Future Irish in the NFL

Notre Dame's 2014 draft hopefuls are well-known to anyone with an internet connection. Who's next for 2015 and beyond? We have a Baker's Dozen to rate and ponder...

Astute fans and daily media can likely project with confidence 10 of perhaps 15 players that will rank among Notre Dame's best players at season's end, 2014. But predicting the NFL future of the program's youth-filled Irish roster? That's an exercise in futility.

Stephon Tuitt appeared to be a first-round NFL prospect the moment he stepped on Notre Dame's campus while Louis Nix grew into that status no sooner than the middle of his third season. Neither was selected last night as 32 picks ticked off the board.

Conversely, Zack Martin was, and he wouldn't have been had he not returned for a fifth season of football and subsequently bested nearly every defender he faced.

And who would have guessed in August 2010 that a skinny kid named Tyler Eifert would be drafted higher than the team's starter and NFL prototype at the position, Kyle Rudolph?

Well, other than first-year head man Brian Kelly, of course.

"He's a very good player," Kelly said of Eifert, then a redshirt-freshman during his first training camp. "Again, I've had some good players at other schools at that position, but he's has good as I've coached.

"Now, I've only coach Eifert, here. I haven't coached Kyle Rudolph. And I hear he's pretty good too."

Rudolph was hurt at the time, and when his injured hamstring finally gave out two months later, Eifert stepped into a starting role. Greatness later followed:

Who among the current Irish could follow the likes of Eifert in the first, Rudolph in the second, or countless talents before them in the third through final rounds of the NFL Draft?

I took a shot, and came up with an unplanned Baker's Dozen:

Stanley (left) is blessed with NFL measurements, feet

1.) Sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith: Talent and football acumen are both off the charts. With 10 more pounds he could be a first round pick after the 2015 season. Irish fans hope that status follows for 2016, instead.

2.) Junior offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley: Long arms, quick feet, athleticism from a lifetime of hoops, Stanley is evolving into a prototype tackle entering his third season. Eligible through the 2016 season because of elbow surgery in 2013 when he played in two September contests and would likely benefit from that extra time at the program as Zack Martin did before him.

3.) Senior Kicker Kyle Brindza: He's the least likely player on this list to be drafted in the first four rounds, but does anyone want to bet against Brindza A.) being drafted, or B.) having a decade-long NFL career?

4.) Sophomore offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey: Has four seasons to develop his 6'7" 300-pound frame into an NFL-ready body. One of the team's best athletes, the sky's the limit for McGlinchey through 2017.

5.) Sophomore offensive lineman Steve Elmer: Massive frame, good feet, mean streak on the field, and intelligent -- Elmer is one of many current Irish linemen that will carve out an NFL career. Unlike Martin, Stanley, and McGlinchey he does not have the benefit of a fifth season of eligibility to continue to polish his skills, but a career spent at both guard and tackle will help his overall ranking on many team draft boards.

6.) Junior cornerback Keivarae Russell: Quick feet, long arms, remarkable self-confidence, and now packing on more than 190 pounds, Russell will, in good health, conclude the season as a 39-game starter. Another year would doubtless do him good at the college level, and likely improve his draft stock, but Russell will one day enter the NFL combine as a player that's seen a pair of diverse systems (Cover 2/zone and press man). He'll be well-prepared for the next level though he's a touch short at 5'11".

7.) Junior defensive tackle Sheldon Day: Speaking of a touch short…Day fits the mold of a disruptive three-technique tackle because of his unusually long arms and innate ability to shed blocks. Powerful, intelligent, and dedicated, he's got the chops to be a decade-long NFL contributor and could thrive in the right system.

8.) Sophomore running back Greg Bryant: How many bulls have you seen run through a china shop with the ability to do this: (1:08 mark on video) -- Click here to see Bryant's best move in space.

9.) Sophomore running back Tarean Folston: I have no idea if he should be ahead of Bryant, but Folston has a knack for eluding contact without shying from it -- that generally equates to good health and a longer career at running back.

Why are both Bryant and Folston ranked below #7 on our list? In today's NFL, talented runners are a dime a dozen while quality linemen will always find a niche.

10.) Sophomore safety Max Redfield: Size? Check. Speed + quickness = suddenness? Check. Intelligence? Check. Made a play yet on Saturday? We'll get our initial answer to the most important aspect of the equation beginning in late August 2014. A true sophomore, Redfield should have an outstanding career in front of him at ND.

11.) Senior wide receiver DaVaris Daniels: Has the size, athleticism, hands, coordination, and confidence to be an NFL receiver. So do about 75 other current collegiate prospects. If Daniels matures and becomes consistent in his daily approach to his craft, look out…

12.) Senior tight end Ben Koyack: A former five-star prospect, Koyack finally began playing like a high three-star midway through 2013. He'll be at a four-star level this fall, then it's up to the natural pass catcher to continue to improve his game over the next 7-8 years. At six-feet five and around 260 pounds, Koyack will find an NFL home.

13.) Junior receiver C.J. Prosise: Raw. Very, very raw. But he'll run through you, by you, and jump over you. He's also going to be a great special teams player in 2014 -- and hopefully used as such for his final three seasons of eligibility in South Bend as the Irish run teams need him -- and five more like him.

Others that immediately came to mind:

History shows Morgan has a chance as a former 5-star

-- Senior quarterback Everett Golson: Sub six-foot quarterbacks are the exception, not the norm at the next level, but Golson has a shot in the modern era thanks to his arm strength, quick feet, and natural playmaking ability…

-- Sophomore tight end Durham Smythe: It's called Tight End U for a reason, right?

-- 5th-year senior cornerback Cody Riggs: A versatile gamer -- unfortunately a short one at 5'9" -- which means the right team and system is crucial. Look for Riggs to become one of Notre Dame's 10 best players this season.

-- Sophomore cornerback Cole Luke: A natural cover corner, Luke's instincts and football acumen will become apparent as he gains playing experience. Look for a breakout 2015 season from Luke, a true sophomore entering 2014.

-- Junior defensive lineman Jarron Jones: Long way to go, but you can't coach his size and wingspan. The Irish staff, and likely those that bring him in at the NFL level, may always be tasked with coaching his desire to be great. A gentle giant, and while that's a compliment in life, it's not welcome in professional football. Time to channel his inner Jekyll and Hyde…

-- Senior center Nick Martin: I don't doubt the football-playing Martins.

-- Freshman linebacker Nyles Morgan: The five-star status bestowed upon him as a prep star tells us he has the best chance, (Click here for proof to that end.) but beyond that, I don't project freshmen to the NFL.

-- Wide receivers Will Fuller, Corey Robinson, and Justin Brent have miles to go, though not athletically.

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