Greg Gabriel -- long-time NFL scout and former Director of College Scouting for the Chicago Bears – begins with a simple premise and works from there when it comes to college football players with eligibility remaining.
“I am not in line with underclassmen leaving unless they are physically and emotionally ready to make the jump to the NFL,” said Gabriel, a regular contributor to The National Post and an oft-heard voice on all things NFL Draft. “He’s better off staying in school.”
But when the 2015 college football season is complete and in the immediate years after that, Notre Dame products will offer a ton of talent to the NFL, some of which will go on to first-round draft status as well as many that have much to prove before they can be declared a legitimate NFL prospect.
This is where the irrational hype that is so prevalent in the mainstream media ends. Mock drafts in August, or for that matter, immediately after the NFL Draft in May? That’s preposterous. The next season must be played to provide an accurate gauge of prospects. Declaring first-round draft choices without knowing all of the talent available for the draft may sell subscriptions, but it doesn’t provide an accurate assessment of the candidates vying for a spot in the NFL.
We’ve asked Gabriel to comment on Notre Dame’s fifth-year, fourth-year seniors out of eligibility, fourth-year seniors with eligibility and a handful of juniors. The following is his assessment.
(Editor’s note: Players who were not discussed with Gabriel but could come into the discussion in our next installment – the bye weekend of Oct. 24 – include: fifth-year senior LB-Jarrett Grace, junior RB-Tarean Folston, junior WR-Torii Hunter, Jr., junior TE-Durham Smythe, junior OT-Mike McGlinchey, and fifth-year senior S-Matthias Farley).
• C-Nick Martin: “Last year he was playing out of position, but there was a positive to that. Most NFL teams dress seven offensive linemen on Sunday. The two reserves that dress have to have the ability to play more than one position. Martin has played at the college level at both center and guard.
“I think he’s a natural center. He’s shown that he can play guard, so if he’s not going to start as a rookie, being that he’s got experience at both positions, it bodes well for him to be one of the seven as a rookie to dress. Versatility always helps.
“He’s had some injuries. He had a full off-season to help him get stronger. That’s going to help him. His tape this year is going to be better. Last year, his tape was probably average at best because he was playing at guard and playing with some injuries. Now he’s back at his natural position and is bigger and stronger.
“From the people I talk to and from what I’ve seen myself, he’s a mid-round guy and the arrow is going up. It could go up a lot, but it depends upon the kind of year he has.”
• ILB-Joe Schmidt: “The (ankle) injury is going to come into play, but I love the kid. He’s a coach on the field. He’s an overachiever in that he plays bigger, faster and stronger than he is. He understands things. He’s the opposite of (Elijah) Shumate (see below). Shumate has the physical tools, but he doesn’t have the intangibles that turn you into a great player, and Schmidt has that.
“Average size, average speed, yada, yada, yada. The guy’s a player and coaches trust him because he understands everything. He’s never going to be caught out of position. He’s always going to be doing what he’s supposed to be doing, and on top of that, he’s a great leader.
“He’s going to play in the league. Does he get drafted? The medical from last year, how well he tests, that’s all going to play into it. Personally, I think he has a chance to be a mid-round or late-round guy, but I believe he’ll be playing in the league for the same reason he’s playing at Notre Dame: you’re going to trust him. Coaches gravitate toward guys like that.”
• WR-Amir Carlisle: “Right now, he’s more suspect than prospect. He’s flashed enough to be under consideration. There’s not enough overall production to say he’s a quote prospect.
“He’s a smaller guy. Where does he fit into the scheme of things on the next level? Right now you’ve got to say he’s a free agent, but a big year could change things for him.”
• DT-Sheldon Day: “I see Day as a prototypical three-technique in a four-man front. If he has the year he’s capable of having, he could be an Aaron Donald-type prospect. He’s a little bigger than Donald. He’s quick, he’s fast, he’s explosive, he’s very instinctive and quick-reacting…He’s got all the tools to be that great three-technique player at the next level, assuming he stays healthy.”
• WR-Chris Brown: “I see a free agent based on what he’s done in the past, but he might run real fast, and if he runs as fast as we think he can run, that will probably get him drafted.
“Let me qualify that: (Notre Dame) brings in so many good receivers every year, he’s still got to hold on and play. I don’t think he’s a great route runner, but he runs real fast, and yet you’re always wondering with the ball in the air whether he’s going to catch it. So you don’t trust his hands. I haven’t seen anything this year that says it’s improved.
