Rounding up the Irish

Among the Irish players whose stock has risen through all-star games and the Indianapolis combine are Will Fuller, Nick Martin, C.J. Prosise and Romeo Okwara.

Following a record-setting 10 Notre Dame players participating in the annual NFL draft combine in Indianapolis, we asked Greg Gabriel -- former Chicago Bears Director of College Scouting -- to give an assessment of the Irish contingent with a round projection for the April 28-30 draft in Chicago.

The Notre Dame players also will be on display for NFL scouts/coaches on March 31 when the Irish conduct their Pro Day inside the Loftus Sports Center.

OT-RONNIE STANLEY
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Stanley’s name was thrown around during the season as the top tackle in the draft. Mississippi’s Laremy Tunsil, following a suspension, had a dynamic second half of the 2015 campaign and was very impressive at the combine. Stanley is fighting to become the second offensive tackle selected in the draft.

Gabriel’s Take: “The bang on Stanley is he needs to get stronger, which is one of the reasons he didn’t bench. Notre Dame’s Pro Day is late, March 31, so he’s got another month. He might be able to get two reps stronger and that stuff is important.

“He’s got great size. He’s got great arm length. Everybody loves his feet. His 40 was very predictable at 5.2. His 20-shuttle and 3-cone were not very good. He didn’t bench and most of the linemen benched.

“Some people question his mental toughness and physicality. He’s more of a finesse player than a physical player. Once he gets to the league, he needs to become a more physical player. If he wants to survive, he will.”

Round Projection: “Tunsil is a lock to be the first tackle unless something happens character-wise. He’s more physical than Stanley. Stanley didn’t hurt himself, but he didn’t necessarily help himself. He is where he is.

“Most people think he’s a top 10 guy. I think worst-case scenario, top 13 or 15. The guy is going to make a lot of money. Worst-case scenario, he’s the third tackle behind Tunsil and maybe (Michigan State’s Jack) Conklin. A lot of people like Conklin because he’s a tough MF.”

LB-JAYLON SMITH
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Eight weeks after suffering a torn ACL/LCL, the dynamic linebacker prospect went to Indianapolis to have his knee examined and to answer questions pertaining to his recovery. Time is on Smith’s side with nearly two months before the NFL draft, but he’s in an uphill battle with myriad unknowns.

Gabriel’s Take: “It’s going to be a fluid process. The re-checks are somewhere around the first week of April. The medical people will do another MRI and look at how the knee has improved from the combine. The improvement he shows in that time frame will have a lot to say about the overall prognosis.

“I thought when he had the injury there was no way he was going to play this year. You look at the injury and compare it to (Georgia running back) Todd Gurley’s. He had a lesser injury – an ACL and an MCL – and he had the surgery two-and-a-half, three months earlier (than Smith) and he didn’t step onto the field until the fifth week of the season. Just using that timetable, at the earliest we’re talking the 12th or 13th game, and by then, nobody is going to want to take the risk.

“He’s going to be red-shirted. Where he goes is a wild card. Nobody at this stage has an answer. Some stuff might leak out and be a little more definitive. A team that has some extra picks, compensatory picks, will be in a good position to land him.”

Round Projection: “I think you can throw out the first round. Can it happen? Absolutely. I just don’t see it happening because of the unknowns. But if somebody has extra picks in other rounds and they say, ‘We’re doing it. He’s a great football player, and if he comes back, we stole one,’ they could be getting a steal.”

WR-WILL FULLER
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For NFL teams, it’s a balancing act. On one hand, the drops have been well publicized. On the other hand, nobody could cover Fuller for most of the 2014-15 seasons. His ability to run by the fastest defensive backs in the country resulted in 29 touchdown receptions in his last 26 games.

Gabriel’s Take: “Fuller did well at the combine. He didn’t really have any double catches. On the gauntlet, they want you to go half-to-three-quarter speed and he kind of jogged. He had one bad ball thrown at him and they let him run the route over.

“He adjusts really well on those deeper balls. That’s his forte and he’s very good at that. He seldom misses those. It’s when he has to extend for a catch that he has trouble, and at the combine, there really wasn’t a throw he had to extend for.

“He caught the ball with his hands. He had the smallest hands of any receiver. 8 ¼ is tiny. I can’t think of a receiver that has less than nine-inch hands that’s ever gone in the first round. Could I be wrong? Yeah, but I don’t think so. Ted Ginn’s hands are an inch bigger, and Ginn was a first-round pick with similar speed. Plus, he was a return guy.

