Notre Dame football is considered one of the most legendary and renowned institutions in the history of American sports. It's been documented into popular culture through the outlets of feature films, such as Rudy, and the traditional, clean-cut hallmarks that the program has represented since the beginning. It's supposed to represent everything that the Miami Hurricanes don't; honesty, sportsmanship, playing the game the "right" way. Given that Notre Dame has been a prominent program seemingly forever, they've seen plenty of their alumni reach the NFL ranks, to varying degrees of success throughout the years.
While the Fighting Irish have seen their notable successes at the NFL level (Paul Hornug, Tim Brown, Joe Montana), they've also seen plenty of draft busts to go alongside it. Plenty of players have had their draft stock rise, just because they played at Notre Dame. The name recognition alone was enough to convince an NFL franchise to take a chance on them, in some cases. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a mistake for the team in question, as there have been plenty of Fighting Irish greats who just couldn't cut it at the next level. Let's examine those players over the years who fit the bill.
Ranked below are 15 Notre Dame Fighting Irish who were busts in the NFL.
15 Michael Floyd
Floyd has had some decent seasons in the NFL, but considering he was taken at the blue-chip level 13th overall position, his career looks much more like a disappointment than a success. He's spent most of his time with the Cardinals, before being released as the result of a DUI charge in the 2016 season. At Notre Dame, however, he was a star. He put up elite receiving numbers, and was high on everybody's draft boards heading into the 2012 draft. Arizona ended up taking him, expecting him to become a fixture in their receiving corps, and replace Larry Fitzgerald as the go-to target. That didn't quite come to fruition, and now Floyd's career seems to be on the downturn, almost as soon after it began just a few years ago.
14 Mike McCoy
Taken 2nd overall in the 1970 draft by the Packers, it's safe to say that McCoy was supposed to become the anchor of the Green Bay defense as an interior tackle. Such a high selection would indicate a Hall Of Fame-level of talent, but McCoy was just "OK" instead. He spent 10 years in the NFL, and produced middling numbers; just a decent player instead of a great one. For the Fighting Irish, he turned out to be one of their best defensive lineman of all-time. In the NFL, he didn't live up to that standing, and was actually one of the bigger disappointments of his era. For a second overall pick, he should have been much better.
13 Manti Te'o
Te'o was on what was probably the best Fighting Irish team of the 21st century in 2012, a team that made it to the National Championship game. He was considered one of the best linebackers in the 2013 draft, and even with the bizarre "fake girlfriend" story hanging over his head, most NFL teams were bullish on his chances to become an upper-tier player. That hasn't been the case for Te'o on the Chargers, and after being taken in the second round, he's decidedly just a mediocre NFL player. After his rookie deal is over, he'll likely be let go, and it remains to be seen whether he'll remain in a starting role for another team. Definitely a great player in college, but his talent never transitioned to the NFL, where he became just a marginal player, on a so-so team.
12 Kevin Hardy
Another defensive lineman that produced for the Irish, who never was able to cross over to the NFL, Hardy was considered to be a blue-chip player coming into the 1968 draft. His draft position reflected as such. He was taken seventh overall, and never lived up to the hype. He spent his four years in the NFL on three different teams, and four if you count the fact that the Saints traded him immediately after selecting him originally. He fizzled out very quickly, never putting together a full season as a starter. In short, he could barely get on the field at the pro level, and is much better remembered from his days with the Fighting Irish. Another player who was one of the biggest defensive busts of his era, after such a promising college career.
11 Tom Carter
Carter is a player where the statistics don't tell the full story. Considered one of the best defensive backs in the history of Notre Dame, he was taken 17th overall in 1993 by the Redskins. He spent eight years in the NFL, and while he was able to accumulate a fair number of interceptions, his actual coverage ability was mediocre at best, as he was consistently getting beat deep, but still had enough awareness to nab pass every once in a while. It's no surprise he bounced around the league to two other teams after Washington decided to let him walk. Carter was on some great Fighting Irish teams during the Lou Holtz era, but his talent never translated into being a successful NFL cornerback. He's an example of a player who was helped by playing on a great college team that was able to win some high-profile bowl games along the way.
10 Rocket Ismail
While it may not have been the consensus opinion at the time, there were some who felt that Ismail's speed alone would lead him to a great NFL career. He was seen as a dual threat in both the passing and running game; someone who could be moved all over the field, due to his blazing speed. He was taken by the Raiders in the '93 draft, and was almost immediately slotted as a punt returner, and only an occasional receiver. He bounced around the league, never really finding his place until he had some solid seasons as a receiver while with the Cowboys at the end of his career. It was probably a disappointing NFL career in general, but he's still considered one of the hallmark players from the Lou Holtz era, and an important piece to that roster at the time.
9 Jim Seymour
You can chalk Seymour up as another Notre Dame bust from the late-'60s, this time at the wide receiver position. Ironically, Seymour had his best season with the Fighting Irish during his first full season with the team, and his production dropped the following two year. Taken 10th overall in the 1970 draft by the Bears, he was still projected to be a great NFL receiver (or the equivalent of it at the time). Instead, he crashed and burned almost immediately when he got to the league. Seymour spent three years with the Bears, and caught 21 total passes during that time span. Even in the 1970 version of the NFL, that made for a piss-poor receiving talent. Seymour was out of the league by 1972, and he's most certainly one of the biggest receiver busts in Notre Dame history. Even with lowered expectations for receivers back then, he couldn't come through with even one solid season in the NFL.
