NFL Draft 2011: Breaking Down Notre Dame's 9 Prospects

Matt MattareCorrespondent IIIApril 13, 2011

NFL Draft 2011: Breaking Down Notre Dame's 9 Prospects

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    NFL players may be locked out, but the NFL draft will plow ahead as scheduled. Notre Dame has nine former players that are candidates to be selected during the three-day extravaganza in a little over two weeks.

    Many times the game is determining in what round and with what potential team the former Irish player will land. Unfortunately, this year the bigger question for the majority of prospects is whether they will hear their names called at all.

    Today we take a look at each player and offer a prognostication as to whether he'll be selected and eventually find a niche in the league.

Kyle Rudolph, TE

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    Kyle Rudolph was one of the most talented tight ends to ever suit up for the Irish. He's a big target (6'6", 260 lbs.) that evolved from a skinny, overwhelmed freshman to a borderline All-American.

    He was the safety valve for both Jimmy Clausen and Dayne Crist but was also capable of the big play, as evidenced by the 95-yard touchdown against Michigan last year and the huge gain in the Big House in '09 that was overruled by a questionable penalty.

    When Notre Dame needed a big reception in a key situation, the ball often found its way into Rudolph's giant mitts. He caught the clinching touchdown on fourth down with just seconds to play against Purdue in '09 and also reeled in a jump ball to help force overtime against Washington just weeks later.


    Draft Projection Consensus

    He's one of the top two tight ends no matter what draft board you're reading and should land in the late first round or early second round.



    Rudolph isn't going to be the next Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates because he lacks the elite speed, quickness and athleticism to be a destructive threat down the middle of the field. What he will provide, though, is an unbelievable safety net for a quarterback. You'll be hard pressed to find a huge target with such great hands like Kyle.

    He's not known for his blocking, but he's a physical kid with a body type that gives him ample tools to become effective. I don't see him being a perennial Pro Bowler at the next level, but he'll have a long career chock-full of red-zone touchdowns and key third-down conversions. Think Steelers tight end Heath Miller except an even bigger and better receiving threat, but not quite as devastating a blocker.

Ian Williams, NT

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    Ian Williams was thrown into the fire as a freshman far before he was ready and performed phenomenally. He delivered a rock-solid four-year career, earning Freshman All-American honors during his first season and ending with far and away his most productive and disruptive campaign this past fall.

    He's overachieved since day one and with a stellar senior year played himself from outside looking in to a solid mid- to late-round pick.


    Draft Projection Consensus

    There seems to be a pretty wide range where he could land. I've read as high as fourth round and as low as sixth. In the end his short stature (6'1") will push him closer to the sixth round.



    Simply put, Ian Williams is a workhorse. He maximized his potential by the time his senior year rolled around by grinding his butt off to make himself better. He's a tad undersized at nose tackle in a 3-4 and not athletic enough to hold down a tackle position in a 4-3 alignment, but he's demonstrated such consistent, marked improvement that a team is bound to take a chance on him in the middle rounds.

    I don't believe Ian will be a multi-year starter in the NFL, although he's done plenty to overachieve and prove doubters wrong the last couple years. He'll get picked up, play the role of backup for a couple years for a team, bounce around a handful of teams and then unceremoniously be gone from the league.

Chris Stewart, OG

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    The most famous law student in the country wrapped up a solid career with the Irish this past fall. He's a hulking specimen that amazingly keeps shrinking. After showing up on campus as a freshman tipping the scales around 400 lbs., he weighed in at a slim and svelte 313 at Notre Dame's pro day.

    Even at his largest Stewart was incredibly athletic and agile for a man his size. He was capable of being a devastating run blocker; whenever he locked onto a defender, odds were high that the opposition was going to be flattened.


    Draft Projection Consensus

    Most have him pegged as someone who will be drafted, just as a very late pick in the sixth or seventh round.



    It has been amazing to watch Stewart grow up since his early enrollment in the spring of 2006. After a brief switch to nose tackle, he found a home at guard and improved steadily over his final three seasons. 

