Insider Report: Decoding the NFL Draft

What did Notre Dame show during opening night of the NFL Draft? Irish Illustrated polled Notre Dame’s past and its future on what Thursday night means for the program and why the Irish are flying high in player development.

Former Notre Dame offensive lineman Mike Golic Jr. spoke with Irish Illustrated about the various headlines surrounding Notre Dame players in this year’s NFL Draft.

Golic signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013 as an undrafted free agent. He now co-hosts “First and Last with Lundberg & Golic Jr.,” a daily two-hour program on ESPN Radio.

Irish Illustrated: Notre Dame has about nine guys that could be drafted this year. What does that say about Brian Kelly and his staff?

Golic: I think it speaks to how well they've been able to recruit now over the years first and foremost. But as far as development, I think being able to have this regime in place now going into year seven creates a level of continuity that allows culture to be established. When the expectations and standards for the player becomes so ingrained in the day-to-day operation that this staff has constructed, it allows us to keep seeing top tier talent reach its full potential year after year because that is the expectation that's been set. BK has put together a staff that understands how to create and operate within this framework to develop a competitive, winning culture.

Irish Illustrated: What is your take on Jaylon Smith? Obviously opinions vary across the board regarding the long-term future of his health, but if you’re a NFL executive, do you take him before the third round?

Golic: Jaylon would be a guy I'd strongly consider in the second round. I'm of the firm belief that your first round picks more often than not need to be immediate impact guys for you and Jaylon will no doubt be redshirting year one. Nerves are tricky, but if he is able to fully recover, you're getting maybe the best player in the draft this year for an absolute steal of a price. He's one of the most dynamic LBs I've ever seen and was extremely versatile during his time at Notre Dame. He can cover in space, which is vital for LBs in today's NFL, and if he can continue to improve as a pass rusher there is really nothing this kid can't do.

Irish Illustrated: What makes Harry Hiestand a great developer of talent and what was it like being coached by him?

Golic: I could write a novel on this one. What makes Harry so great is he cares so deeply about what he's doing. Playing and coaching offensive line for him is about taking pride in what you do every single day. He instilled that pride in us from day one, holding every man in that room accountable for how he conducted himself every day and what he put on tape. It's about attention to detail.  He would never compromise the standard that he set for our room. Harry is going to push you past what you thought any limit you had was. I think that's part of what has always made Hiestand-coached prospects so appealing to the NFL. You know that technique-wise the attention to detail will be second to none because Harry coaches that better than anyone, but he also is able to coach and instill mental and physical toughness into a guy's play. Every practice you're going to be out on the field 30 minutes before everyone else and leave 30 minutes after everyone else. You're going to practice harder than any other position group on the field during that time. That takes and develops a high level of mental toughness just to survive in that environment, let alone to thrive in the way he strives for. He's a coach that is well-known and respected for these reasons around the NFL. In addition to having been a coach at that level, he's a man who is sending you a commodity you can count on because you know just how invested he is in each and every player.

And for a player, if you give him everything he asks of you, there is nothing he won't do for you in return. I was with him for one season, a "hand me down" of sorts, but that didn't stop him from embracing me as one of his own. After I left school and was pursuing my NFL dream, he was always checking in to see how I was and offering encouragement. When I was trying to sign as a free agent, he helped me put together a highlight reel to send to teams, along with a hand written note from him to the particular OL coach from that team.  He's as loyal, driven, and good a man as I've ever been around period, let alone in the coaching ranks.

Irish Illustrated: What do you specifically like about Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin?

Golic: Obviously both of these guys inherit the Hiestand player traits - both very technically sound, tough, smart players who will have no trouble assimilating into pro schemes. Ronnie is an elite athlete for his size, has the long levers you want for the prototype LT, and in general just makes pass protection look really easy in space. He's matured so much since he stepped on campus on and off the field, and it's really been cool to watch him shape all the talent we knew he had and become a really complete player.  Nick is the rock solid, dependable leader you want anchoring the middle of your line. He was a two-time captain like Zack (Martin) and has a lot of those intangible leadership skills that you need to be a center in the NFL. He's a smart kid who's also position-versatile on the inside if need be.

Irish Illustrated: Who do you think exceeds expectations the most out of this year’s Notre Dame draft class?

