Brian Kelly has restored Notre Dame football’s draft image

Brian Kelly (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Brian Kelly (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Notre Dame had six draft selections in the NFL Draft, which re-emphasizes the job Brian Kelly has done in restoring the Irish as an elite NFL factory.

Another NFL Draft has come and gone, and Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame football team once again has a strong showing with six players selected. Cole Kmet and Chase Claypool both came off the board in the second round, then Julian Okwara, Troy Pride Jr., Khalid Kareem, and Alohi Gilman all followed suit in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th rounds.

This year’s draft class is the third time – and the second consecutive year – that head coach Brian Kelly and company have produced a six-man class, which is a great testament to the job that Kelly has done in producing NFL talent since taking over in South Bend.

Since becoming the head coach at Notre Dame, Kelly has helped produce 45 draft picks including those six from this year’s class. If we compare that to the previous ten drafts before Kelly took over, from 2000-2010, there were actually 46 total players drafted out of Notre Dame.

There are a few different points to make here, and the main one is that during Kelly’s tenure, he has by-and-far produced higher draft picks and more successful NFL careers.

Of those 45 picks of the Kelly era, nine have been first-round selections and nine were second-round picks, so 18 total players have been taken in the first two rounds out of 45 total. Compared to the drafts of 2000-2010, there were only two first-round picks and nine second-round picks, so 11 out of 46.

For those doing the math at home, that’s 40% of Brian Kelly’s draftees who were taken in the first two rounds compared to 24% of those drafted from 2000-2010 taken in rounds one and two.

In order to match those nine first-round draft picks under Kelly from 2011-2020, you would have to look at the drafts from 1993-2010, where the Irish had 11 first rounders (seven of those came from the 1993 and 1994 drafts).

The numbers alone speak volumes to the transition Notre Dame football has made under Kelly in regards to producing not just NFL talent, but high-end talent taken early in the draft.

The NFL production in recent years has also begun to rival some of the other blue-blood and elite-level college football programs. In the previous five drafts, from 2016-2020, Notre Dame has had the eighth-most players taken in the draft, with 25 total, and are tied with Florida for the sixth most players taken in the first round with five.

Comparing that to each conference, those total draft picks in that time frame would rank Notre Dame 2nd in the ACC behind Clemson, 5th in the SEC, 3rd in the Big-10, 1st in the Big-12, and t-1st in the Pac-12.

The fact that Notre Dame is not only comparable to most of the other college football elites but surpasses them in NFL Draft production, regardless of conference, is an extremely impressive mark that might not get the attention it warrants coming from an Independent program.

Lastly, another important factor to mention is the quality of the pro careers that have come from those drafted under Kelly, especially the relatively low “bust” rate of higher draftees.

Players like Stephon Tuitt, Manti Te’o, Theo Riddick, and CJ Prosise have all strung together productive, solid careers in their respective roles.

Then you have Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert, who were both considered one of the best tight ends in football at one point in their careers. All-Pro Harrison Smith, one of the best young linebackers in the NFL Jaylon Smith, and elite speedster Will Fuller are all considered among the elite at their positions.

All of these players mentioned before even touching on the offensive lineman produced under Kelly, who have appropriately given the title of “OLU” back to Notre Dame. Zack Martin, Quenton Nelson, Ronnie Stanley, and Mike McGlinchey, with honorable mention Nick Martin have collectively put together some of the best individual seasons and young careers of any offensive lineman in NFL history.

So, from the production standpoint, the high-end talent standpoint, the comparisons to other elite college football programs standpoint, and the quality of pro careers standpoint, Notre Dame checks every single box since Brian Kelly took the reigns in South Bend.

Next. Notre Dame Football: Early look at 2021 NFL Draft prospects. dark

Of course, there is still room to improve, but with a loaded 2021 draft class on the horizon, the momentum isn’t stopping anytime soon – and Brian Kelly deserves a lot of credit for that.