linebacker Jarrett Grace, who came back from a career-threatening leg injury, will get a tryout this weekend at the Chicago Bears' rookie mini-camp.

Defensive end Ishaq Williams, whose last college game came in December of 2013, was invited to try out at the New York Giants’ mini-camp this weekend. ND grad Eilar Hardy, a safety who played his final season at Bowling Green, will get a tryout a the Cincinnati Bengals' mini-camp.

ehansen@ndinsider.com

574-235-6112

Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame center Nick Martin (72) is one of several former Indiana high school players who has contributed to ND's success on the field and has padded its rep in the NFL Draft. (AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)