“We’ll find that out soon. He’s got what every scout looks for – speed. He needs to be a little stronger and needs to be a better route runner, and obviously be more consistent catching the football. He’s got some traits; let’s see what happens this year.”
• S-Elijah Shumate: “I think it’s instincts with him. He’s not a real instinctive football player and he’s not a quick-reacting football player. On the hoof, he’s what you’re looking for, but it’s the mental part of the game. Understand, I’m not saying he’s dumb. You can be the smartest guy in the world, but he doesn’t give you the innate instincts that make him a great football player. He’s not a naturally quick-reacting guy.
“It gets down to your measurables, what you do on tape, and what the coaches are telling the scouts about the player. That’s part of the scout’s job. Talk to the coaches, get the background on the player’s work habits…Does he accept them the way they are and not try to get better? I can’t answers those questions, but the scouts are going to have to answer them.”
• DE-Romeo Okwara: “I don’t think he’s on the radar right now. I haven’t heard that he is. He’s a tweener-type guy in that he’s tall, he’s long, and he’s athletic. A lot of these 4-3 teams want someone bigger on the outside. He could be a guy who’s a 4-3 end in this scheme whereas on the next level, he might be a 3-4 outside backer.
“Is he good enough to make the jump? I can’t answer that yet. I haven’t seen enough of him. Can he make the jump off of last year’s tape? No. We’ll hit that one later.”
• OT-Ronnie Stanley: “He’s got all the physical tools. If I’m not mistaken, he got a first-round grade based on his physical tools last year. The advisory committee really gives kids an incomplete grade. You don’t know character, you don’t know verified measurables, you don’t know work habits and you don’t have the medical, and the medicals are huge.
“But based on the tape, he’s what everybody is looking for. He’s big, he’s long, he can move his feet, he’s very athletic…He needed to get stronger, but this past off-season was the first one that he’s had to really train and get bigger and stronger. He’s always been coming off issues in the off-season where he’s been able to train, but not train at a 100 percent level.
“So you’re looking for him to take a step forward. He played well in the LSU game, and you want the arrow to keep going up. Use that game as the baseline and go forward from there. If he does that, he’s what everybody is looking for.
“He’s a left tackle, but in saying that, what a lot of teams will do is draft them and then play them where the weak link is. Then he gains that year of experience, gets confidence in his game, catches up to the speed of the game, and then in his second year, he’s ready to go.
“(Auburn’s) Greg Robinson was the second pick in the draft last year and played left guard. Now he’s a left tackle. This happens all the time. You get him on the field and give him a chance to get some confidence by playing him inside, and then he’s not exposed to a veteran defensive end.
“Last year people liked Stanley’s physical traits. The reason he made the right decision to stay in school was because he wasn’t emotionally ready to make the jump from a maturity standpoint.”
• CB-KeiVarae Russell: “There’s a little bit of a question mark because he didn’t play last year, and on top of that, he’s now playing an entirely different scheme from what he was playing in 2012-13. So now you’re going to see how he adapts to playing in that new scheme. From a physical trait point of view, he’s got the tools.
“I don’t believe some of the stuff that came out that he was running in the low 4.3s. He’s not that fast. He can run, but he isn’t a 4.32 guy. He’s a 4.4 guy, which means he’s fast. He can jump, he’s physical…But he’s going to be asked to do things in this scheme that he didn’t do in (Bob) Diaco’s scheme, and once the ball kicks off, it’s how he plays in that scheme, and it might take him a game or two to get up to speed. It will be interesting to see how he plays.
“When you get to the NFL, you’re asked to play pressure, you’re asked to play off, you’re asked to play zone, and he’s done some of those things at a pretty good level in Diaco’s scheme. But they’re asked to play a lot of press-coverage in (Brian) VanGorder’s scheme, and if he plays well, the guy is going to be a quality corner on the next level.”
• DL-Jarron Jones: “A lot of times MCLs get torn and you let them heal on their own, but it depends on where it’s torn and how bad the tear is. It gets back to the medical on a guy like that. He shouldn’t leave. He was starting to come on last year and he played pretty good football last year, but you want him to take even more of a jump.
“I don’t see him as a nose on the next level. You don’t see a lot of 6-foot-6 noses in the NFL. I see him more of a 3-4 five-technique, maybe even playing some three-technique in a 4-3. He’s coming off knee surgery and until he shows how he rehabs, he’s a big question mark.”
• RB/WR-C.J. Prosise: “He flashes. He had a couple big plays in the LSU game, and for a guy that never played running back, if you look at some of the stuff he did in the spring game, he’s impressive.