“His 20-shuttle of 4.27 was average. You look at his body and you know he’s not strong. Strength-wise he did 10 in the bench, which was less than just about all the receivers. So he wasn’t at the top or the bottom. He was in the middle.

“He helped himself because of the speed. It was a slow group of receivers, but he was the fastest receiver there.”

Round Projection: “I think he’s a solid second because it’s not anywhere near as deep a group. The last two years we’ve had 11 receivers go in the first round – six last year and five the year before. That’s not going to happen this year. Three, maybe four will go in the first round this year because the talent level is down.

“With his speed, could he go at the bottom end of the first round? Yeah, he could, but I still think it’s more safe to say he’s a second because he still has bad tape with 20-something drops over two years.”

DT-SHELDON DAY
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Size is the only real question with Day, although his 21 reps in the bench press was a surprisingly low figure. Still, Day’s body of work at Notre Dame was outstanding. He was a warrior, and in many instances his last two seasons with the Irish, a game-influencing performer.

Gabriel’s Take: “People say he’s a poor man’s Aaron Donald, but Donald ran a 4.68 and Day ran a 5.07. He’s in with that kid from Louisville, Sheldon Rankins. I like the guy from Louisville, but I don’t like him as much as Day.

“Rankins is half-an-inch taller and five pounds heavier. He ran a little better. He did 28 bench reps to Day’s 21, which is a huge difference. Day’s arms aren’t short for his body, but Rankins’ are longer. When you go down the line, Rankins did a little better than Day.

“Day was faster in the 10 (1.69), and that’s important. That’s your get-off quickness. The piano jumps on your back after 20 yards with these big guys. His 10 was better than Rankins’. It was exceptional.

“There are people saying Rankins is going in the bottom of the first. Personally, I like Day better. Day is limited; Rankins is limited too. Both are limited to 4-3 players at the three-technique. Those are the teams that will have interest.”

Round Projection: “Best-case scenario second; worst-case scenario third. The guy’s a football player. He’s going to have some limitations, but he’s a player. He’s going to play.”

C-NICK MARTIN
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Martin generally has been listed as the No. 2 center in the draft behind Alabama’s Ryan Kelly. The former Irish interior offensive lineman did nothing to hurt his standings among the competition. In fact, he probably raised it.

Gabriel’s Take: “He worked out good. The only center that might go in front of him is Ryan Kelly from Alabama. You look at the test numbers and the only thing Martin beat Kelly in was the bench. All the other drills, Kelly’s a little bigger, longer arms and he ran faster. His 20-shuttle was a little bit better. They had the same time in the 3-cone.

“Martin’s numbers were very good. He ran a 5.22 40. He had a 4.72 in the 20 shuttle, a 7.57 in the 3-cone, a 28-inch vertical, an 8’1” long jump…It was a very solid workout.

“A guy that looks real good on tape but he’s coming off an injury is Max Tuerk from USC. They measured him and he did the bench, but he didn’t do anything else because of the injury. The medical report will have a lot to say about where he’s drafted.

“Right now, coming out of the combine, I would say Martin is the solid second center.”

Round Projection: “He’s a solid third-rounder. Could he go at the end of the second? Yeah, it wouldn’t shock me.”

RB-C.J. PROSISE
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The former wide receiver came out of nowhere to make himself an NFL running back prospect. Injuries plagued him the second half of the season, but the damage he did in the first seven games was an attention-grabber. He created an opportunity in the NFL that he couldn’t pass up with a year of eligibility remaining.

Gabriel’s Take: “Never having played the position before and what he did in the first year playing the position, he’s done a helluva job.

“Is he raw? Yes. Does he have great vision? If you go game by game, you see how his vision improved from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. His natural run instincts got a little better. He runs tall. He’s going to have to get his pads down. But you see his after-contact power. He runs through arm tackles. He gets yards after contact. He’s tough. He’s got the great home run speed.

“He’s got a great lower body, but the one negative I got from people at the combine was that his upper body needs to be developed. He’s got long arms but not a lot of definition. He didn’t bench so nobody knows what the upper body strength is, and that will come. His hands are small (8 ½”), but he’s proven he can catch the football.”

Round Projection: “I’m going to say his high-end range is two. He’ll probably go in the third. Worst-case scenario four. I can only see two backs going in the first round – (Alabama’s Derrick) Henry and (Ohio State’s Ezekiel) Elliott.”

