Notre Dame And NFL Early Entries
Tomorrow (Jan. 18) is the deadline for underclassmen to declare their intent to enter the 2021 NFL Draft, and they have a 72-hour period to reconsider after filing.
Our definition of an “early departure” is not the same as the NFL’s. For example, the NFL might list both left guard Aaron Banks and rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah as such because they still had a fifth season of eligibility at Notre Dame in 2021 (and not just because of the NCAA blanket rule automatically giving an extra year to all players in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic).
However, both Banks and Owusu-Koramoah have suited up the standard four years at Notre Dame (much like current three-time All-Pro Quenton Nelson in 2017, or wideout Miles Boykin in 2018) on their way to graduating.
Thus, in this current cycle junior tight end Tommy Tremble is the lone early entrant — the fourth at his position group under head coach Brian Kelly.
This marks the sixth straight year a Notre Dame player is turning pro after his junior season academically, and our guess is the streak likely will continue the next two as well with safety Kyle Hamilton (2022) and yet another tight end, Michael Mayer (2023).
On Feb. 17, 1990, the NFL declared it would allow college football players who had completed their junior years to be eligible for the spring draft. It was the last major professional sports organization to allow this practice.
In the first 20 years from 1990-09, only five Notre Dame players turned pro following their junior seasons academically. In the 11 years since 2010, Tremble is the 14th — and the 12th under Kelly. Here is the list:
Raghib “Rocket” Ismail (1991)
Projected as the No. 1 overall NFL pick in 1991, the 1990 Walter Camp Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy runner-up instead signed a then unheard of $18.2 million deal over four years with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.
As a rookie he was the Grey Cup MVP while leading Toronto to the title, but he opted to join the NFL’s Oakland Raiders by 1993. During his nine-year NFL career with Oakland/Los Angeles, Carolina and Dallas, Ismail caught 313 passes for 5,295 yards (16.9 yards per catch) and 30 touchdowns before retiring at the end of the 2001 season.
Jerome Bettis And Tom Carter (1993)
“The Bus” was the No. 10 overall pick of the then Los Angeles Rams, while cornerback Carter was selected by Washington with the No. 17 pick.
Bettis was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015 after a 14-year NFL career. Carter totaled nine years with three different franchises, recording 98 starts and 27 interceptions (six as a rookie).
Bobby Taylor (1995)
Even though he played half of 1994 with a broken hand, Taylor was projected a first-round pick at corner. He was stunned when six other cornerbacks were taken ahead of him and he dropped to the 50th overall pick in the second round, by the Philadelphia Eagles.
He ended up with a 10-year NFL career (the first nine at Philadelphia), highlighted by earning All-Pro honors in 2002.
Darius Walker (2007)
Far and away the most surprising decision, incensing head coach Charlie Weis in the process. Walker had a highly productive college career, finishing as Notre Dame’s fourth all-time leading rusher (3,249 yards) and first in passes caught by a running back (109), but because he possessed neither superb size nor game-breaking speed, he was bypassed in the draft.
Walker latched on temporarily with Houston, St. Louis, Dallas and Denver from 2007-09, producing 264 rushing yards and a touchdown during that time. He returned to Notre Dame in 2009 to earn his degree.
Jimmy Clausen And Golden Tate (2010)
Projected in some circles as a top-10 NFL pick, Clausen plummeted to No. 48 (second round). Clausen played in 13 games as a 2010 rookie, starting 10, but had an extremely low rating. Rookie Cam Newton then took over in 2011, and Clausen’s final season was 2015.
The 2009 Biletnikoff Award winner, Tate was also taken in the second round (60th overall pick), signing a four-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks for $3.261 million. A Super Bowl champion with the Seahawks, he is still playing (New York Giants), and his 695 career catches are the second most in the NFL by a former Notre Dame star, behind Hall-of-Famer Tim Brown’s 1,094.
Kyle Rudolph (2011)
Also a second-round pick (43rd overall), but the first tight end. He signed a four-year deal worth $3,907,164.
The two-time Pro Bowl pick with 132 starts just completed his 10th season with the Minnesota Vikings, where he has 453 career catches, 48 for scores.
Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas And George Atkinson III (2014)
Defensive lineman Tuitt was the No. 46 pick (second round) and has been a mainstay for the Pittsburgh Steelers, signing a six-year, $61.05 million deal in 2019.
Also a second-round pick (No. 52 overall), tight end Niklas retired after four seasons with 19 catches and three scores.
Atkinson latched on as a free agent at Oakland and last played for Cleveland in 2016 before tragically committing suicide in 2019.
Jaylon Smith And Will Fuller (2016)
A projected top-10 pick prior to a devastating knee injury in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, Smith dropped to the second round (No. 34 overall) to the Dallas Cowboys, sat out his rookie season but has been one of the NFL’s top tacklers the past three seasons and recording 498 total in his four years.
First-round wideout Fuller (No. 21 overall), although besieged by injuries throughout his five seasons, has been highly productive when healthy, recording 209 catches at 14.9 yards per reception and 24 scores.
DeShone Kizer (2017)
The second-round pick (No. 52 overall) landed with what was then the NFL’s worst franchise, Cleveland, and went through the throes (not just throws) of a 0-16 campaign. He started 15 games, passed for 2,894 yards with 11 touchdowns and 22 interceptions, and rushed for 419 yards and five scores.
His most recent game appearance was at Green Bay in 2018, and this past year he was on the practice squads with the Las Vegas Raiders and Tennessee Titans.
Josh Adams And Equanimeous St. Brown (2018)
Running back Adams latched on as a free agent at Philadelphia and as a 2018 rookie rushed for 511 yards, 4.3 yards per carry and two scores. The last two years he has played with the New York Jets, this past year recording 29 carries for 157 yards and two scores.
Sixth-round pick St. Brown caught 21 passes as a rookie receiver, was sidelined in 2019 with an injury, and this year has seven catches for 113 yards and his first career score.
Julian Love (2019)
The 2018 consensus All-American corner and fourth-round selection shifted to safety and recorded 101 tackles and two interceptions his first two seasons while starting 11 times.
Cole Kmet (2020)
Second-round choice enjoyed a solid rookie debut, starting nine games, playing each week and nabbing 28 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns.
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