Notre Dame: Breaking Down Where Ben Koyack Landed on 1st 2015 NFL Draft Boards
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — When the NFL draft ended Saturday night after seven rounds, Notre Dame football was in elite company.
Notre Dame’s eight draftees were tied with Alabama and second only to LSU for the most over the weekend.
The deep draft success marked the most Irish players drafted in one year during the Brian Kelly era. The previous high was six in 2013.
While Notre Dame’s overall presence at the draft was somewhat newfound and noteworthy relative to the last few years, the school continued an equally noteworthy performance in another area—but one that has come to be expected over the years.
When the Arizona Cardinals selected Troy Niklas with the 52nd pick, the school noted that Niklas became Notre Dame’s fifth consecutive starting tight end to be drafted in the first two rounds.
Such recent success, coupled with the long-term history—Niklas became the 12th tight end in program history to be chosen in the first or second round—has earned Notre Dame the nickname “Tight End U.”
5th TE in last 10 years at University of ND drafted in 1st or 2nd round ND is TE U!!— Scott Booker (@CoachSBooker) May 10, 2014
So with Niklas gone, will Irish senior tight end Ben Koyack be next?
So Ben Koyack can pretty much bank on going in the second round next year, right?— Irish Illustrated (@NDatRivals) May 10, 2014
It’s early, but let’s check in on some 2015 rankings and mock drafts and evaluate Koyack’s prospects.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
This is by no means an expansive list of all 2015 NFL draft big boards—more will be released this week—but the following rankings give us a snapshot of Koyack’s perceived current stock.
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller: No. 2 tight end
WalterFootball.com: Undrafted in one-round mock draft
USA Today’s Brent Sobleski: Undrafted in one-round mock draft
Bleacher Report’s Michael Schottey: No. 11 overall
NFLDraftScout.com: No. 53 overall (No. 3 tight end)
The Sports Xchange: No. 2 tight end
1st 3 Seasons
Coming out of Oil City, Pennsylvania, Koyack was 247Sports.com's No. 2 tight end in the class of 2011.
But the high ranking hasn’t immediately translated to sustained success at Notre Dame, due in large part to the aforementioned wealth of talent ahead of Koyack on the depth chart in recent years.
Koyack has played in 37 games in his career, but has logged just 14 receptions. Ten of those grabs came in 2013, however, as Koyack emerged as a solid second option behind Niklas as the season wore on.
After not notching a reception through the first five games, Koyack hauled in a 19-yard score—his first career touchdown—against Arizona State.
Three weeks later against Air Force, Koyack had two catches for 29 yards and a touchdown, followed by two more catches and a score against Navy and a career day—four receptions for 76 yards—against Pittsburgh.
Even before Koyack’s outburst against the Panthers, Kelly noted Koyack’s development.
“I think Ben has been outstanding this year and his maturation from earlier in the year where he was just so-so, he's really grown,” Kelly said. “His toughness, ability to stick his nose in there and block for us, has really risen.”
Kelly explained the growth following the Pittsburgh performance.
“He’s just been emerging and maturing,” Kelly told reporters at Heinz Field. “He’s a talented young man but it’s just been taking some time. He’s gotten his confidence and certainly has shown that he can be a big asset.”
Koyack has found himself in unfamiliar territory this spring. He’s a senior, he’s the top tight end on the depth chart and there aren’t many more established pass-catchers on the current spring roster.
During March, Kelly was asked which wide receivers have emerged. Kelly chose an outside-the-box answer.
“I think the guy that will settle the offense down when we need to get settled down will be Koyack right now,” Kelly said. “He’s a guy that we can get the football to and a pretty reliable receiver.”
Koyack had a modest performance in the Blue-Gold game on April 12, posting three catches for 35 yards.
Outside of that live, public look at Koyack, Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock praised his tight end’s overall body of work this spring.
“Ben Koyack I think has had a really nice spring,” Denbrock said leading up to the Blue-Gold game. “He’s continued to grow his game. I think towards the end of last year you saw the development that he’s really taken that next step. He’s continued that this spring.”
Likely Draft Position
In his evaluation of the 2015 draft’s tight ends, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller slotted Koyack second behind Florida State product Nick O’Leary.
In Miller’s superlatives, he named Koyack the best route-runner as well as the best blocker.
Notre Dame listed Koyack at 6’5”, 261 pounds this spring, measurables right in line with those of the tight ends drafted this weekend.
So Koyack has the size, and he’s shown himself to be a capable and willing blocker—especially as Notre Dame frequently deployed two-tight-end sets in 2013.
The receiving production has yet to take off, but this will be Koyack’s first season as the top tight end and one of the top pass-catching options, in general, on the offense.
All things considered, if he continues the progression that began midway through last year and continued this spring, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Koyack drafted somewhere in the first two rounds.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.