With Brian Kelly confirming earlier this week that Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph have contacted the NFL’s Draft Advisory Board to evaluate their respective stocks in the 2011 NFL Draft, it’s time to talk about whether these guys will leave Notre Dame for a gigantic paycheck, or whether they will return for their senior seasons.
Both Floyd and Rudolph are NFL talents, projecting as borderline first round picks. They are, however, in very different situations. Floyd is coming off one of his best games as a member of the Fighting Irish, catching 11 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown in Notre Dame’s 20-16 win over arch-rival USC. Rudolph, on the other hand, struggled throughout the early part of the season with a nagging hamstring injury before undergoing season-ending surgery in mid-October on what became a torn hamstring.
Floyd is ranked as either the third or fourth best wide receiver draft prospect by most experts. He ranks behind Georgia’s A.J. Green, Alabama’s Julio Jones, and sometimes Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon, as well. In my eyes, Floyd is the complete package at wide receiver. He uncharacteristically dropped a few passes this season, but he has very good hands. At 6-foot-3, 227 pounds, he has great size and impressive man-strength, yet still possesses the speed to be a deep threat. Floyd is able to use his size to his advantage both down field and an on shorter routes. On long passes, he is notorious for blocking his defender out of the way like a power forward, then out-jumping him for the ball. How many times last season did Jimmy Clausen heave a prayer downfield, only to have his prayer answered by a spectacular Floyd catch? On shorter passes, Floyd has a knack for shielding his defender from the ball and making plays after the catch. Oh yeah, and on top of everything I just mentioned, Floyd is a bruising blocker who never takes a play off.
Ultimately, I expect Floyd to forgo his senior season for the NFL. And he should. It just makes sense. Individually, Floyd has nothing left to prove at the collegiate level. He is near the top of the Notre Dame record books in almost every important statistical category for wide receivers. Floyd is third all-time in receptions with 165 , fifth all-time in receiving yards with 2,430, and second only to Jeff Samardiza with 26 touchdowns. Floyd is more than adequately prepared for NFL football and he has a few million incentives to enter his name into the NFL Draft.
Rudolph’s decision will not be so easy. Rudolph is the consensus No.1 tight end if he enters the draft, but his injury could negatively affect his stock. Rudolph’s recovery from the surgery is expected to take a full six months, meaning Rudolph would finish his rehab sometime in April. That would leave Rudolph just a few short weeks before the NFL Combine, which begins on April 28th. Even if Rudolph was healthy enough to take part in the combine (which is unlikely), he would be nowhere near full strength and would probably not fare too well.
Rudolph has produced enough at Notre Dame that he will still be drafted highly if he misses the combine and in spite of his injured hamstring. However, Rudolph’s injury could be the difference between his being drafted in the first round to his being drafted in the third round. If so, Rudolph would leave a lot of money on the table both in his contract and in his signing bonus. A job in the NFL can be gone in an instant, so it’s important to make as much money as possible on the first contract.
By returning for his senior season, Rudolph will have more time to rehab his hamstring and prove his health to NFL scouts. With a solid senior season, Rudolph’s draft stock would most likely rise back into the first round. For this reason, I expect Rudolph to return to South Bend for his senior season.
Floyd and Rudolph have been key components of the Notre Dame football team for the past three seasons, and it’ll be tough to see them go, either this season or the next. Even if both guys leave after this season, however, the Fighting Irish will not suffer too much. Tyler Eifert has proven a capable replacement for Rudolph. There is no next Michael Floyd in South Bend or on the way, but we have deep talent at wide receiver ready to step up and fill the void.