DeShone Kizer hasn’t started his recruiting pitch to Will Fuller.
But the fact one might be necessary is a change with the star receiver, who is among five Notre Dame players to formally request feedback from the NFL’s committee that advises underclassmen on their draft prospects. Jaylon Smith, KeiVarae Russell, Ronnie Stanley and C.J. Prosise also requested feedback.
Fuller indicated last month that he planned to return to Notre Dame for his senior year, although at the time he had not spoken to head coach Brian Kelly about those plans. The Irish head coach pointed out then that Fuller’s decision wasn’t definite.
On Sunday, Kelly said he’d spoken with the junior in recent weeks about his NFL prospects.
“I hope they all come back,” Kelly said. “I don't know if that's going to be the case, but we'll see.”
Kelly offered that final comment in jest, well aware Stanley is done with Smith almost sure to follow. Both are consensus first-round picks in the NFL Mock Draft Industrial Complex. Stanley went through this process last year with Sheldon Day, both making January decisions to return to Notre Dame. Day has since graduated from the University.
It’s unlikely Kelly will be so fortunate this cycle with departures by Stanley and Smith conclusions that are basically forgone.
Fuller is much less clear, even after posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with at least a dozen touchdowns. He’s even grabbed scores from three different quarterbacks. Kizer hopes the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State won’t be the end of that on-field rapport.
“Him and I have a really good relationship and I haven’t really gotten into (the draft) with him,” Kizer said. “There’s so much going on with this bowl game and the great season that we’ve put together so far, that we’re more focused up on how we’re gonna be able to throw five touchdowns in the game rather than the three that he sometimes can pull up.
“I truly hope that it’s not the last time I play with Will Fuller. We’ll see what happens at the end of the season.”
Russell, who told some of his advisors at home that he would have likely turned pro after last season had he not been suspended, doesn’t seem like a good bet to come back, although his injury status could complicate matters.
Kelly ruled Russell out of the Fiesta Bowl following the broken leg suffered against Boston College. While the cornerback would be fit for the NFL Combine, held February 23-29 in Indianapolis, his training buildup to that event would be less than ideal. Neither would his senior tape after Russell admitted the rust of a season off showed.
Prosise, who suffered a concussion against Pittsburgh, a high ankle sprain against Boston College and played most of the year with a shoulder injury, may be a tough read. While he’d likely get a “Stay In School” grade from the committee, running backs rarely return for their fifth years.
Working in favor of Prosise (and potentially Notre Dame) is the fact the Irish would be unlikely to ride the converted receiver as hard next year as this one with Josh Adams coming on and Tarean Folston returning.
The NFL’s advisory committee hands out three different grades to prospects: first round, second round or return to school. Last year Stanley received a second-round grade while Day received a return-to-school mark.
In addition to Fuller, Kelly said he’s already spoken with Stanley and Russell about the draft evaluation process. It’s expected he’ll sit down with Smith and Prosise in short order.