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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

May 5, 2022

If you need to know why way-too-early mock drafts are a waste of everyone’s time, look no further than the fact that Corey Robinson and Ishaq Williams were both projected as first round picks by media members at one point in time. So when this current Notre Dame team has the Sporting News slotting in four first round picks from it and PFF not including any Irish players, all you can really do is shrug your shoulders and move on.

If Notre Dame doesn’t have any first round picks next spring, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to have a bad year. They made the College Football Playoff in 2020 without one selected in 2021.

But if they have four, it’s safe to say that they are a lock to be very good. They haven’t had more than two in the same year since 1994. That year they had three and they had four in the previous draft. It’s not a coincidence that they finished 21-2-1 in back-to-back seasons.

If they are going to have more than two first round picks in next year’s NFL Draft, they’ll need the obvious thing to happen with both Michael Mayer and Isaiah Foskey being as good or better than expected and one or more players to prove they are elite at their position. On top of that, Jarrett Patterson would have to be the best center in college football. That’s the only way for that to happen as no more than one center has been selected in round one of the NFL Draft in the last 20 years and a center has gone off the board then only 60% of the time.

For someone like Brandon Joseph, who was included in The Sporting News mock draft, he’ll have to make as many plays as he did on the ball at Northwestern and tackle like this.

If he does that, then he’s going to be an All-American.

Getting to a point where Notre Dame could have four first round picks in a year is exactly where they want to be, but for that to happen now, a lot of things would have to break right because three of those four players I just mentioned don’t play positions that are valued the same way that quarterbacks, receivers, edge rushers, and cornerbacks are. What’s more important for this season is for multiple players to have the Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in 2019 kind of breakout that can help propel the Irish to CFP contender.

There’s several candidates on defense like Rylie Mills, Marist Liufau, Howard Cross, or even some who might be considered more of a surprise like Prince Kollie or Ramon Henderson. There’s true sophomores on offense like Blake Fisher, Joe Alt, and Lorenzo Styles on top of a young backfield that is bursting with talent.

It will likely be those individuals who are going to be critical in determining whether or not the Irish can hang with or beat Ohio State and Clemson.

Does this Notre Dame team have enough “dudes” to match the best teams they’ll face this season? The answer will only be yes if they get dynamic seasons from enough players who haven’t proven they can be that yet.

2. “Let's call it like it is. If ND cannot beat Cincinnati, regardless of where they play them, how far have they really come as a program, and where do they fit on the national stage with all the other top 10-15 teams?”

This was a comment from an ISD subscriber in the lead up to the Cincinnati game last season. It had over a dozen “likes” so there were definitely people who agreed with it and it implied that Cincinnati was not on the level of the best in the country. In the sense that Cincinnati is Cincinnati and Notre Dame is Notre Dame, it makes sense, but looking at that roster before and after the game, it was obvious that Cincinnati was the group with more difference-makers on their roster.

That was proven out with Cincinnati having six players drafted in the top-109 picks on last week’s draft. Kyle Hamilton was the only one for Notre Dame.

To put that number into greater perspective, the only Notre Dame team in the last decade to have more top picks than Cincinnati had was the 2015 squad (seven in the top-103 in the ‘16 Draft). You’d have to go all the way back to the ‘94 Draft to find the time when Notre Dame had as many before that.

The assumption by many Notre Dame fans was that Cincinnati would be inferior because of recruiting rankings or Group of 5 status. The reality was that they clearly did a fantastic job with evaluation and development, which helped them have an unprecedented level of talent for a program that isn’t considered a blue-blood.

If Notre Dame fans are looking for good news from that, look no further than Notre Dame’s staff having five former Cincinnati employees now working for them led obviously by Marcus Freeman and assistants Mike Mickens, Al Washington, Brian Mason, and director of recruiting Chad Bowden.

Those guys did a lot of good there and can be a big part of Notre Dame eventually producing more top NFL picks than they’ve had.