DB-KEIVARAE RUSSELL
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Because of the broken leg suffered in the 11th game of the 2015 season, Russell was in limbo in Indianapolis, unable – or more accurately, unwilling – to risk posting some sub-par times before fully maximizing his opportunity to impress the scouts. By waiting until Notre Dame’s March 31 Pro Day, Russell buys himself some time.

Gabriel’s Take: “I still think he’s going to end up being a safety unless he really works out well. The more I looked at him, I thought he’d be a pretty damn good safety. He’s just not a natural corner.

“He said he ran a 4.35 last summer, but he can’t run a 4.35. He’s a 4.5 guy and that’s fine. He’s physical enough. He’s got long arms and good size. He could be a press corner. When he gets into zone and off, he’s not as good. Now you put him at safety, he’s got pretty good range, he’s got pretty good ball skills and he’ll tackle. You know he can come up and support.”

• Draft Projection: “There are 12 to 15 corners that go in the first three rounds every year, and there aren’t that many good ones. But people have got to have them. He’s a three-to-four all day. Worst-case he’s a four. The tape is good enough.”

ROMEO OKWARA
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Okwara’s stock has been shooting skyward since his participation in the East-West Shrine Game when measured and moved well. One of his greatest assets is his age as a mere 20-year-old. There’s some versatility to his game with a background as an outside linebacker as well as a defensive end.

Gabriel’s Take: “The big positive with Okwara is his age. He’ll be a 21-year-old rookie. He was 6-4 5/8, 265. He ran 4.9, which was a little disappointing. I thought he’d run 4.78, 4.82, 4.83. so he was about a tenth slower.

“But then you look at the other athletic drills. He had a 7.38 3-cone, which is absolutely excellent for a big guy. He had a 10-foot long jump, 33-inch vertical, 34 1/8-inch arms…He did 23 reps (a projected 386 max) in the bench.

“When you look at age and the football he played the last half of the season, it was his best football at Notre Dame. I watched him do the linebacker drills. He doesn’t catch the ball, but that’s not unusual.

“He’s scheme versatile. The 4-3 teams would like him as a regular end. I think he’s shown enough athleticism for the 3-4 teams. I’ve seen guys that were a lot worse athletes be starters in the league at a 3-4 outside linebacker spot.”

Round Projection: “I would say anywhere from four to six, and probably closer to four than six. The arrow is pointing up.”

WR-CHRIS BROWN
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Brown’s overall evaluation was put on hold when he chose not to run at the combine. There was speculation regarding a fluctuation of weight as well as a hamstring tweak that prevented him from running. Brown’s meal ticket is his speed. If he can run a sub-4.5 at Notre Dame’s Pro Day, his productivity from the previous two seasons with the Irish could carry him into a third-day selection.

Gabriel’s Take: “Somebody said he had a ham pull or a quad pull, so he didn’t want to test. If he can’t go full-go, the last thing you want to do is run slow.

“He had a good week at the East-West. He’s got good size. The corner and wideout positions are stopwatch driven. He’s a solid prospect. Size-wise, he was 6-2, 194, 9-inch hands, 32 ¼ inch arms. When he runs on March 31, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s down to 188.”

Round Projection: “If he breaks 4.5 on Notre Dame’s Pro Day, which he should, he’s getting drafted. I would say Brown gets drafted before Shumate.”

ELIJAH SHUMATE
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The physically-gifted Shumate made significant strides his senior year with the Irish. But his body of work was very up and down. He’s a physical football player with impact hitting ability. The problem is an inability to adjust on the fly in the heat of battle. Still, there’s enough upside for Shumate to get into an NFL camp.

Gabriel’s Take: “He’s up to 216 from 210 at the East-West Shrine Game. He ran pretty good (4.58). He tested as people anticipated he would test. I think he’s a good athlete. Watching the backpedal and turn drills, he did a good job. His hips are fine. He can tackle, he’s aggressive and he’s strong.

“But when the ball is in the air, he has stone hands and he doesn’t adjust his hands to the ball. That’s where it gets ugly. Instinct-wise, he’s terrible. He’s got no awareness in coverage, especially the farther away from the line of scrimmage he gets.”

Round Projection: “If teams are looking for those guys that can be a nickel safety, that will be his chance. I still don’t think he’s draftable, but a free agent. Could he go late? Absolutely, especially with the compensatory picks.”


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