NFL Draft: Nine Former Irish in Play

The Irish have four former players among the consensus top five at their respective positions – OT Ronnie Stanley, WR Will Fuller, C Nick Martin and RB C.J. Prosise.

If all goes according to projections that have been consistent with Notre Dame players in the NFL draft throughout the last four months, the Irish will have nine players selected from Thursday-Saturday during the annual seven-round draft to be held at Chicago’s Roosevelt University.

Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley is a certain first-round draft choice and a possible top 10 overall selection when the annual event commences at 8 p.m. EDT Thursday, April 28. Wide receiver Will Fuller also is a strong possibility to go in the first round.

Possible second-day selections (rounds two and three) include center Nick Martin, running back C.J. Prosise, defensive tackle Sheldon Day and cornerback KeiVarae Russell.

The catastrophic knee injury suffered by linebacker Jaylon Smith leaves his draft status in limbo. Pre-injury, he was a certain top 10 overall selection. Now, with game participation in 2016 out the window, he likely falls to the third day (rounds four through seven) of the draft.

Defensive end Romeo Okwara is expected to be drafted on the third day while receiver Chris Brown’s strong post-season showing should get him drafted some time on Saturday.

Top free-agent prospects include safeties Elijah Shumate and Matthias Farley.

Notre Dame had just one player selected in the 2015 draft – tight end Ben Koyack in the seventh round by the Jaguars.

The Irish have had four first-round draft picks in the last four years – Michael Floyd (WR, Cardinals, 2012), Harrison Smith (S, Vikings, 2012), Tyler Eifert (TE (Bengals, 2013) and Zack Martin (OL, Cowboys, 2014).

The Irish had eight players chosen in the 2014 draft. Notre Dame had seven players drafted in 2007 with quarterback Brady Quinn going to the Cleveland Browns with the No. 22 overall selection.

From 1990-94 – five NFL drafts – Notre Dame had 46 players selected. NFL draft rounds went from 12 in 1992 to eight in 1993 to seven in 1994, which remains today’s format.

Since the format was reduced to seven rounds, the most Notre Dame draft selections came in 1994 when 10 Irish players were tabbed, led by first-rounders Bryant Young (DT, 49ers, 7th overall), Aaron Taylor (OL, Packers, 16th) and Jeff Burris (FS, Bills, 27th).

Nine players were drafted in 1993, including first-rounders Rick Mirer (QB, Seahawks, 2nd), Jerome Bettis (RB, L.A. Rams, 10th), Tom Carter (CB, Redskins, 17th) and Irv Smith (TE, Saints, 20th). The Irish also had 10 players drafted in 1991. Current Irish defensive backs coach Todd Lyght was the fifth overall selection by the L.A. Rams.

We wrap up our pre-draft analysis with one final interview with Irish Illustrated draft expert Greg Gabriel, who served as a director of college scouting in the NFL for three decades.

Round one is Thursday (8 p.m. EDT). Rounds two and three are Friday (7 p.m. EDT). Rounds four through seven are Saturday (11 a.m. EDT).

OT-RONNIE STANLEY
Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com

Offensive tackle rank: No. 2 behind Laremy Tunsil (Mississippi) ahead of No. 3 Jake Conklin

Gabriel’s Take: “I think he’ll be the No. 2 offensive tackle taken, but it wouldn’t shock me if he was No. 3. I know there are teams that have Conklin a little higher. When you compare numbers, Conklin tested better all across the board. There are people who like (Conklin’s) toughness better, but it’s whoever pulls the trigger first.

“Worst-case scenario is third tackle. I believe worst-case scenario is top 10. Three tackles will go in the top 10.”

Irish Illustrated Prediction: 1st round, 7th overall, San Francisco 49ers

WR-WILL FULLER
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Wide Receiver Rank: No. 4 behind Josh Doctson (TCU), Corey Coleman (Baylor), Laquon Treadwell (Mississippi)

Gabriel’s Take: “Personally, I think he’s a (2nd-rounder). The high side is 25 (overall); the low side is 40. Probably more like 25-to-35. (Note: There are 31 selections in the first round.)

“Most people have him between the fourth and sixth receiver. Some people, even though he didn’t run well, have Treadwell ahead of him. Some people have Braxston Miller real high. I don’t see it because he’s raw at the position.

“Nobody’s board is the same. It’s what you’re looking for at the position and what you’re asking the player to do. I’ll say Coleman, Doctson, Treadwell, and then Fuller.”

Irish Illustrated Prediction: 1st round, 24th overall, Cincinnati Bengals

C-NICK MARTIN
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Center Rank: No. 2 behind Ryan Kelly (Alabama)

Gabriel’s Take: “Originally, I had Martin third behind Max Tuerk (USC) and Kelly. But Tuerk is coming off a knee from the week before the Notre Dame game. So when does he get back on the field? That hurts him, and he’s a 6-5 guy, a little over 6-5, with shorter arms.

“Martin is 6-4 with arm length about the same. So in comparison to height, Martin comes out a little better. Martin can play both (center and guard). Tuerk can too.

“Part of it is you look at how well Martin’s brother has done, and that will play into it because people will say they’re similar-type people. It wouldn’t shock me if he goes somewhere in the 50s (overall), or anytime in the third round.”

