The first NFL preseason game is just a week and a half away and the first college football games are coming up in about a month.
What better time is there to take a different look at the path from college football stardom to success at the NFL level?
This is the start of the 10 college football teams with the best collection of former stars currently playing in the NFL. Not all of the top 10 teams would be able to field a complete team, as there are only so many spots for offensive and defensive linemen. Still, this is a chance to show the programs that have done the best job of taking talented high school recruits and turning them into pro prospects.
The countdown kicks off with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
An already talented group of Notre Dame alums in the NFL is getting better with the addition of safety Kyle Hamilton, who is listed by the NFL betting lines as one of the top 10 candidates for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award
Best position – Offensive line
Let’s start with Quenton Nelson, the rare interior offensive lineman to be taken in the top 10 in the NFL Draft. That happened in 2018 and Nelson just may be the best lineman in the NFL.
Not only did Nelson go sixth overall to Indianapolis in 2018, but offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey went ninth to San Francisco.
Zack Martin of the Dallas Cowboys has been a Pro Bowl selection in each season when he has played at least 14 games. When there is a debate about the best offensive linemen in the NFL, it doesn’t take long for the names of Martin and Nelson to come up.
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Beginning in 2014, when Martin was the 16th overall pick, four Notre Dame offensive linemen have gone in the first round, three in the second round and two in the third.
Nelson has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons while offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley was a Pro Bowler in 2019.
Keep an eye on 2021 second-round picks Liam Eichenberg and Aaron Banks. Eichenberg started in 16 of 17 games as a rookie for the Miami Dolphins while Banks played in nine games for San Francisco.
The offensive line just edged out the tight end position for the top spot, led by Tyler Eifert, Kyle Rudolph, Durham Smythe, Cole Kmet and Tommy Tremble.
Only the recent run of tight ends coming out of Iowa can keep Notre Dame from calling itself Tight End U, although the Hawkeyes can’t count Dave Casper or Mark Bavaro among its former tight ends who thrived at the NFL level.
Joining the Party
Notre Dame had just two players drafted in 2022, its lowest total since 2017.
Hamilton was viewed as a top-10 talent who fell to pick No. 14 before the Baltimore Ravens gladly stopped his slide.
Running back Kyren Williams was chosen by the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams in the fifth round. Williams is joining a crowded backfield led by Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson.
Williams still tied for 18th in the current NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year odds according to the sportsbook.
No Passing Fancy
One would think that a program that recruits nationally like Notre Dame would have no problem developing at least one quarterback capable of starting in the NFL.
The last Notre Dame quarterback to start multiple games in the NFL was DeShone Kizer, and it would be quite the understatement to suggest that it didn’t go well.
The 2017 Cleveland Browns were 0-15 in games started by Kizer. He completed just 53.6 percent of his passes with 11 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions. He got into three games with Green Bay the following season and completed only 47.6 percent of his passes with no interceptions and two touchdowns. That was the end of his NFL career.
Ian Book, a fourth-round pick in 2021, was 12 of 20 for 135 yards and two interceptions in his lone game (and start) as a rookie. Book is one of four quarterbacks on the New Orleans Saints roster. However, he has his work cut out for him to beat out Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton for the starting job.
Looking into the Future
Here’s a look at the five current NFL players from Notre Dame with the brightest futures
1. Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts, OG: Already one of the NFL’s top players, one can only wonder how good Nelson will turn out to be in the coming years.
2. Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers, WR: An athletic marvel, the 6-foot-4, 238-pound Claypool has 121 catches and 1733 yards in his first two NFL seasons. He is catching just 56.5 percent of his targets and has 11 dropped passes in his two seasons. There are questions about the quarterback position with the Steelers following the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger.
If Pittsburgh gets solid play at the position, Claypool could post his first 1,000-yard season. The NFL predictions list Claypool’s projected catch total at 59½, with the odds almost even for him to go over (-125) or under (-105) that total.
3. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Cleveland Browns LB: Owusu-Koramoah was viewed as a first-round talent in the 2021 draft who slipped to pick No. 52. Cleveland was more than happy to take the undersized but talented linebacker.
Owusu-Koramoah had 76 tackles in 14 games as a rookie. He held opponents to a passer rating of 70.2 when he was the primary defender. He needs to improve after missing 16 tackles, but Owusu-Koramoah has a bright future.
4. Kyle Hamilton, Baltimore Ravens S: What is it with Notre Dame defensive players slipping in the draft. Safety isn’t the most sought-after position in the top 10, but the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Hamilton should be an immediate impact player for the Ravens.
5. Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears TE: The temptation is to go with Nick Martin in the top five. However, Martin will turn 32 during the season so it is only fair to wonder how much longer he will play. With that in mind, Kmet sneaks into the top five.
There are some who consider the Bears to have the worst group of wide receivers in the NFL. That could benefit Kmet, who came down with 60 of the 89 targets during the 2021 season. Kmet is not going to be a deep threat, but he could provide a security blanket for second-year quarterback Justin Fields.
Who’s Up Next?
Two former Notre Dame tight ends could be in for expanded roles in 2022, with Kmet being joined by Tommy Tremble of the Carolina Panthers. However, current Fighting Irish star Michael Mayer is the Notre Dame tight end prospect to keep an eye on. No returning tight end had more receiving yards in 2021 than Mayer’s total of 840.
Seven tight ends have been drafted out of Notre Dame in the last decade, and Mayer has a good chance of being the first one taken in the first round since Tyler Eifert in 2013. Tight ends don’t often get love in the Heisman Trophy race, but Mayer comes in at +10000 in the current Heisman Trophy odds.
Defensive end Isaiah Foskey is also being projected as a first-round selection in next year’s draft. He had 11 sacks in 2021 and at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, he could easily arrive in the NFL at 270-280 pounds.
Jarrett Patterson may become the next interior offensive lineman from Notre Dame to hear his name called on the first night of the NFL Draft.