3. One thing I’ll be very interested in during the off-season for Notre Dame is what kind of talent they are able to bring into camps this summer. The previous staff had some good turnouts at Irish Invasion, but not nearly enough rising juniors and sophomores who were considered blue-chips on campus.

Notre Dame’s camps haven’t been a destination in the same way that Alabama’s or Ohio State’s have been in recent years. It will be interesting to see if that can change under Freeman and if it can happen as soon as this summer.

4. I know people want Dante Moore‍ in Notre Dame’s class yesterday because they are worried about who can fill the void if he goes elsewhere. It’s easy to forget that it's a marathon and not a sprint in recruiting and that goes for the quarterback position too.

At the same time in his recruitment a few years ago, CJ Stroud was looking at Cal and Baylor before balling out at the Elite 11 and raising his profile. Bryce Young was a long-time USC commit in the same cycle before he ultimately flipped to Alabama in September. Those are the top two quarterbacks in the country in college football currently and things changed drastically for them as recruits.

I could see someone like Purdue commit Rickie Collins‍ becoming the CJ Stroud of this class and chances are that at least one elite quarterback prospect will be open to a flip at some point.  

Nothing is ever over in recruiting as was proven when Notre Dame lost out on Will Shipley, but recovered quite nicely with Logan Diggs and Audric Estime. I think every fan who follows recruiting (a little too) closely has anxiety about the backup plan if Moore doesn’t end up at Notre Dame. The truth is that they might not need it and if they do, the odds are decent that the plan is a pretty good one.

5. Speaking of Diggs, shoulder surgery is no joke and I worry that might derail his entire 2022 season. The timeline of when he may be able to come back can vary greatly depending on the type of surgery and how he responds to rehabilitation.

If there’s one position on offense where Notre Dame could be okay after losing a player, running back is probably at the top of the list given everything seen and heard with Estime and JD Price behind Chris Tyree. Throw in Gi’Bran Payne who will arrive in the summer and the Irish could be more than fine in the backfield with that group.

I’m not going to pretend that Diggs wasn’t capable of having a breakout season, though. He already proved a lot as a true freshman, including being someone who can handle the other parts of the position outside of toting the rock. That’s something we don’t know about the other backs outside of Tyree and that’s one reason why it would be great for Diggs to be back healthy before the season.

Here’s another reason.

6. Any program would want the reigning Biletnikoff winner on their team if they could add and if USC does, Jordan Addison obviously makes them better this season.

Let’s take the NIL part out of this scenario for a second and focus on the simple addition of transfers. If Addison does go to USC, that would make it 16 transfers and counting for the Trojans. LSU has added 15. Oklahoma and Miami are bringing in 11 to each of their programs.

Some of the transfers they are bringing in will make a significant impact. From a pure talent perspective, they are making their respective teams better.

It’s still interesting to me that these four coaches who are in year one at their separate institutions are going this route this heavily to fill holes on their rosters. It will likely help them win more games than they would have if they didn’t go heavy into the transfer portal, but how is that going to have an overall impact on the culture of their program?

I have to think that it could really hurt the buy-in level from the current players on the roster, but maybe those coaches don’t care that much. Brian Kelly didn’t seem to care all that much about the players he inherited early on at Notre Dame, but most of those players were the ones who helped him have his first undefeated regular season in 2012. If he was bringing in “mercenaries” when he started in South Bend, would he have lost out on having players like Karpon Lewis-Moore and Zeke Motta become as important as they were to that team?

It’s possible I’m overreacting to the idea of this many transfers coming in and affecting the current roster when the reason the new coach is there is because those players lost with the previous coach. Maybe those programs desperately need a shakeup and that many transfers is the easiest way to accomplish that.

However, I think there is some decent talent that has been inherited at all of those schools and there are some players who could use a fresh start with better coaching. I’m not sure if they’ll get that fresh start or if they’re already considered to be less than a stop-gap for the new recruits and transfers who will be brought in by the new coach.

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