Notre Dame Fighting Irish Top NFL Prospects for 2012 and Beyond


Notre Dame is one of the most historic and well-known schools in NCAA history. From Rudy to Joe Montana, this is a school that doesn’t lack for star power in its rich history, and has no shortage of NFL caliber athletes.

This is a team under coach Brian Kelly that is one of few in the country who run a 3-4 defensive alignment, and they have changed it up, going from the pro-style offense of Charlie Weis to the air-it-out style that Kelly has employed. For that reason alone, you need to be on the lookout for Notre Dame’s unquestioned top prospect going into the 2011 season, a guy who has “Dez Bryant” syndrome, and really needs to get his act together as he prepares for the next level.

3 Michael Floyd (Senior), WR, 6’3″ 227

If ever there was a more appropriate player to look at and use the term “shaking my head” I have yet to find him in this class of players. Floyd was a high school All-American and a top notch collegiate prospect who was heavily recruited out of St. Paul, MN. Has been a dominant playmaker every year he has been at Notre Dame, but has two underage drinking violations (2009, 2010), and will be suspended indefinitely by the Notre Dame coaching staff until he cleans up his act off the field. It’s a wonder he wasn’t kicked off the team for good, but the coaches obviously see something in Floyd, and hopefully this incident and subsequent punishment will help him turn his life around. Floyd needs to realize that he is not just playing for the prestigious Notre Dame, he is performing his audition for all 32 NFL teams, and they don’t miss a thing. In fact, NFL teams will probably dig so far into Floyd’s past, that they will bring up stuff in interviews HE doesn’t even know about. On the field, there is absolutely no questioning his talent. Floyd is a big play receiver who can score every time he touches the ball. As a member of the Fighting Irish, Floyd has caught 171 passes for 2,539 yards and 28 touchdowns. That included a junior season where Floyd caught 79 passes for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns. Big, strong receiver who is probably the top overall receiver in the class of 2011 among seniors. If he can get his head on straight, he should be able to have a long, successful NFL career, but right now I don’t see him going sooner than the second round because of off-field issues.

5 Manti Te’o (Junior), LB, 6’2″ 255

Te’o is built like a freight train, and he hits like one. Not only is he one of the top linebackers eligible for the 2012 NFL Draft, he could be one of the best linebackers to come along in quite some time. Strong, tough, athletic linebacker prospect who had 63 tackles, 5.5 for loss, a sack, and a broken up pass as a starting true freshman. Followed up a stellar freshman campaign with 133 tackles as the clear starting inside linebacker in 2010, and added 9.5 tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble, and three passes broken up. He will have at least three years starting in a 3-4 defensive alignment, making him all the more attractive to those teams. Will be a force against the run in the NFL, and is athletic enough to make plays sideline to sideline. Bottom line is, this guy is a high effort player who vacuums up ball carriers like they are going out of style. He will be a tackling machine in the NFL, and should be a high draft choice should he choose to leave after his junior season.

22 Harrison Smith (RS Senior), S/LB, 6’2″ 214

Not going to blow anybody away athletically, but he is the type of player that EVERY NFL team will want to have on their side. Team captain who has played both linebacker and safety for the Irish, but a guy who really broke out in 2010 as a starting safety. Started for the Irish as a linebacker as a sophomore, and played both linebacker and safety in his junior season before becoming a full time safety in 2010. Smith has started 34 of his career 38 games, and has 219 total career tackles to go along with 15.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble, 18 passes broken up, and seven interceptions, all of which came when he moved to safety. If Smith can continue to show improvement as the leader of the defensive backfield, he should be a fourth round pick or better because of his versatility, durability, and toughness. In his first year as a full time safety, he had 93 tackles and seven interceptions–the complete package. These are the kind of players you love to add to your team. He is the heart and soul of the Notre Dame team, and is the team captain for 2011. He is the type of player that you just hate to play against and love to root for.

10 Dayne Crist (Senior), QB, 6’4″ 235

Crist has had two major knee injuries, which are certainly going to hurt his draft stock. However, a weak group of senior quarterbacks could propel him near the top of the group and give him an edge. He is the ideal size you look for in an NFL player, but he has a lot of improving to do. It seemed he was well on his way to showing significant strides in his game last year before being injured against Tulsa. Crist is a very talented athlete who has a strong arm, and will put up big numbers in this offense if he can stay healthy. The pro adjustment will be a tough one for him, so he might need a year or two to season but he does have great potential if you ask me. Crist was a full go in Notre Dame’s Spring practices, so he is healed already from his serious knee injury last year. He should be on NFL radars as he is a good team leader, but he needs to really work on his accuracy over the course of the offseason. If he can improve in that regard this year, up into the 65-68 percent range, he will probably have a 2nd round grade, maybe better.