“He’s strong after the catch. He does a lot of good things, but he hasn’t had a chance to step up and be the No. 1 guy, and if you’re not the No. 1 guy in college, how are you going to be a No. 1 guy in the NFL? So let’s see what happens this year. He’ll get his opportunities because they won’t want to wear down (Tarean) Folston.”
• LB-Jaylon Smith: “Personally, and I’m not downplaying the kid at all, and going off last year’s tape, there were times when he struggled. But remember, he was just a sophomore.
“We saw during his freshman year that he had a chance to be a really good player. Last year, he was put in a new position, a new scheme and there were times when he flashed and made some plays.
“Instinctively and reaction-quickness-wise, he wasn’t where he wants to be. So now he’s a year further into the scheme and should feel a lot more comfortable in the scheme. From an athletic standpoint, he’s got exactly what you’re looking for. Now he’s got to put it all together.
“When the ESPNs and others say he’s going to be this, that and the other thing, I put absolutely no stock into that because they’re throwing darts at a wall. The Mel Kipers of the world don’t know. From an athletic standpoint, they’re probably 100 percent correct.
“But I thought his play last year was very, very inconsistent. There were flashes of brilliant play, but there was a lot of average play, too. He’s just got to keep going and the arrow has to keep going up. He’s probably got a chance at being a special player if he continues to improve the way you anticipate.
“He’s a 4-3 Will linebacker because his height, weight and speed is what he looks like. He’s a prototype Will linebacker with the physical traits. The 3-4 outside linebackers going into the league now are a lot bigger than Jaylon is. That’s not to say he can’t play it, but that’s not what he’s doing at Notre Dame, and when you evaluate a player, you evaluate him on what you see him doing.
“You might see him in an occasional rush coming off the edge, but he’s not putting his hand in the dirt. He might be doing a delayed blitz from the outside. But you’re not getting a full dose of him rushing from the outside.
“I see him as an inside guy in the 3-4 as well. The Will and the Mike in the 4-3 are similar to the Will and the Mike in the 3-4. It’s the outside guys that are lined up differently. He’ll probably get a little bigger than he is, but he doesn’t have to be a 260-pound guy and I don’t think his body is that of a 260-pound guy.
“He’s getting better dropping from the inside. He has the awareness, instincts and coverage skills. The reading of the blocking schemes and anticipation – something that Joe Schmidt does in his sleep or with his eyes closed – he needs to be better. Part of it was he was a sophomore at a new position. (Manti) Te’o got better as a junior, stayed for the next year and got even better.
“Unless he’s 100 percent ready from a mental and physical standpoint, I think he should stay in school.”
• WR-Will Fuller: “He shouldn’t come out this year if he keeps dropping balls at the rate he did last year. Yes, I know he makes big plays and he’s exciting and all that. But right now I don’t trust his hands. He drops a lot of balls and a lot of them come in key situations. I don’t think he’s got reliable hands at this point.
“He’s got everything else. He’s a lean-framed guy that can run like a deer. But what’s the first thing you’re asking a wide receiver to do? Catch the ball, and if he can’t catch the ball consistently, he’s never going to see the field at the next level.”
• S-Max Redfield: “I didn’t see a lot from Redfield last year. There were times when he was benched. He hasn’t done enough to show that he’s an NFL prospect at this point. He’s got some of the physical traits you look for, but he hasn’t played up to those physical traits.
“I’m reading that he’s a lot better this year and more vocal. But in those schemes, you’re asking the safeties to do a lot. There’s a lot of pressure on those safeties and they have to be playmakers. Those guys weren’t playmakers last year, and part of that might have been because they were just too young and too immature. So let’s see what they do this year. He may have a high opinion of himself, but the tape doesn’t have a high opinion of him.”
• OL-Steve Elmer: “Elmer was on the ground a lot last year, and you can’t win the game on the ground. You’ve got to stay on your feet. He’s going to get better because he’s been playing and he’s a talented kid.”
• CB-Cole Luke: “Last year was the first year he got to play and he got better as the season went on. He has ability. He had a productive sophomore season. You still didn’t see enough yet to say this guy is an NFL corner.”
• DL-Isaac Rochell: “Rochell flashed. He’s strong. He played different positions because of injuries, and was asked to do a lot. He was a good college player last year, but is he what you’re looking for in the NFL? I can’t answer that yet.”
• WR-Corey Robinson: “Robinson is going to have a chance because he usually has reliable hands. He could end up being – if his body can withstand the size – a move tight end-type guy once he gets to the next level. But he’s still in the early stages of his development.”