NFL Draft: Okwara, Brown raise profiles

Okwara’s age, arm length and hand size impressed. Day was shorter than hoped, but his arm length helped. Is Martin a 10-year starting center?

Five Notre Dame seniors participated in the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl in January with two under-the-radar talents raising interest in their long-range skills.

Wide receiver Chris Brown, defensive end Romeo Okwara and safety Elijah Shumate participated in the East-West Shrine Game held on Jan. 23 in St. Petersburg, Fla., while defensive tackle Sheldon Day and center Nick Martin performed at the Jan 30 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

Greg Gabriel, long-time Chicago Bears director of college scouting and current NFPOST.com analyst, provided an evaluation of the five Notre Dame alumni.

DE/OLB-ROMEO OKWARA
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

There’s little doubt that the former Irish defensive end raised his profile the most among the five Notre Dame alums. He recorded just one tackle in the game, but Okwara measured up incredibly well.

At 6-foot-4 5/8, 266 pounds, Okwara passed the test for measuring up to the length dimensions of both a defensive end in a 4-3 and an outside linebacker in a 3-4. Even more impressive were his large hands (10 1/8”) and long arms (35 ½”).

“There’s no question that Okwara helped himself,” Gabriel said. “He was a little bigger than people anticipated. The long arms really help. The common denominator with all great pass rushers is long arms. He’s got the athleticism and he’s 20-years old, so there’s some upside with this kid.”

Okwara proved more effective at end than outside linebacker while with the Irish, but the length and athleticism make him a viable candidate to occasionally drop into pass coverage.

“There are a lot of guys that make that transition from an undersized defensive end to a 3-4 outside backer who aren’t as athletic as he is,” Gabriel said. “It’s more the awareness and instincts because if they’re primarily a pass rusher, they’re not going to drop more than a few times a game anyway.”

At this stage of the process, NFL teams are looking for variables. They’ve seen a ton of college film. Now they’re looking for added assets, and Okwara has them in spades.

“The 35 ½-inch arms catches a lot of attention,” said Gabriel, “and 10 1/8-inch hands are big. This guy is going to be a man, and he’s still a baby. Now if he runs well, it’s going to catch more attention. Don’t be shocked that if he works out good, he jumps up the boards.”

WR-CHRIS BROWN
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

The former Irish wideout was targeted seven times in the East-West Shrine Game, catching three passes for 42 yards, including a 25-yarder.

Flashing his customary energy and positive attitude, Brown caught some eyes in St. Petersburg.

“Chris Brown also helped himself,” Gabriel said “He’s probably a little bigger and taller than people thought he was going to be. He caught the ball well. I think he’s taken a big step in the last year. His confidence factor is up.

“He might be a little bit of a late-bloomer, but part of that is that he’s still a thin guy. He’s not as thin as (Will) Fuller, but he’s a small guy and teams are going to worry about him going up against the strong press corners.

“But he’s got tools to work with. Unless he runs slow, and I don’t anticipate that, he’s going to get drafted.”

Brown adds the extra dimension of being a tenacious blocker.

“When you’re looking at wide receivers blocking, you’re not necessarily looking at the technique,” Gabriel said. “You look at the willingness. If you’ve got the willingness, if you’ve got the want-to, teaching the technique is the easy part.”

DT-SHELDON DAY
USA Today Sports Images

There was great anticipation over the former Irish defensive tackle’s measurables. Could he crack 6-foot-1? Not quite. He measured at 6-foot-0 ¾, 286 pounds, which was slightly disappointing.

But Gabriel is quick to remind that at the combine or during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, Day could measure at an even 6-foot-1, or perhaps 6-foot-1 1/8. There’s no perfect, infallible measurement. The margin for error is significant when it comes to an eighth or a quarter of an inch.

“Day didn’t hurt himself at all,” Gabriel said. “He was probably a little shorter than people were hoping. But he had 32 7/8-inch arms. It’s your arm length in relation to your height. For a guy that’s right around 6-1, that’s a good number.

“If he came in with 30 ½-inch arms, now you’ve got a short guy with short arms. What he has is very long arms, which allows him to play a little taller.”

C-NICK MARTIN
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

If you subscribe to the opinion of one NFL personnel director – which Gabriel does – the upside for Martin is much greater than many believe.

“I talked to a personnel director that I highly respect, and he thinks Martin is a draft-and-start center for 10 years,” Gabriel said. “He’s not sure Martin can play guard, but he’s pretty sure he can be a 10-year starter at center, assuming he stays healthy.”

Position flexibility remains important for Martin. His background as a guard is critical when it comes to game day when NFL teams generally dress seven offensive linemen. Martin’s ability to slide to a guard position could prove significant.

“He didn’t do anything to separate himself, but he had a good week,” said Gabriel. “He had a what-was-expected week, if not a little better.”

S-ELIJAH SHUMATE
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

The former Irish safety’s reputation preceded him to St. Petersburg. His reputation is that of a hard hitter who is not a great fit for the safety position where he has to excel in wide-open spaces while making quick decisions on the run.

“I didn’t hear much on Shumate,” Gabriel said. “If you back him up, he has trouble with awareness and instincts in coverage. He was smaller than people anticipated. He weighed 210, maybe 212.

“Some people are wondering if he’s a nickel linebacker because if he’s got a chance, that’s probably what he’ll be.

“He’s got some coverage skills (as a nickel linebacker), and the girth and the strength and the power to be able to play closer to the line of scrimmage is important. They’re trying to find places for guys like that.”

Shumate likely remains a free agent, but his physical style of play lends itself to some creativity with his skill set.

“That’s his chance because I don’t think he has a chance at all if you’re going to try to play him as a deep safety,” Gabriel said. “He doesn’t have the instincts.”


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