Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 4 of 63 JUNE/JULY 2017 5 ON THE IRISH BEAT MATT JONES Staff writer Matt Jones has been with Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2016. He can be reached at T he 2017 NFL Draft was a quiet one for Notre Dame fans, with just quarterback DeShone Kizer and defensive lineman Isaac Rochell hearing their names called. A two-player draft class is disap- pointing for a number of reasons, most notably because it proves that the Irish are falling even farther be- hind juggernaut programs like Ala- bama and Ohio State, which had 10 and seven players taken, respectively. But it's not as bad as it appears. Notre Dame had seven players chosen in the 2016 edition, including six in the first three rounds. That's a one-year statement rivaled by few other programs. The fact that the Irish didn't ad- equately follow up that draft class in 2017 is puzzling, but for explainable reasons. Sure, there were some head- scratchers who went undrafted — at times dominant defensive tackle Jarron Jones for example — but the two-player class was not surprising. Fifth-year senior offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey would have likely been a first- or second-round pick this year had he declared. But instead he'll anchor the left side of the Irish line in 2017 alongside senior Quen- ton Nelson and form one of the na- tion's more promising tandems once again. As it stands now, both McGlinchey and Nelson will be near the top of their position groups in next year 's draft. McGlinchey gave his reasoning for coming back. "It's just the matter of whether or not you were ready," he said when asked if he had any second thoughts about staying. "To be a successful athlete, you have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror, look at you on the film and be real and understand what you can see and what you need to improve. "The way you have to approach it and the way I approached it all off- season is identifying and being true to what I see on the film. As long as I stick to that, I'll be okay. I certainly felt really, really good about coming back to Notre Dame." That's a logical explanation, al- though many college stars forgo their final years of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft only to go undrafted. There were 103 underclassmen who declared in 2017, and 30 went un- selected. The 29.1 percent of under- classmen who went undrafted is a slight increase from recent seasons (28 percent in 2016, 28.6 percent in 2015). It's more than likely things bal- ance out in 2018, when the Irish are poised to put six or seven in the draft, including potential underclass- men in wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, running back Josh Adams and tight end Alizé Mack. It just so happens that Notre Dame's most talented players in 2016 were not draft-eligible. NFL talent is just one barometer for determining a program's health. Programs that churn out draftees typically recruit well, and in turn win games. It's happening at Alabama and Ohio State now, just as it did at Notre Dame in the 1990s and Miami in the 2000s. If the Crimson Tide had just two players drafted, it would be cause for concern for a program that has five-stars lining the depth chart. It's a different case at almost every other school. But there are exceptions to the rule, cases where a down year in terms of drafted players does not represent how successful the college team is on the field. As Lou Somogyi wrote on Blue-, Notre Dame had no players taken in the 1977 NFL Draft. But three future first- or second- round picks (Ross Browner, Luther Bradley and Willie Fry) — who could have been drafted — used a fifth sea- son (after a 1974 year-long suspen- sion) and won the '77 national title. That kind of talent rarely returns in modern college football. Stars Will Fuller and Jaylon Smith passed up their senior seasons at Notre Dame and entered the NFL Draft early in 2016, going in the first two rounds. Positions where there's a short shelf life — running back most notably — typically do not play four or five years in college. Even with the lack of drafted players off the 2016 team, the cam- paign was made more frustrating when compared to the talent, or lack thereof, on the teams Notre Dame lost to en route to a 4-8 finish. Navy and Duke had no players se- lected. Texas had just one. Michigan State and Stanford had two players taken. Virginia Tech had four and North Carolina State had three. Even blue-blood rival USC had five picked, good for 11th best in the country, be- hind Utah (eight) and North Carolina (six). Changes were made in all facets of the Notre Dame program this off- season. But overreacting to one draft class — because most of the starters from 2016 are returning — is unnec- essary and unwarranted. ✦ Two-Player Draft Class Explainable At Notre Dame Left tackle Mike McGlinchey would have likely been a first- or second-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, but instead choose to return to Notre Dame for his fifth-year senior campaign. PHOTO BY RICK KIMBALL

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