Each year during the halfway-or-so point of the college football season, we check in with Greg Gabriel, the former college scouting director of the Chicago Bears who remains actively involved in talent evaluation with NFPOST.com and various media outlets.
Irish Illustrated asked Gabriel to evaluate Notre Dame’s top senior prospects as well as four players with eligibility remaining who may/will consider leaving after the 2015 season.
“His stock can’t possibly be down because he makes plays game after game. He’s had a real good season so far.
“One of the things that will have a big determination on where he eventually gets drafted is his measurables. Personally, I think he’s an ideal three-technique, which limits him a little bit. You might say he’s a poor man’s Aaron Donald. Donald was a little more explosive and a little quicker, but there’s not a huge difference in their games.
“If he measures 6-foot-1 ½ and his arm length is fine, then he’ll be okay. If he measures under 6-foot-1 and has short arms, that’s going to hurt him because teams look at those things based on history. Short players with short arms seldom succeed. Are there exceptions? Absolutely, but for the most part, they seldom succeed, and that drops your value. Once he gets measured and weighed, if he’s what I think he’s going to be, it will help him.”
“Personally, I think stock down. He’s still a first-round pick because he’s got athleticism. He’s got ideal measurables and he’s got athleticism that very few tackle prospects have in any year.
“But he’s not a physically tough kid. He’s not as strong or as explosive as he could be or should be. His play has been inconsistent. He’s given up some sacks. Part of that is mental toughness. He just doesn’t stay in focus 100 percent of the time. He’s not as physically dominating a player as he could be. He’s got a chance to be a pretty good player, but there’s a bust factor. While the traits are there, he’s going to be a risky pick.”
“(Stock) is probably the same. He’s a consistent player. You can’t compare him to his brother because he’s not as athletic, he’s not as big and he’s not as strong and powerful as his brother was. He’s versatile in that he’s started games at center and guard. That will bode well for him.
“I see him as an eventual starter in the league given the right situation, being in the right offense, etc. As a rookie, he’ll be a backup and because he can play guard and center, he’ll probably dress on Sunday. Most teams only dress seven offensive linemen on Sundays. So those two backups have to be able to play multiple positions. His experience at guard bodes well for him dressing.
“I see him as a mid-round guy that will be an eventual starter in the league. He gets on the ground a little bit. He gets stalemated some. But his overall play is good and the intangibles are outstanding. He’s a captain, he’s a leader, and guys like that find a way to play in the league and play well.”
“Stock up. He’s come on. He’s had a good year. He’s catching the ball better. His routes are better. He’s got limitations. He’s built like a pencil. There’s no bulk on him. I don’t know if you’ll ever get bulk on him. But he can run pretty good. He’s catching the ball better. Everything about his game has gotten better. The last few weeks, he’s made some really big plays.
“Like everybody at that position, speed is going to play in to where or if he gets drafted. I know he was a track star in high school, but four years and a few pounds later when you’re not training for track, you don’t always run as fast.
“He’s a draftable guy, but his frame scares me a little bit. TJ Jones was a better player. He’s in his third year in the league and he’s still not starting. He’s a role player.”
“Stock down. He hasn’t played as well. He’s missed too many tackles. He’s got limitations. He had a pretty severe injury, which hurt his athleticism a little bit. I don’t think he’s got quite as good lateral agility as he had prior to the injury. He lacks some of that explosiveness. He’s not making all the plays he’s capable of making.
“I thought a year ago, given another year in college, he’d get better. He’s kind of plateaued out. I see free agent at best.”
“He’s a tough guy to evaluate. He’s on and off the field. He hasn’t always retained his starting position. But he’s another guy that has gotten better the last few weeks and made more plays. His tackling has gotten better.
“Here’s part of the problem he’s facing. The (NFL) is starting to spread out the offenses, just like the colleges do, and you’ve got to have safeties that cover. He’s got to be in the right situation, the right scheme that’s going to fit his skill set. The safeties have to have some cover skills and your old-fashioned 220-pound box safety is going by the wayside.
“Green Bay took Damarious Randall from Arizona State this past spring. He was part-corner, part-safety, and they drafted him to be a cover-safety and nickel corner. That’s what the league is going to. Some teams still have them. You can look at Seattle with Kam Chancellor, the guy from Virginia Tech. He was stiff as a (board) coming out of college and had no cover skills, but Seattle uses him.