Irish Illustrated Prediction: 2nd round, 53rd overall, Washington Redskins

RB-C.J. PROSISE
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Running Back Rank: No. 4 behind Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State), Derrick Henry (Alabama), Devontae Booker (Utah)

Gabriel’s Take: “I’ll say third (round), and it wouldn’t shock me if he went in the second. I don’t think he’ll go in the second because of the value of the position. He’s more third and he’s only played the running back position one year, which is, actually, a positive and a negative. The positive is the sky is the limit when you look at the upside. The negative is he’s not experienced at the position.

“He’s got to learn to lower his pad level. But he’s going to be a threat as a receiver out of the backfield. I don’t think he comes in and starts right away. Most pro teams don’t feel comfortable starting running backs until they know he can pass protect.

“As good as he was with no experience, how good is he going to be when he gets experience? I know there are some people that think he could be very, very good.”

Irish Illustrated Prediction: 3rd round, 91st overall, New England Patriots

DT-SHELDON DAY
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Defensive Tackle Rank: No. 11; Top 5 -- Sheldon Rankins (Louisville), A’Shawn Robinson (Alabama), Jarran Reed (Alabama), Robert Nkemdiche (Mississippi), Vernon Butler (Louisiana Tech)

Gabriel’s Take: “Day and Nick Martin both could go in the same area. It wouldn’t surprise me either way. You could make a case that they both could go in the second half of the second round and you could make a case that both will be gone before the third round is over.

“I’ve got Day around six, seven, eight among three-techniques, and strictly as a 4-3 three-technique. I don’t think he can play in a three-man front. That’s going to limit his options as to what you’ve got to take. You have to take the 3-4 teams out of the equation when it comes to drafting him.”

Irish Illustrated Prediction: 3rd Round, 97th overall, Seattle Seahawks

CB-KEIVARAE RUSSELL
Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.om

Cornerback Rank: No. 11; Top 5 – Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida), William Jackson III (Houston), Eli Apple (Ohio State), Mackensie Alexander (Clemson), Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)

Gabriel’s Take: “He pulled up again on Pro Day. He wasn’t able to do much after that. He missed the last part of the season and missed all of 2014. You don’t have a large amount of tape to look at because of all that. So there’s some projection and guessing in there.

“I think the earliest he goes is the third round. He’s a solid three. As good as he flashed in the workout, it wouldn’t shock me if he ends up being a safety down the road, but that will be determined by the team that picks him and the scheme.

“Go back to the mid-‘90s and 12-to-15 corners have gone in the first three rounds. You could argue he could be as high as the eighth best corner and you could argue he could be as low as 14.”

Irish Illustrated Prediction: 4th round, 104th overall, Baltimore Ravens

LB-JAYLON SMITH
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Linebacker Rank: Undetermined due to injury; Top 5 OLB – Myles Jack (UCLA), Darron Lee (Ohio State), Leonard Floyd (Georgia), Kamalei Correa (Boise State), Su’a Cravens (USC); Top 5 ILB – Reggie Ragland (Alabama), Kentrell Brothers (Missouri), Tyler Matakevich (Temple), B.J. Goodson (Clemson), Scooby Wright III (Arizona)

Gabriel’s Take: “Now you know there’s nerve damage. There’s a drop foot situation. I don’t think there’s a doctor in the world that will put a timetable on when he’ll be ready. You don’t know the answer because you don’t know how his body is going to respond to treatment.

“You know he’s not going to play this year. There’s no guarantee he’s ever going to play. There’s going to be a difference in opinion on how the various medical staffs look at the situation. A team with a favorable opinion going forward is going to be the team that pulls the trigger.

“Given the circumstances, I don’t think Jaylon goes until the third day. Somewhere between four and seven. I would assume it’s going to be a team that has extra picks in those rounds.”

Irish Illustrated Prediction: 6th round, 196th overall, New England Patriots; Note: Patriots have five sixth-round picks

WR-CHRIS BROWN
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Wide Receiver Rank: No. 32

Gabriel’s Take: “He got a lot of attention at the Pro Day. He had a decent week down at the East-West. Then he wasn’t able to work out at the combine, but he jumped out at the Pro Day. If you didn’t know who the best receiver was, you would have come out of that workout saying Chris Brown was the better receiver (than Will Fuller). That was easy to ascertain watching them run routes and catching the ball.

“He can run, he’s tall, he’s long, he catches the ball well, so there’s upside. You go back and wonder why his production was what it was. They’ll talk to the Notre Dame coaches, but teams did a double take after the Pro Day.

“Third day. It wouldn’t shock me if he went in the fourth and it wouldn’t shock me if it were the sixth.”

Irish Illustrated Prediction: 6th round, 203rd  overall, Kansas City Chiefs

DE-ROMEO OKWARA
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Defensive End Rank: No. 19; Top 5 – Joey Bosa (Ohio State), DeForest Buckner (Oregon), Shaq Lawson (Clemson), Kevin Dodd (Clemson), Noah Spence (Eastern Kentucky/Ohio State)

Gabriel’s Take: “I think Okwara is a solid day three guy. He’s got upside. He didn’t test quite as well as people were hoping he would test as far as flat-out speed. He was 4.9. I would have like to have seen him run a tenth faster.

“He’s scheme versatile. He can play in a 3-4 or as a 4-3 end. He’s actually better suited for the 3-4 based on his size. If he got private workouts, that could be telling, but I didn’t see his name as a guy that was getting a lot of private workouts.

“He’s probably around fifth to seventh round. I think he plays in the league, but I don’t ever see him as a starter. I see him as a good backup.”

Irish Illustrated Prediction: 7th round, 226th overall, Jacksonville Jaguars


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