8 Vagas Ferguson
Following a 1979 season at Notre Dame where he had one of the best individual seasons by a running back in NCAA history, Ferguson was taken in the first round by the Patriots in 1980. He was considered to be at the level that Tony Dorsett was coming out of Pittsburgh, and that meant as much of a "can't miss" running back prospect as there was at the time. After one mediocre season in New England, Ferguson busted out almost immediately, playing minimal time over the next three years, before he was out of the league entirely. The Patriots weren't as consistent as they would be 20 years later, and draft picks like Ferguson were the reason why. As far as Fighting Irish running backs go, Ferguson is just about at the top of the list for biggest all-time busts.
7 Derek Brown
While Brown was able to stick around in the NFL for seven years, they were mostly unproductive seasons, after a 14th overall selection by the Giants to solidify the tight end position. Undoubtedly helped by playing at Notre Dame during the peak of the Lou Holtz era, Brown was nonetheless expected to be an elite tight end at the next level. His contributions as a receiver were almost nil, and he stayed in the league as a blocker almost exclusively. Definitely not worth such a high selection, and he called it quits by the end of the 1999 season. It's easy to see why the Giants would have been fooled by his strong college resume, but in the end, it's still a bad pick, even all of these years later. Brown wouldn't be the biggest tight end bust to come out of Notre Dame, however.
6 Steve Niehaus
Arguably the worst defensive line bust in the history of the school, Niehaus was taken at second overall in the 1976 draft by the Seahawks. Such a high selection demands the player be an anchor for the position group over the long-term, and Niehaus was anything but that, in his three NFL seasons in Seattle, and one in Minnesota. Essentially, he was a rotational tackle, a severe underachievement for a player with him resume as an All-American for the Fighting Irish. In fact, it's probably one of the most noteworthy defensive tackle busts of all-time, for any school. Niehaus was the definition of a disappointment at the position, and lowered the stock for Notre Dame prospects heading into the 1980s. One of the worst picks of all-time.
5 Irv Smith
Another pick from the peak years with Lou Holtz, Smith definitely wasn't a terrible NFL player, but again, at 20th overall, there's little reason to consider his career a success. Considering the fact that he was actually targeted quite heavily while with the Saints, his numbers read more like a second-string tight end, and remained stagnant essentially from his rookie season. He'd go on to a couple more stops with other teams to fill out his seven-year career, but Smith was a very underwhelming player, all things considered. A top-20 pick should be an elite talent for at least five or six years in the NFL, and Smith's production was simply too mediocre for that to come to fruition. While they had one of the best NCAA teams ever, not too many players from the Holtz years turned out for the better in the NFL.
4 Tony Hunter
All things considered, Hunter is probably the biggest tight end bust in Fighting Irish history. Selected 12th overall by the Bills, that should pretty much guarantee a productive career for upward of 10 seasons. Instead, Hunter was seldom available, and when he was, he was nothing special on the field. He spent four years in the league, a pair with Buffalo and a pair with the Rams respectively. Hunter was drafted in the blue chip range, and never lived up to the billing. Catching less than 10 TD passes in his career, it turned out to be nothing short of a failure, and he faded into obscurity extremely quickly. For a school with so many disappointing tight end selections, Hunter reigns supreme in that regard, and that says a lot.
3 Walt Patulski
Patulski was an athletic freak, and one of the most decorated players in Notre Dame history. A monstrous defensive end for the Fighting Irish in the early-'70s, he was considered a top prospect by every measure, and was certain to have a great NFL career. The Bills certainly thought so when they took him with the first overall pick in the 1972 draft, which meant that they thought he would be an elite player immediately. Patulski was decent in his four seasons in Buffalo, but hardly the player that his resume with the Fighting Irish would have led everyone to believe. In the end, he spent just five years in the NFL, and was never a top player at his position, or even very close for that matter. Considering the first overall selection, it's fair to say that Patulski is one of the biggest busts in team history, regardless of the era.
2 Brady Quinn
At this point in 2007, the Browns had already begun their desperate and frantic search for a franchise quarterback, and Quinn was supposed to be the catalyst that would get them over the hump. Cleveland did select him with their 22nd overall pick in 2007, and after a showing at Notre Dame that had him pegged as a pro-style pocket passer that could adapt quickly, his NFL career was a disaster from the beginning. Quinn couldn't play in the league, and it was almost painful to watch. The hype surrounding him was huge at the time, and the Browns fell for it hook, line and sinker. This wouldn't be the last time it would happen to them (and still is happening to them), but amazingly, Quinn isn't even the biggest quarterback bust in team history. That distinct honor goes to...
1 Rick Mirer
When a quarterback is drafted second overall, there's a list of set expectations they should be able to fulfill. When Mirer was taken by the Seahawks in 1993, fresh off a run with Lou Holtz's elite NCAA teams (sound familiar?), he whiffed on just about every bullet point on that list. His output would have been bad for a mid-round quarterback selection that was slotted in as the starter, but for a second overall pick, the numbers are downright abhorrent. After an initial four terrible years in Seattle, he bounced around the league as a backup, never even coming close to living up to the expectations. It's one of the most noteworthy quarterback busts in league history, and far and away the worst in the history of Notre Dame football. Mirer may have masqueraded as an elite quarterback, but it was the Seahawks took the bait, and ended up paying the price throughout the 90s as a result.
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