“I see Shumate as a marginal draftable guy, mainly because you don’t exactly know what his cover skills and instincts are. He’s more suspect than prospect. Unless he really knocks it out with the workout – which he’s capable of doing – I see him as a free agent. I see Shumate’s chances better than Okwara’s.”
“Free agent. A tweener. Doesn’t make enough plays to be a 4-3 end. Can he play as a 3-4 outside backer? There are a lot of guys that can’t drop but they end up being pretty decent players.
“I remember a guy, started off at Houston, made some money in free agency. His name was Reed, Brooks Reed, from Arizona. He was a stiff down defensive end in college, but found a way to be a better than adequate outside backer. No. 1, he was smart, had great instincts, knew his limitations and they played into his strengths.
“For Okwara, I wouldn’t say stock up. The needle hasn’t gone one way or the other. He doesn’t have a full skill set that equates to the NFL. He’s got limitations and he’s got to be in the right situation to excel.”
“Farley will get a chance. He was running down (USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster) and he made up some ground. That play jumped out at me. He’s got a little more speed than I thought. He might not time fast, but he shows game speed. He’s a tough guy. Worst-case scenario he gets in a rookie camp on a tryout basis and then it’s up to him.”
“To me, he’s a marginal free agent.”
“The only guy that I think is ready to leave (early) from a maturity and play standpoint is Jaylon Smith. He could get better (in college). They all can get better. I wouldn’t tell Smith to stay in school; I’d say if you want to leave, leave.
“We know what he can do physically. I’ve watched Showtime and they do stuff on Jaylon, and the guy’s got something to him. He’s mature, he’s focused…He’s got some limitations as to where he can play. He’s a Will linebacker in a 4-3. Can he play in a 3-4? Sure, because he’s a great football player.
“He’s good enough that he can just about play in any scheme, and he’s going to keep getting better. It’s all in front of him. The guy is a good, solid football player.”
“KeiVarae Russell, except for that interception, has played very average. It doesn’t matter what they said he ran up in Washington; he’s not that fast. He’s a 4.5 guy. He needs to get a lot better to play in the league.”
“He’s shown he can make the difficult catch. He’s an explosive football player. Fuller has great speed. His speed is going to get him drafted high. The guy he reminds me of is a guy (the Chicago Bears) had – Bernard Berrian. Same size. Bernard might have been a little thicker.
“They’re going to measure (Fuller’s) hands and I think that’s part of his problem. He’s a very small-boned guy. I would bet that his hands are going to be small. Whether it’s a confidence thing or he just doesn’t have natural hands, he’s still good for a drop a game and he double-catches a lot of passes. He gets away with it in college; he’s not going to get away with in the NFL.
“If I’m talking to the kid, I’m telling him that his speed is ready to go in the NFL, but his hands aren’t, and until you get reliable hands, I wouldn’t go. That’s a weak part of his game that they may never get corrected.”
“Prosise has got really excellent talent, but he’s so raw as a running back. He runs tall and he has average vision, but he’s getting better. Early in the season, he didn’t see a cutback lane at all. Now he’s starting to see cutback lanes and making good decisions on the move. He’s got what, 900-some yards? If his vision were better, he’d have well over 1,000.
“His power, after-contact strength and yards after contact is exceptional, and he can obviously catch the ball. He needs work on pass pro. Given his size, you’d think he’d be a between-the-tackles guy, but he’s not. He’s average. He’s getting better because his vision is getting better. But there are things he doesn’t see and then he runs so tall.
“It’s a learning process. He’s got huge upside. Part of what he’s done is his talent and part of what he’s done is he’s running behind a great offensive line. The holes you get in college are five times bigger than what you see in the NFL. In the NFL, what separates the average back from the great back is creativity and vision, being able to see that stuff and when there’s that tiny crease, he can find it and burst through it. He’s not ready for that yet because he doesn’t have the experience at the position.
“Look at guys like Trent Richardson, who was a great college player. He’s a total bust in the NFL. He had a Pro Bowl-caliber line blocking for him at Alabama. All those guys are playing in the league. Once you get to the league, it’s a different story, and your instincts and your vision really play a huge role in productivity.
“Prosise is willing to block. He’ll get better as a blocker. It’s learning where blitz pickups are, where they’re coming from…That will come with experience. He’s plenty tough enough. There’s no question about his toughness. He’s just raw.”