Last week saw the first two milestone dates of the college football off-season: the deadline for players to enter the transfer portal before the spring semester, and the deadline to enter the NFL Draft. The former hardly deserves much attention at Notre Dame, with only three players entering the portal after the 2022 season. While many have indeed moved on from other programs, a mid-May look at this move may better serve Irish purposes as many names will end up leaving Notre Dame.
The NFL deadline does not have a second pass. Players are either already going to the NFL Draft or not.
The Irish lost five players to early entry into the NFL, although two of those players were offensive linemen. Jarrett Patterson and defensive end Justin Ademilolaboth of which would return sixth student seasons in 2023. So in a more authentic sense, Notre Dame only lost three players in the NFL Draft: tight end Michael Mayerdefensive end Isaiah Fosky and security Brandon Joseph.
Obviously all five would have started for the Irish next season. But at best, Ademilola’s and Joseph’s statements were a surprise, and even they were mild at best.
College football will gradually return to a college career on “normal” schedules and smarter roster management the further it moves away from the global pandemic waiver from 2020. This will not last until the 2025 season. Coaches are already leaning towards it.
While Notre Dame would have gladly accepted Patterson and/or Ademilola back, it also knew two realities.
1) Patterson should be selected in the second or third round of the draft, and a year ago he could have gone to the NFL. His time is now.
2) Ademilola’s year of production will come at the expense of developing younger players who may already be on the edge, somewhat diminishing the value of his return.
In parallel, coaching staffs are divided into two categories.
1) Either they are doing well and they believe they can draft better players than anyone in the draft debate. Based on continued successful recruiting, these coaches expect them to continue to be successful.
2) Or they fail and quit soon after. The new coach is more likely to invite new players, “his players”, to restart the program.
In both scenarios, fewer and fewer sixth years will appear in college football long before the 2025 season eliminates them entirely.
All of this means that when discussing NFL draft entrants, it’s more and more correct to focus on juniors (like Mayer) and seniors (Foskey, Joseph) rather than five-year veterans. These losses from Notre Dame opponents in 2023, in descending order…
Ohio State: Loss of a protector CJ Stroud would top this list, no matter who else was on it. Stroud alone would have made the Buckeyes favorites for next season. Recipient Jackson Smith-Njigba also moved to the NFL, although his final collegiate season was effectively annulled when a season-opening tackle from Joseph damaged Smith-Njigba’s hamstring to the point that he never returned in 2022.
But these latest losses are expected in elite programs. Ohio State has recruited replacements for most of these players. In 2022, the Buckeyes narrowly missed out on Smith-Njigba, and he could be the best receiver in the draft. However, Stroud is a defeat that will cast doubt on the beginning of 2023 in Ohio.
Clemson: Similarly, the Tigers are losing three defensemen in Miles Murphy. Brian Breeze and K.J. Henry along with midfielder Trenton Simpson may be too much to overcome in one go. Because Clemson has struggled so badly—add a little sarcasm to that wording—only 10 and 11 wins over the past two seasons, he’s leaned on defense.
In 2022, the Tigers were trailing just 102.7 yards per game, 13th in the nation, and 20.9 yards per game, 22nd in the nation. A year ago, Clemson ranked 7th and 2nd in their respective categories.
Recovering 29.5 tackles for the loss of the 2022 season, including 16 sacks, will be a challenge. Perhaps the expression “fought terribly” no longer justifies sarcasm.
Pittsburgh: It’s not in many programs that two All-Americans jumped into the NFL, but the Panthers did it by running back. Israel Abanikanda (1,431 yards for 5.99 yards per carry with 20 rushing touchdowns) and Kalija Kangsi lineman (14 tackles for loss with 7 sacks in 11 games). Safety Brandon Hill also gave Pittsburgh’s defense some versatility.
USC: The Trojans also lost two NFL All-Americans — which, come to think of it, Notre Dame lost at Mayer and Fosky too — at receiver. Jordan Addison and linebacker Call Tuiplutu. To be more clear, Addison was not a 2022 All-American, but one of them in Pittsburgh in 2021. Injuries have slowed him down a bit in 2022, but overall his talent is All-American in caliber.
Stanford: The Cardinal’s talent drain this offseason requires a deep dive. This is one to behold. First line on him is a quarterback Tanner McKee heading to the NFL with some draft picks who think he should be picked early in the round.
When Stanford beat Notre Dame in October, McKee led with 288 yards on an impressive 26-of-38 completion rate. His loss would drastically change the Cardinal’s ceiling in 2023, which is saying a lot considering how low that ceiling was.
Central Michigan: Running back Lew Nicholls III didn’t have the statistical profile of someone who should be heading to the NFL by now, with all 616 yards and six touchdowns in 2022, but looking back to 2021, his selection makes more sense. He rushed for 1,848 yards and 16 touchdowns, with another 338 receiving yards and two airborne touchdowns.
Fleet, Tennessee, North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, and Wake Forest have not lost players due to any early NFL decisions.
If this list seems shortened, it’s because it’s all over college football. The rights to name, image and likeness made returning players to school more enticing. Fewer players reportedly joined this draft earlier than at any time in the last decade.
To think so many people insisted that NIL rights would destroy college football. Here is solid evidence that it has raised the level of talent in the sport.
— Fighting Irish (@FightingIrish) January 21, 2023
— Three of Notre Dame receivers enlisted early, most likely out of a dozen arrivals that will impact 2023
— 40 Revised Pre-Season Predictions Part I: ND’s Fast Offensive Covered Many Early Problems
— 40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, Part 2: A Freshman Head Coach Should Have Been Expected to Lose
Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge will headline NBC’s Big Ten booth, while Maria Taylor will head studio coverage. pic.twitter.com/1wOaAl7kCF
— Sports Business Journal (@SBJ) January 17, 2023
— 2023 NFL Draft Big Board: Top 100 PFF Prospects
— ‘Everything’s on fire’: NIL teams are the latest patchwork solution for paying college athletes
— Numbers show NIL benefits college football
— Has the legalization of betting led to more damaging social media activities? Some admins think so.
— Best College Football Games of the 2022 Season
— Giant small steps of Justice Winslow from the Blazers out of the dark
~ A year ago, Notre Dame had the two longest-serving head coaches in football and men’s basketball in all collegiate sports.
When this is the case, the moment of two young/new coaches is inevitable, but it’s still a whirlwind as it happens.
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) January 19, 2023
To continue with one last look at Notre Dame’s 2022 season through the lens of pre-season predictions and the expectations they’ve shaped…
11) The most underrated piece of Irish Revival since 2017 and hence Brian KellyIn the final years of coaching at South Bend, Notre Dame won 42 straight games against unranked opponents, the longest streak in the country. It was so taken for granted that this prediction assumed the Irish would play up to 50 games in 2023.
Instead of, Marcus Freeman lost his first game to an unranked opponent. (8 correct predictions out of 11.)
12) Several predictions are always taken from college football, for the sake of variety. Maybe this should be forgotten in the future, considering both the Packers and…