    He's capable of being a mauler in the run game, and it wouldn't shock me if he developed into a contributor wherever he lands. The biggest hurdle that may prevent it from happening, though, is how long football will hold his attention. Stewart is pursuing his law degree and was involved in a variety of wonderful extracurricular activities in South Bend (including trips to work with the underprivileged in Haiti).

    Once he makes a team and hangs around for a couple years, will he be satisfied and move on to something else? If he gets cut, will he pack it in, or will he have the drive to try again? These are legitimate questions that linger.

Armando Allen, RB

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    Armando Allen was an enigma during his career at Notre Dame. Every year fans waited with bated breath for the speedster to break a long touchdown run that seemed inevitable from the moment he stepped foot on campus. Amazingly, it never came.

    He was known for getting taken down by his shoestrings during his first three seasons, but he transformed into a very confident runner his final campaign this past fall. Allen was relentless, gutting out every last inch behind a line that was still getting comfortable with the new offense.

    Injuries set him back once again, forcing him to miss the final four games, but had he been given the workload Cierre Wood received after Tommy Rees took over, there's a good chance Allen would've sniffed the 1,000-yard mark.


    Draft Projection Consensus

    He's been projected as high as the fifth round, but chances are he'll be either a seventh-round flier or a free agent.



    Things finally clicked for Armando in his final season. After his prep career was cut short by a broken leg, he never seemed ready to go full throttle until this past fall. That changed in September. He provided tough yards and quality carries despite his smaller stature (5'10", 205 lbs.).

    He posted a disappointing 40 time at his pro day (4.58), which may have been a fatal blow to his chances of getting drafted. Some team will pick him up as a free agent, though, and he'll get his opportunity to continue the positive trajectory he was on this fall.

    The fact that he's so injury prone will probably submarine his chances of a prolonged NFL career. While he could find a nice niche since he possesses good hands and is a sneakily good pass protector, it's a long shot. More than likely he'll end up on a practice squad for a year or two before dropping off the map.

Darrin Walls, CB

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    Darrin Walls had a roller-coaster ride during his five years at Notre Dame. A one-time 5-star recruit, he was thrown into the mix right away as a freshman. He earned a pair of starts and held his own with the likes of Calvin Johnson (who he was assigned to cover just minutes into his first game). The future certainly appeared to be bright.

    After a solid sophomore campaign, he was left the team for "personal reasons" and missed the entire 2008 campaign. His return the following year was a rocky one. He anchored one of the two starting cornerback positions for the worst defense in school history. Former defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta effectively murdered the confidence of Walls and the entire unit.

    Thankfully, new defensive backs coach Chuck Martin and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco picked up the pieces. Walls had a fine senior season, picking off three passes and morphing into a much more aggressive tackler.


    Draft Projection Consensus

    He wasn't invited to the combine, and no one seems to think he'll sneak into the seventh round despite a strong pro day. Into the free agent pool it is for No. 2.



    Walls arrived on campus with high expectations that largely went unfulfilled. He was a very good cornerback his senior year, but he's still far from a finished product with serious flags that suggest he won't hack it on the biggest stage.

    Blessed with blazing speed (clocked 4.39 at pro day), Walls just never demonstrated great instincts at the cornerback position. He's a phenomenal and fluid athlete, but one can't rely on athleticism alone at the next level.

    In the end Walls isn't big or physical enough to hang with guys like Andre Johnson, Randy Moss or Brandon Marshall. He may find his way onto a practice squad for a year or two, but his long-term prospects are pretty bleak.

Robert Hughes, RB/FB

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    When Robert Hughes arrived on campus, there were phrases thrown around like "second coming of Jerome Bettis." His back-to-back 100-yard games to close out his freshman year fueled the thought that he was a stud in the making. He was a bruising runner who also had unbelievable feet for someone of his size.

    The greatness never came to fruition though. Hughes got caught in an identity crisis, torn between wanting to be a power back or a finesse back. He didn't truly figure it out until late in his senior year, but when he did it was a thing of beauty.

    During the final few games of his career he displayed the steamrolling running style fans and coaches alike had been craving. In the final drive of the Southern Cal game he repeatedly flattened Trojans defenders en route to scoring the game-clinching touchdown.


    Draft Projection Consensus

    Just about a zero percent chance of being drafted.



