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Tracking Notre Dame Football Players in the 2012 NFL Draft

Phil HarrisonCorrespondent IApril 26, 2012

Tracking Notre Dame Football Players in the 2012 NFL Draft

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    We are on the doorstep of the 2012 version of the NFL draft. It's so close that we're ringing the doorbell, taking the shoes off and getting ready to snuggle up on the couch with meat products and fermented beverages.

    While the festivities of draft day are a hoot for NFL fans and hecklers of Roger Goodell, it's also another opportunity to root for your favorite college team to make a splash by ratcheting up the NFL football factory—and to garner some bragging rights.

    Like most big-name programs, Notre Dame also has a few good men looking to go from hobby to the launching of a career via millions of adoring fans—and plenty of coin.

    And while the Irish aren't forecast to have guys taken at the extreme top of the draft board, the golden domers are looking to see the potential of a couple of first round talents taken in wide receiver Michael Floyd and safety Harrison Smith.

    It doesn't end there.

    If the projections prove out to be accurate, you can also look for the possibility of at least three other players going toward the back end of the draft with Darius Fleming, Robert Blanton and Jonas Gray.

    In addition to a biased rooting interest, there will undoubtedly be no shortage of twisted plot lines and stories to follow throughout the seven rounds of supremely good theater as the nation's best college football players walk the stage in New York.

    You know the drill—it's time to put the kids to bed, bribe the wife and lock yourself and some buddies up in the man-bunker for three days because it's about to get interesting.

    We'll be covering every player drafted from the Fighting Irish real time, so keep the laptop and smart-phones handy as everything unfolds beginning at 8PM ET Thursday, through the final selection made on Saturday.

    Who's comin' with me?

     

    You can follow Phil on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFN

Michael Floyd, WR, Drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, No. 13 Overall

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    Former Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd is the most NFL-ready wideout in the 2012 NFL draft class. Hands down.

    Floyd's size, speed and hands make him complete player at the flanker position. He's big enough to win battles in press coverage, has the speed to run away from defenders, and his hands are strong enough that he can win jump balls and catch in traffic.

    What concerns us about Floyd is that his film speed doesn't quite match the 4.43 40 he turned in at the NFL Scouting Combine. Floyd plays closer to a low 4.5 in pads, but the low time does indicate an ability to accelerate. 

    Another concern are the three alcohol-related arrests in a two-year span at Notre Dame that led to a temporary suspension from the football program. By all accounts, Floyd has learned from the mistakes, but this type of red flag has to be mentioned when considering investing millions of dollars in him as a first-round pick.

    Floyd has talent to be a true No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL, and he'll be asked to be an early contributor from Week 1 on for the Cardinals.

Harrison Smith, S, Drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, No. 29 Overall

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    Notre Dame's Harrison Smith is, if nothing else, productive. The only player in Notre Dame's long and illustrious history to record more than 200 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 15 pass break ups in a career, Smith comes to the NFL with a solid, if not spectacular, set of skills and real leadership qualities. 

    The 6' 1" former Golden Domer has played both safety and linebacker during his collegiate career, but made his mark at safety, where he displayed a knack for being able to facilitate communication throughout the secondary as well as play all over the field, from deep center field to taking on tight ends at the line of scrimmage.

    What the Experts Are Saying: 

    Strength: 

    From NFL Network's Chad Reuter:

    Stands out as a lengthy athlete who has range to match NFL speed across the defensive backfield. He is extremely reliable and effective in run support, which comes from his ability to read and react to plays on a quick twitch off the snap. As a pass-defender, he is able to read the ball in the air and make plays all across the back end of the defense. He is able to read the quarterback well in zone and uses his athletic ability to turn and run to make plays on the ball. If he is in position, he will make the big interception.

    Weakness: 

    From the Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki:

    Inconsistent hands — can do a better job tracking the deep ball. A bit stiff and leggy and can be exposed against speed and quickness in man coverage. Shows some tightness in transition and is a tick late to open up his hips. Will leave his feet and miss tackles in space — is best in confined spaces. Not an explosive striker. Lacks elite back-half range and could be stressed by NFL blazers. 

     Smith is not the dynamic-playmaking type of NFL safety we've come to enjoy watching in the likes of Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu, but he is certainly ready to play right away in the NFL, especially if asked to add physicality and consistency to a secondary.

Robert Blanton, S, Drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, 5th Round (139th Overall)

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    Robert Blanton arrived at Notre Dame as one of the top high school cornerbacks in the country. An accomplished player, he finished his collegiate career with eight interceptions, 19.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. 

