Saturday, May 07, 2005

Feeling a Draft | by Pat

Well, as we've gotten accustomed to, the NFL draft came and went with only a small number of Irish players hearing their name called. This year it was only two: Justin Tuck and Jerome Collins.

Tuck, who left a year of eligibility on the table, was selected in the 3rd round (74th overall) by the [Chris Berman voice] New Yahk Footbahll Giants. Most draft experts (and I use that term loosely) had him going higher, but he slipped, and even guys from Eastern Washington, Bethune-Cookman, and Northern Colorado heard their names called before he did. As with most players that tumble in the draft, he's going to use that as even more motivation to succeed:

"I just got to make 31 teams regret not picking me," said Tuck, who gets his first Giants indoctrination today when he arrives for the start of a three-day rookie mini-camp. "Normally I wouldn't need anything like that to push me, but I know this has given me more incentive to go out there and show everybody what a mistake they made for not drafting me. There's going to be a chip on my shoulder all year, I guarantee you."
It's likely that Tuck would have been a first round lock had he come back for his final year. But while he did cost himself some money, it was probably a wise move for someone with a serious knee injury in his past. And now he gets to learn from one of football's best pass-rushers, Michael Strahan:
"He just has the complete package," Tuck said. "I think our variety of moves are pretty much similar. I think I'm a little faster than Strahan, but he's definitely stronger and more experienced. I still got a lot to learn and he's a great one to learn from."
One interesting anecdote emerging from the "Tuck to Giants" stories is the main reason why "Alabama Black Snake" came to ND in the first place. The Journal News has the scoop:
The real story behind Tuck, however, is how a 235-pound linebacker from tiny Kellyton, Ala., wound up at Notre Dame.

"Well, (the University of) Alabama was on probation," Tuck said. "That's about it. Every school in the Southeastern Conference recruited me. But if you're an Alabama fan, you really don't want to go anywhere else.

"Everybody told me, 'If you don't go to Alabama, go to Notre Dame. Don't go to Auburn.' I just felt Notre Dame would give me a better sense of an academic plus athletic environment. That's why I chose Notre Dame."

The only other Irishman drafted was a bit of a surprise, given his lack of playing time while at Notre Dame: Jerome Collins went 144th in the 5th round to the St. Louis Rams. The Rams drafted him based on a pair of ESPN-cliche worthy labels that have unfortunately been affixed to Irish prospects over the past few years: "potential" and "upside". (Hopefully "production", "results", and "proven winner" are words we see more often in future Irish draft bios). He'll start out on special teams, where he made a mark this year with the Irish in blocking two punts, while he works on his game at tight end. But Collins doesn't seem to be taking anything for granted:
"I'll play kicker, for all I care," he said Friday at Rams Park. "I just want to make the team."
The Collins article also had an interesting side note about Bob Davie:
Collins, 22, was a wide receiver in high school in Wheaton, Ill. Bob Davie, then the Notre Dame coach, immediately moved him to defense. "There weren't too many 6-4, 230-pound wide receivers at the time," Collins said. "So, he figured my best attributes would be on defense because of my speed."
These days, of course, 6'4", 230lb receivers are all the rage, but I suppose it's no surprise Bob Davie wasn't one to stay ahead of the curve.

As for the rest of the draft-eligible domers, all but one ended up signing a free agent contract with NFL teams, the lone exception being Kyle Budinscak, who according to anonymous internet posters, has opted to enter the business world. The list of free agents reads as follows:
Derek Curry - Miami Dolphins
Dwight Ellick - New Orleans Saints
Mike Goolsby - Dallas Cowboys
Ryan Grant - New York Giants
Carlyle Holiday - Arizona Cardinals
Billy Palmer - Washington Redskins
Greg Pauly - Chicago Bears
Hopefully our guys can follow in the footsteps of other Irish free agents making noise in the NFL, like Kurt Vollers, who recently signed a one-year contract with the Dallas Cowboys and is challenging for a starting right tackle spot.

And speaking of free agents, here's a great article about former ND cornerback Carlos Campbell's attempt to make the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a free agent, and what the typical three-day tryout is like for players looking to catch on with NFL teams. Carlos wasn't drafted after graduating in 2004, and never got a look from another team. His perseverance and dedication paid off though, and Campbell was finally signed by the Bucs just last week. Great job there.

Overall, I'd like to think that the days of NFL teams getting ND players on the cheap, whether as late round picks or free agents, is quickly coming to a close. Not only do I expect Weis to up the level of recruiting at Notre Dame, but I also expect the players to receive much better coaching. Looking at how David Givens and now Arnaz Battle are catching on in the pros, you have to think that the upgrade from Rogers/Diedrick to Weis/Haywood/Cutcliffe is going to enhance the NFL potential of current and future Irish players.

As it stands now though, it doesn't look like we'll be toasting many Fighting Irishmen in next year's draft either. A way-too-early look at a Top 100 list for 2006's NFL Draft only shows two players from South Bend making the cut: the list has Maurice Stovall at #61 and Rashon Powers-Neal at #85. Might be fun to revisit this list in a year to see if they move up, or if other Irish names, like Rhema McKnight, have joined them.

One last thing. For those who follow recruiting and are always looking at recruiting rankings and such, here's a great look at the 2005 NFL Draft with the player's original recruiting ranking as a high schooler. As you might expect, there were a vast number of highly-ranked players taken in the first few rounds, but also a whole bunch of unranked guys that came out of nowhere in college, and ended up getting drafted. Just another reason why recruiting "star" rankings are largely meaningless. You never know how a player is going to turn out. In this year's draft for example, the first cornerback taken, Adam "Pac Man" Jones had the same rank coming out of high school as me...which is to say, none.