The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have as rich a tradition as any program in college football and it’s helped them produce hundreds of players who went on to have incredible careers in the NFL.
As of Sunday, Notre Dame has 40 players active in the NFL. And as the Irish look to recruit the next wave of talent to bring the program back to prominence, their success putting players into the league is a critical factor.
Here are the three Notre Dame alums active in the NFL who help the Irish on the recruiting trail the most:
Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings S, Notre Dame Class of 2012
Harrison Smith is coming off the best season in the history of the Pro Football Focus era (per their grading system) for a safety and was awarded the top grade of any player for 2017 (98.8). He’s been selected to the Pro Bowl three times now and was named first-team All-Pro for the first time this past season, as well.
At 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, Smith is the modern safety with range to cover a lot of ground downfield, the quickness to cover man-to-man, and the size to drop into the box so that he can blitz or support the run. That makes him a poster boy for what’s possible at Notre Dame.
Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys G, Notre Dame Class of 2014
Since being selected with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, all Zack Martin has done is become the preeminent guard in the league. He’s been selected to four consecutive Pro Bowls and has been named first-team or second-team All-Pro in each of those four seasons as well.
Martin was the beginning of this fresh wave of elite offensive line talent that has made its way into the NFL from Notre Dame. Ronnie Stanley, Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey have all been drafted into the NFL in the first round as top-10 picks.
Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions RB, Notre Dame Class of 2013
Theo Riddick might not be a superstar, but he’s a recruiting aid because he can be used as an example of what Brian Kelly can do with a versatile athlete. When you’ve got speed and playmaking ability, the Irish will find something to do with you and Riddick is the proof.
Just look at Avery Davis and Jafar Armstrong this spring. Both players sat a year while getting acclimated to the college game as freshmen, but now they’ll both have opportunities to make plays as both wide receivers and running backs, though Davis still holds out hope of playing quarterback. They’re both being sold as potential Riddick-types and you can expect that line to continue to be used on prospective recruits for years to come.