     What Blanton Brings to the Team

    Though he arrived at South Bend as a cornerback, Blanton enters the NFL as a safety. His various measurements suggest he should have no trouble handling the speed and general difficulty of the NFL.

    As reported by Matt Fortuna of ESPN.com, Blanton ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds at Notre Dame's pro day in early April. That would have ranked 12th among defensive backs at the combine.

    This is not to say Blanton completely fell flat with his actual performances at the combine. He excelled in both the 20-yard shuttle and the three-cone drill, a sign that he has well above-average agility.

    Size-wise, Blanton is plenty big enough to handle safety duties in the NFL. He stands at roughly 6-foot-1 and he weighs a little over 200 pounds. Not surprisingly, he has a reputation for being a very good tackler.

    Blanton is entering the NFL with plenty of experience under his belt. He started 50 of 51 career games at Notre Dame, putting up solid numbers across the board.

     What Experts Are Saying

    Blanton is no different from every other prospect in the eyes of scouts. There are things scouts like, and there are things scouts don't like.

    Good stuff first. Here's what NFLDraftScout.com likes about Blanton:

    Tall and athletic with plus length for the position (31" arms). He plays with the physical nature to shed defenders and work off blocks. Good toughness and recognition skills to fight through traffic and blow up screens. Plays with good fundamentals and takes accurate angles to the ball-carrier. A strong, aggressive tackler and doesn't back down against the run. Physical downfield and matches up well with bigger receivers. Tough and fiery with very good competitiveness … high effort player.

    In a nutshell, Blanton's best attributes are his size, his toughness and his attitude.

    However, the book on Blanton is that his coverage skills need some work. Here's what the National Football Post had to say about Blanton's abilities in coverage:

    In press bail, he will sit into his drop initially and will stay somewhat compact/balanced with his footwork in his drop. Gets good enough depth, but again will pop upright and get leggy out of his breaks in space. The same flaws show up in zone coverage, as he bends over at the waist when he plays with his back to the sideline despite having a solid feel of routes developing around him. He will too often take additional steps in order to collect himself before getting out of his breaks and closing on the ball.

    The verdict, according to the Post, is that Blanton projects as a reserve player:

    Is a nice sized kid with some press man skills and upside. Is a bit scheme limited, but he's a good size/speed athlete who can re-route off the ball. Has some starting upside, but as of now looks like a draftable reserve who needs to play on the outside.

    So if Blanton is going to be a star, he'll have to be a self-made star.

     Rookie Impact

    It's highly unlikely that Blanton will make an immediate impact in his rookie season. He certainly won't be starting, meaning Blanton will have to get playing time as a backup or on special teams.

    Given his tackling abilities, it's probable that Blanton will be used as a special teamer.

Darius Fleming, OLB, Drafted by San Francisco, Fifth Round (165th Overall)

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    Darius Fleming isn’t a prototypical outside linebacker; he isn't tall enough at 6'2", 245 pounds, to catch the eye of most scouts. But, once you see him on the football field, you’ll get why Fleming is a special football player.

    He’s extremely fast off the snap of the football and has great closing capacity to put pressure on the quarterback. His athleticism allows him to easily drop back into coverage on obvious passing downs. Fleming will need to do a better job of shedding blocks from offensive linemen, as he has a tendency to be out-muscled by the competition.

    At the NFL Combine, Fleming cramped up and ran a disappointing 40-yard time. Some thought Indianapolis would be his last chance to convince scouts that he was an NFL-caliber player.

    Fleming was given another opportunity at Notre Dame’s pro day. His nerves settled down and Fleming ran a 4.52 40-yard dash, and that opened the eyes of several pro scouts.

    Scouts have disagreed on what type of player Fleming will become. Some feel he’s perfectly suited to becoming an ideal situational pass-rusher in certain defensive schemes, while others feel Fleming would be better off playing at the inside linebacker position. 

    NationalFootballPost.com touched on his strengths and weaknesses:

    Exhibits some natural bend sitting into his stance with his hand on the ground and shows a good first step, keeping his pad level down and quickly eating up grass. However, he is limited as a pass rusher, looks a bit linear, struggles to drop pad level around the edge and isn't real sudden when trying to counter off his initial speed rush. Consistently tries to reach the corner and work a chop toward the edge, but gets upright and doesn't have much of a variety to his pass rushing arsenal.

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