Notre Dame would've loved to have Stephon Tuitt around for another year, and can point to the benefits of being a sure-fire first-round pick with another year of experience.
Tuitt indeed lost out on some money by leaving school early and being a second-round pick in last week's NFL Draft, a point coach Brian Kelly is sure to make to future juniors deciding whether or not to jump early to the NFL. But for Tuitt, he landed in a situation with the Pittsburgh Steelers ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. described as "perfect."
"He's a 3-4 defensive end, he's an ideal scheme fit," Kiper said. " ... I think for Tuitt, it worked out perfectly even though he wasn't a first-round pick."
[MORE: Stephon Tuitt's draft profile]
Whereas Michael Floyd and Tyler Eifert passed on second or third-round grades and returned to school for their respective senior seasons, Tuitt decided to jump early despite receiving a second-grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board. He was limited as a junior due to nagging effects from hernia surgery and didn't take off like he did in 2012, when he nearly broke Justin Tuck's single-season sack school record.
The advantage of declaring early, though, is earning a second contract in the NFL a year sooner. There's less guaranteed money up front, but with success that could be mitigated by landing a rich deal after a player's rookie contract expires.
That's a thought process, though, Kelly said in February he thinks is pretty lousy.
"I just have to do a better job of educating our own players on the NFL and what it means to be a first‑round draft pick versus a second or a third, Kelly said, "when an agent says let's play for your second contract, how ridiculous that is."
But for Tuitt, getting drafted by a defensive-minded team that plays a 3-4 scheme couldn't have worked out better. He won't have to shift inside to defensive tackle in a 4-3, and can still be the same power-rushing two-gap guy he was at Notre Dame.
"You always have to have power on the field," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "(A) big guy like Tuitt suits that purpose no matter what the down and distance is. He has value."
Of course, there's always the risk of Tuitt getting injured or winding up ineffective at the NFL level. If that's the case, perhaps he regrets leaving Notre Dame early. As Kiper said, "you've got to earn a job; it's not guaranteed."
But at the same time, had Tuitt returned to school and got injured again, he likely would've slipped past the second round of the 2015 draft.
That Tuitt wound up with the Steelers probably isn't a coincidence, either. Teams rarely use draft picks, especially high ones, on guys that aren't good fits in their system.
So while Tuitt declared for the NFL Draft with the intention of being a first-round pick, he didn't sound upset over landing as a second-rounder with Pittsburgh.
"All I know is I believe that everything happens for a reason," Tuitt said. "It was meant for me to come to the Steelers."