Evaluating Notre Dame’s early entries

On Monday, Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen and wide receiver Golden Tate made it official. Both will forego their senior seasons and enter the 2010 NFL Draft. Here’s a breakdown of the two prospects and what their futures look like:

QB Jimmy Clausen: No. 7, 6-3, 223

2009 stats: 289 of 425 passing, 3,722 yards, 68.0 completion percentage, 28 TDs, 4 INTs

What we like:

• Three-year starter at Notre Dame who has seen his play improve significantly over that span.

• Has been groomed by the likes of former NFL offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and knows how to operate in a pro-style offense.

• Is accurate with the football, showcases the ability to get the ball out of his hands on time and anticipate throws.

• Possesses good balance and footwork from under center, does a nice job recognizing coverages during his pre-snap reads and can audible his offense out of a play.

• Understands coverages and looks comfortable going through his progressions and being decisive with the football.

• Takes care of the football; threw only four interceptions this season.

• Was able to handle the pressure of being a former five-star recruit and continued to improve and be productive in spite of it.

What we don’t like:

• His physical stature. Doesn’t look nearly as big as his listed height (6-3) and at times struggles to find throwing lanes in the pocket.

• Possesses only average arm strength. Relies on his timing and anticipation in the pass game (which is fine), but when he’s asked to spin the football from one side of the field to the opposite hash mark, his throws float on him. Doesn’t have the arm to be late with a read down the field.

• Needs to do a better job stepping up in the face of pressure and not drifting away from the pocket.

• Is he a guy his teammates will trust and rally around in the fourth quarter? Finished the season with four consecutive losses, all by seven points or less.

• Is he mature enough at this stage to command the respect of his NFL teammates?

Overall:

With the coaching staff at Notre Dame currently in limbo, paired with the weak senior quarterback class, this looks to be the right decision for Clausen. He quickly becomes one of the top quarterback prospects in the draft, and with the need for signal callers across the NFL, he looks destined to be selected somewhere in the first round.

However, I’d be very cautious about drafting Clausen based on the level of competition he faced this season. Looking at Notre Dame’s opponents, the best pass defense it played was Purdue, which currently ranks 40th in the country, while also facing Nevada (119th), Washington State (116th), Stanford (105th), Michigan State (103rd), Connecticut (94th) and Washington (90th). That’s far from NFL-caliber.

Plus, his inability to win close games at home and on the road with the cast of talent he had around him sends up red flags for me.

He’s still an accurate passer with a good feel for the pass game and has the ability to start in more of a West Coast scheme at the next level. But I think he’s going to need more time to mature physically and mentally to efficiently handle the pressures of the NFL game.

Grade: 6.4

Has one deficient area of his playing skills or his physical attributes, but should be able to overcome it and contribute to a team. Has the potential to become a starter based on his abilities.

WR Golden Tate: No. 23, 5-11, 195

2009 stats: 93 receptions, 1,496 receiving yards, 15 touchdowns

What we like:

• His production. Has gone over 1,000 yards receiving each of the past two seasons and was even more productive this year in the absence of fellow starting wideout Michael Floyd.

• Possesses the ability to get up to speed quickly off the line while displaying the body control to snap off routes and remain balanced out of his breaks

• Exhibits a second gear to his game when asked to track the football down the field and run under the throw.

• Possesses good short-area quickness in the open field, has the ability to make a man miss initially and gets back up to speed quickly after the catch.

• Awareness. Does a great job finding the football down the field and demonstrates the coordination to consistently adjust to the throw and attack the ball.

What we don’t like:

• Size/strength/power. Can be bullied off the line and/or down the field when trying to fight his way through contact and separate.

• Isn’t a natural plucker. Has a tendency to let passes get into his body and will put the ball on the ground. You will have to live with his drops.

• Level of competition. Hasn’t been asked to beat/face many NFL-caliber prospects at the college level and has been able to overwhelm opposing defenders with his pure athletic ability. Will need to adjust to NFL corners who aren’t afraid to get up in his face and are just as athletic as he is.

Overall:

Golden Tate is only one of many talented junior wideouts who will enter the draft, but as of now, he instantly moves up there with the nation’s top senior receivers. However, as I wrote last Wednesday, with prospects like Dez Bryant, Damian Williams, Arrelious Benn, Dezmon Briscoe, Mike Williams and Demaryius Thomas all possibly coming out early as well, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Tate get lost somewhere in the middle of all of them on draft day.

I’ve heard the comparisons with DeSean Jackson, Percy Harvin and even Lee Evans, but honestly, I don’t think Tate is quite the same type of dynamic athlete. I see him being more of a Mark Clayton type of wideout who has the ability to make plays down the field, but his physical skill set looks more ideally suited for the slot. Like Clayton, I think Tate will also disappear from games vs. physical corners at the next level and have a tendency to drop the ball in traffic. The team that drafts him will likely see him as a potential starting receiver on the outside, but I think he’s going to have a tough time overcoming his lack of size/physicality in order to consistently separate vs. NFL-caliber corners.

Grade: 6.3

Has one deficient area of his playing skills or his physical attributes that will be difficult to overcome, but will find a way to contribute in spite of it. Has the potential to become a starter based on his abilities.

Follow me on Twitter: WesBunting

Upcoming Games

Aug 5th, 8:00 PM

Dallas +1.5 -110

Pittsburgh -1.5 -110

@

Aug 12th, 7:30 PM

Washington -2.5 -110

New England +2.5 -110

@

Aug 12th, 7:30 PM

Pittsburgh +1 -110

Philadelphia -1 -110

@