Notre Dame is one of the most prestigious institutions to ever compete in the sport of college football. Their football program has produced 13 national championship teams, 7 Heisman trophy winners, and 50 College Football Hall of Famers. The Fighting Irish have been able to attract some of the best-known coaches in the sport.
Knute Rockne coached the team from 1918 to 1930. He won six national titles and 105 games with only 12 defeats during his tenure with the team. Frank Leahy and Ara Parseghian are two Notre Dame Coaches that rank among the all-time greats in college football as well. As you might imagine, a team that was had this much success has certainly produced a number of players who would go on to play in the NFL.
The school has produced their share of NFL legends, like Joe Montana. Notre Dame has also had some big name players who couldn’t cut it in the pros, like Rick Mirer. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how some the current crop of Fighting Irishmen are doing in the NFL. Here are the 8 best and 7 worst former Notre Dame Fighting Irish currently in the NFL.
15. Best: Kyle Rudolph
When Kyle Rudolph was recruited by Notre Dame back in 2008, he was considered the number 1 tight end prospect in the country. He was also offered scholarships from big name schools like Ohio State and Tenessee. During his time in Indiana, Rudolph hauled in a 95-yard touchdown pass, which was the 2nd longest play in school history. He had 90 career receptions and 1,032 yards receiving during his college career.
Rudolph headed to the NFL following his junior year of college and was drafted in the 2nd round by the Minnesota Vikings. He went to the Pro Bowl and was named the game’s MVP, back in 2012. Rudolph had a career season with the Vikings in 2016 when he racked up 840 yards receiving. At 27, he is now in his prime and ready to prove he is one of the game’s premier tight ends.
14. Worst: Manti Te’o
Despite being one of the most accomplished players in Notre Dame history, Manti Te’o is also known for being one the most famous “Catfish” victims of all time. He was involved in an on-line relationship with a person who he believed was a woman named Lennay Kekua. It turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.
Te’o was selected in the 2nd round (38th) overall in the 2013 NFL draft by the Chargers. While his play was very solid when he was healthy, he missed several games during his time in San Diego, including most of the 2016 season due to various injuries. He signed with the Saints this offseason and may be able to turn things around in New Orleans. Te’o is still only 26 and could become a major contributor…if he can only stay healthy.
13. Best: Theo Riddick
Theo Riddick is probably best remembered by Notre Dame fans for his outstanding play during the team’s undefeated season back in 2012. Despite splitting carries, the running back still recorded over 1,000 all-purpose yards and scored 7 touchdowns.
Riddick was selected late in the 2013 NFL Draft, going in the 6th round to the Detroit Lions. Riddick has become quite a valuable pass-catcher out of the backfield for Detroit. In fact, when the team’s starter Ameer Abdullah went down with injury last season, Riddick served as the team’s lead back. Even when Abdullah returns next season, Riddick should still be heavily involved in the team’s passing game. He’s has had a solid career thus far, especially considering he was drafted 199th overall.
12. Worst: T.J. Jones
T. J. Jones was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and is a second-generation player for Notre Dame. His father Andre Jones, played as a defensive lineman for the team in the late 1980s. Moreover, his godfather is Notre Dame legend Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. The wide receiver is best remembered by college football fans for making the game-winning catch against Stanford which propelled the team to the national title game in 2013.
He was selected in the 6th round by the Lions in 2014, and hasn’t seen much in the way of playing time in the NFL. He was even demoted to the practice squad for several months in 2016. Jones has recorded just 15 receptions since turning pro. He may find himself competing for a roster spot in 2017.
11. Best: Tyler Eifert
Despite going on to have an outstanding college career, Tyler Eifert was only considered a three-star recruit coming out of high school. During his junior season at Notre Dame, Eifert set the school’s single-season record for most receptions (63) and most receiving yards (803) recorded by a tight end.
Eifert was drafted in the 1st round with the 21st overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2013. He caught 13 touchdowns during the 2015 season and went to his first Pro Bowl the same year. Eifert has struggled with injuries since entering the NFL. However, when healthy, he is one of the best receiving tight ends in the league. He’s still only 26 and should have a bright future ahead of him, as long as he can stay on the field.
10. Worst: Michael Floyd
Michael Floyd had an outstanding career at Notre Dame. He set several school career receiving records including most receptions (271), receiving yards (3,689), and touchdowns (37) for a wide receiver. However, Floyd was briefly suspended by the team after receiving a citation for driving drunk, though he didn’t miss any games during the suspension. He would go on to have similar issues with driving under the influence in the NFL.
Floyd was drafted in the first round and played well for the Arizona Cardinals in his first few seasons. In 2016, Floyd was arrested for driving under the influence, which prompted the Cardinals to release him. He was then picked up by the Patriots but used sparingly. Floyd recently finished serving jail time from his arrest and is currently a free agent. Given his off-field issues, it will be interesting to see if another team wants to take a chance on him in 2017.
9. Best: Anthony Fasano
Antony Fasano is yet another tight end who finds himself listed among Notre Dame’s NFL success stories. Notre Dame Fans will remember Fasano as the man who caught Brady Quinn’s pass during the famous “pass right” play. During his college career, he caught 8 touchdowns and racked up 1,112 receiving yards.
