Back to the 90s

Martin (70) leads a parade of Irish NFL hopefuls

The first round of the 2014 NFL Draft will commence and conclude Thursday evening, and for the third time in as many seasons, an Irish standout -- or three -- will be among those chosen.

5th-year senior Zack Martin -- Notre Dame's best offensive linemen in two decades -- is a first-round lock. Senior Louis Nix and junior Stephon Tuitt are first-round hopefuls, while Tuitt's classmate Troy Niklas has earned a consistent second-round grade. Seniors Prince Shembo, Chris Watt, T.J. Jones, and Bennett Jackson are likely to be selected over the weekend as well.

Lou Holtz might not be walking through that door, but Notre Dame's NFL talent level has reached its highest point since the days the master walked the sidelines in South Bend.

Three Irish players, Tyler Eifert (2013), Michael Floyd (2012) and Harrison Smith (2012) have been selected in the last two drafts. Martin is likely to be the fourth with Nix and Tuitt both possible, and the resulting four to six first rounders will represent the program's highest total since seven were selected in a three-draft span from 1992 through 1994.

1992: TE Derek Brown #14
1993: QB Rick Mirer (#2), RB Jerome Bettis (10), CB Tom Carter (17), TE Irv Smith (20)
1994: DT Bryant Young (#7), OL Aaron Taylor (16), S Jeff Burris (27).

Thereafter and up to Floyd's selection as the 10th pick in 2012, just four Irish players, DL Renaldo Wynn (1997), OL Luke Petigout (1999), C Jeff Faine (2003), and QB Brady Quinn (2007) earned first round status.

Four first round selections a 17-draft span (1995-2011), a paltry total for a school that had previously posted 32 first-round picks in 30 seasons (1965-1994). But assuming Martin is chosen in the first round tonight, it will be four Irish players in the last three drafts, and not coincidentally, Notre Dame posted its best win total over that three-year span -- 29 wins, 10 losses -- since the aforementioned 1992-94 stretch produced seven first round picks alongside a 31-5-1 record on the field of play.

The challenge ahead for Kelly's Irish isn't Draft Day 2015 (when the program's three-year run of first-round selections is likely to suffer a hiccup), but the on field product next fall: winning enough games to meet or exceed -- not merely approach -- Holtz's four-season total and squads that finished 40-8-1 from 1990-1993.

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