    It took a while for things to click for Hughes, but he ended his Irish career with a flurry. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that there will be a place for him at the next level. At Notre Dame's pro day he ran an iceberg-esque 4.89 time in the 40-yard dash, which would've easily been one of the slowest times at the scouting combine over the last five years.

    He's capable of being a very physical runner, but he proved to be very much a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde case during his career. Many thought the light bulb went on his junior year after great performances against Purdue and Washington, but he quickly regressed to his tentative, dancing tendency afterwards.

    Hughes is in the mold of an old-school fullback who would've gotten the ball a handful of times from the middle of the I-formation, but teams rarely go that route anymore. There's a slim chance he'll catch on with a practice squad, but more than likely he's played his last organized football.

Brian Smith, LB

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    Like Darrin Walls, Brian Smith had a very tumultuous four years at Notre Dame. He stepped in as a starter as a freshman and seemed poised to be the vocal leader of the defense for his four years.

    Then the revolving door at defensive coordinator began. First it was Corwin Brown, then Jon Tenuta and finally Bob Diaco. Much like the rest of the defense, Smith lost confidence and floundered his junior year.

    He actually lost his starting spot his senior season, falling in line as a backup for Kerry Neal at outside linebacker. Smith received an opportunity to get on the field again at inside linebacker, though, when redshirt freshman Carlo Calabrese went down with an injury. The result was the best stretch of play of his entire career.

    Humbled by his experiences, the man known for having a bark far worse than his bite began coming up with big play after big play. He was a man possessed against Southern Cal, fittingly ending his career on a high note after so much turmoil.



    Draft Projection Consensus

    He's pegged to be a free agent.



    Smith is an incredibly passionate football player, a guy who wore his emotions on his sleeve and was never short on effort even when his performance wasn't the best. He has serious athletic limitations to overcome, but give him a fighter's chance of making a practice squad and hanging around for a season or two.

Kerry Neal, LB

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    Kerry Neal had a productive albeit unspectacular career at Notre Dame. As the Irish flip-flopped back and forth between the 3-4 and 4-3 alignments, Neal shuttled between outside linebacker and defensive end. He ultimately ended up at the DOG linebacker position his senior year.

    The problem is his supposed strength was getting to the quarterback, but he never did it particularly effectively. He has solid size for an outside linebacker, but he's still learning the nuances of the position since he didn't truly settle into it until his final season.


    Draft Projection Consensus

    Into the free agent pool for Mr. Neal.



    Neal and Brian Smith were pegged to be the "bash brothers" of the future during their freshman campaign. They both earned significant playing time right out of the gate, wore numbers that made it extremely difficult to differentiate who was who (No. 56 and No. 58), and seemingly had very bright futures. 

    Things didn't quite work out that way. While Neal did a fine job locking down an outside linebacker spot his final season, he didn't do much that made you think he would be playing on Sundays. He'll find his way to an NFL training camp, but the dream will end there pretty quickly.

Duval Kamara, WR

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    Duval Kamara burst onto the scene as a freshman during the horrendous 2007 season. He led the team in receiving, reeling in 32 catches for 357 yards while setting the Notre Dame freshman records for both marks.

    His decline in the following seasons was abrupt. The following season Michael Floyd quickly broke every freshman record Kamara had set. Kamara eventually lost his starting job and ultimately began to free-fall down the depth chart. During his senior campaign he grabbed only 11 catches for 112 total yards.

    He did have one shining moment in 2010, when he snared a pair of spectacular touchdowns on Senior Day against Utah, but it wasn't enough to overcome the disappointment of his final three seasons.


    Draft Projection Consensus

    Guaranteed free agent.



    The Bard of Bergen County slid farther and farther backwards after a stellar freshman season. He never could consistently hold on to the ball and seemed to have an extraordinarily difficult time getting open. Many had hoped his career path would mirror Maurice Stovall's since they had a similar body type, but Kamara didn't possess Stovall's hands, strength or devastating blocking ability.

    In order to make it in the NFL you either need to be a very well-rounded player or have one extraordinary skill. Unfortunately, there isn't one facet of Duval's game that makes you say "that's NFL-caliber," and that's why he's the longest of long shots to find a home on the professional level.