Fasano was drafted in the 2nd round by the Dallas Cowboys. He has been in the league now for over a decade and has played for 5 different teams. During that time he has caught 35 touchdowns in the NFL. He has also caught 287 passes for 3,171 yards. Fasano will begin 2017 as a member of the Miami Dolphins. Lasting over ten years in the National Football League is a rare and impressive feat.
8. Worst: Troy Niklas
Troy Niklas actually began his career at Notre Dame as a linebacker before being converted to a tight end his sophomore year. As a sophomore, he served as the backup to current Bengals star Tyler Eifert. He had a solid season as a junior and decided to forgo his remaining eligibility and enter the NFL draft.
In 2014, Niklas was selected in the 2nd round by the Arizona Cardinals. During his three seasons with the Cardinals, Niklas has played in only 26 games and was chosen as the starter only 7 times. He was placed on injured reserve in September of last year, which caused him to miss most of the 2016 season. This tight end is still only 24 years of age, so it’s a bit early to label him a bust. However, he was a long way to go to justify being drafted in the 2nd round.
7. Best: Harrison Smith
Despite playing as a safety in the NFL, Harrison Smith began his career at Notre Dame as a linebacker. He converted to a full-time safety in 2010 and went on to have a stellar career as a member of the Fighting Irish.
In 2012 Smith was selected in the 1st round of the NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings. Thus far, he was proven worthy of his early draft selection by becoming one of the premier safeties in the National Football League. He is a two-time Pro Bowler who has 411 career tackles. In 2016 Smith signed a 5-year deal with the Vikings for $51.25 million. Smith is one of the best players to come out of Notre Dame in recent years.
6. Worst: George Atkinson III
George Atkinson III was a running back who also returned kickoffs during his time at Notre Dame. As a freshman, Atkinson racked up an impressive 915 yards returning kicks and even returned 2 of those kicks for touchdowns. His best year as a running back came as a junior in 2013 when he rushed for 555 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Atkison went undrafted in 2014 but would eventually sign with the Oakland Raiders. During his time with the Raiders, he was moved from the main roster to the practice squad on multiple occasions before being cut from the team in 2016. He is currently a backup for the struggling Cleveland Browns.
5. Best: Golden Tate
Prior to arriving at the university, Golden Tate was drafted to play professional baseball by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007. Tate chose not sign with the D-backs and instead opted to attend the University of Notre Dame where he played both football and baseball. He had an excellent college football career and had even become an unanimous All-American in 2009, a season where he scored 15 touchdowns and had 1,496 yards receiving.
As a 2nd round draft choice, Tate went on to capture a Super Bowl title with the Seattle Seahawks. He also went to his first Pro Bowl as a member of the Detroit Lions in 2014, after totaling 1,331 yards receiving. Golden Tate is the best wide receiver from Notre Dame currently in the National Football League.
4. Worst: Robert Blanton
As a young man in high school, Robert Blanton participated in track and field, basketball and of course football. He joined the Notre Dame football team as a 4-star recruit in 2008. He started 26 games during his time there and made 194 tackles.
Blanton would go on to be drafted in the 5th round with the 139th pick of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Vikings. He had one good season in the NFL, which was 2014. That year he had 106 tackles with Minnesota. In 4 seasons with the Vikings Blanton made just 19 starts. He would go on to play for the Bills in 2016, where he started only 2 games before being placed on injury reserve after Week 11. Blanton is a free agent heading into the 2017 season.
3. Best: Zack Martin
Zack Martin had a phenomenal college career at the University of Notre Dame. The coaching staff thought so highly of him that he was named team captain twice. He was a key part of an o-line that allowed only 8 sacks over the course of an entire season. In 2013, he became the first offensive lineman to be named MVP of a bowl game since 1959.
Martin was drafted 16th overall by the Dallas Cowboys in 2014. He has been a Pro Bowler every year that he has played in the NFL. The Cowboys have had outstanding run blocking since Martin was been the starting right guard. He is still only 26 years of age but if is able to continue this level of play a trip to the Hall of Fame might be in his future.
2. Worst: Sam Young
Sam Young was an outstanding offensive tackle for Notre Dame. He started in 5o consecutive games. Moreover, in 2oo6, he became the first true freshman to start for the team since 1972. At 6-foot-8 and weighing 316 pounds, NFL scouts took notice of the Coral Springs, Florida native
Young was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the 6th round of the 2010 draft. He has primarily been a journeyman who often plays special teams. He has played for 4 different teams including the Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars and his current team the Miami Dolphins. Young has only started a handful of games since being drafted. He has had the type of career you might expect from a late round draft pick.
1. Best: Stephon Tuitt
Stephon Tuitt played defensive end during his time at the University of Notre Dame. One of his most memorable moments occurred in a game against Navy when he returned a fumble 77 yards for a touchdown. Truitt was also a second-team AP All-American back in 2012. He would record 21.5 sacks during his 3-year college career.
The Pittsburgh Steelers took Stephon Tuitt in the 2nd round in 2014. Despite being only 23 years old, Tuitt has already compiled some impressive numbers in Pittsburgh. He has 3 forced fumbles, 1 interception, 11.5 sacks, and 108 total tackles. Tuitt has become a fixture in the Steelers’ rapidly improving defense. Stephon Tuitt is one of best defensive linemen to come out of Notre Dame in recent memory.
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