Notre Dame had just two players drafted this past year: quarterback DeShone Kizer (2nd round, No. 52 overall, Cleveland) and defensive lineman Isaac Rochell (7th round, No. 225 overall, Los Angeles Chargers). The Fighting Irish had seven players drafted in 2016.
Of course, it’s never too early to look ahead to the 2018 NFL Draft, so let’s see who (in alphabetical order) could be on deck for the Irish with strong seasons this fall.
Josh Adams, RB (Junior, 6-2, 220)
Adams has tallied 1,768 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns across two years despite sharing plenty of backfield time and being slowed by injury. He has breakaway speed and should enter 2017 atop a crowded backfield depth chart, although he’ll have one more year of eligibility remaining after this season, too.
Alize Mack, TE (Redshirt Sophomore, 6-5, 245)
This one might be a stretch, considering Mack missed all of last season due to academic issues. He’s apparently on course to correct those this year, and if a 13-catch, 190-yard performance as a rookie in 2015 is any indication, the former four-star tight end — formerly known as Alize Jones — could have a breakout campaign in 2017, as he is athletic enough to split wide and allow the Irish to play more of their tight ends, a position group they have an abundance of riches in this season.
Mike McGlinchey, OT (Redshirt Senior, 6-8, 312)
McGlinchey could have easily entered this past year’s draft and gotten selected in the early rounds, but he opted to return for a fifth year, and a second year at left tackle. He made the switch last year and had some hiccups at times, but the two-time captain has the work ethic, size and pedigree (Matt Ryan’s cousin) to be as close to a surefire pick as there is up front.
Nyles Morgan, LB (Senior, 6-1, 238)
Morgan is a defensive captain and will be a two-year starter working under his third coordinator in two years. He led the team in tackles (94) and sacks (four) last year, his first as starter, although he showed some promise as an emergency late-season starter as a rookie in 2014, tallying 3.5 tackles for a loss.
Quenton Nelson, OG (Redshirt Junior, 6-5, 329)
Nelson, like McGlinchey, could have left after 2016 but opted for another year of seasoning under longtime college and NFL O-line coach Harry Hiestand. Nelson, who enters his third year as a starter at left guard, is one of the strongest players on the roster and should be one of the most highly sought-after guards in the 2018 draft, assuming he passes up his fifth year.
Equanimeous St. Brown, WR (Junior, 6-5, 204)
St. Brown emerged as the Irish’s go-to threat last year as a sophomore, leading Notre Dame with 58 catches for 961 yards and nine touchdowns. He has the ideal size and, with mild improvements, could emerge as an early-entry candidate for next year’s draft.
Brandon Wimbush, QB (Redshirt Sophomore, 6-2, 226)
Why slow down the hype? Wimbush was a highly touted quarterback prospect who, behind the scenes, has impressed everyone as he gets ready to assume the role of starter. If he has a standout debut campaign as QB1, he’ll have a decision to make.
— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for ESPN.com. Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.