Golic:  I think it's Sheldon Day. And that's saying a lot since the expectations will already be high for a guy who's a second-third round projection as is. I just think he's a special player. A bit undersized, but lightning quick, smart, great with his hands, and he has a tremendous motor. Sheldon was always and is still a problem for offensive linemen. He was a nightmare to line up against in practice even when he first stepped on campus. I think he could be a disruptive force at the defensive tackle spot for some lucky team.

Irish Illustrated: Pick a player on the current roster that you foresee being a future first-rounder.

Golic: My OL bias will shine through again here, but I think Mike McGlinchey really has a chance to be that guy. He's an absolute mountain of a human being, was since Day 1, but last year his play really started to catch up to his physical tools. If he can successfully transition to that LT spot this year, he's got all the makings of a top tackle prospect.

Irish Illustrated: If you had advice for a player about to be drafted or a player hoping to be signed, what would it be?

Golic:  My advice for all the guys getting ready to go through the draft process right now is get your support system set now if you don't already.  Life is going to change a lot for you very soon. For guys at the top, that will come in the form of money, the intense pressure to perform up to expectations, and learning to navigate a world where suddenly everyone wants something from you. For guys on the back end, it will be in fighting for your football existence day in and day out, potentially living your life out of a suitcase, and learning about how harsh the business of football can be. No matter where you fall in this range, you need to know who you can trust and count on going into this. Who is around you for the right reasons? Who will support you and be there whether you get cut, traded, or sign that big second deal? This first year especially has already been long, and will only get longer through this summer, training camp, and the season. Make sure you've got people close to you who can and will support you.

Stanley selection resonates with recruits

When the Baltimore Ravens selected Ronnie Stanley with the sixth overall pick in the Thursday’s first round of the NFL Draft, future Notre Dame lineman Tommy Kraemer immediately thought of former Irish tackle Zack Martin, who was selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 16th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Not that Kraemer needed it, but Stanley’s selection was even more proof Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is pretty good at developing linemen.
“That's huge,” said Kraemer. “The past two left tackles have been taken in the first round. That shows that coach Hiestand really knows what he's doing.”
Liam Eichenberg, another 2016 signee, felt the same way and he even mentioned Chris Watt, a third round pick of the San Diego Chargers in the 2014 draft.
“Unbelievable,” he said. “Congrats to Ronnie. Coach Hiestand is the best offensive line coach in college football and Ronnie Stanley, Zack Martin and Chris Watt are proof to that.”
Kraemer is very excited to get to South Bend and begin working with Hiestand.
“I’m looking forward to this summer,” he said. “It's great to know that Hiestand knows how to develop his guys. I had no doubt, but it's really showing off on draft day.”

Josh Lugg, a 2017 commitment said “It means a lot. It just shows how good Coach Hiestand is at his job to develop lineman into pro level players and also teach them how to be better people in life. Ronnie was a very safe pick up because he was coached by the best in college and he held a clean record in college.”

Irish signees, commits and targets weigh in on NFL Draft

Irish Illustrated asked future Irish players as well as current targets for their thoughts on the heavy presence Notre Dame has in this year’s draft.

“I think that’s very impressive and a testament to Notre Dame football. Also it gives prerequisite to the next classes at Notre Dame that are there now and the ones to come.” – ’16 linebacker signee Jonathan Jones

“I think there will be more from our class.” – ’16 cornerback signee Troy Pride Jr.

“I think that having so many Notre Dame guys in the draft this year show that ND truly knows how to build an NFL caliber player. It’s done through coaching at a high level and having so many NFL years of experience on staff.”  - ’16 cornerback signee Julian Love

“It shows that at Notre Dame we are being coached by the best, and they are preparing us to play the next level. It also shows that NFL scouts are looking at ND for NFL talent.” – ’16 safety signee D.J. Morgan

“I think it’s well deserved and it shows that Notre Dame is attracting talented athletes, and when you combine those players with the great coaching, the finished product is what gets the attention of the NFL.  The athletes that are coming out of Notre Dame are simply both talented and well prepared.” – ’17 linebacker commit Drew White

“Crazy. I saw it coming.” – ’17 linebacker commit Pete Werner

“Speaks to the development and the talent that ND is recruiting,” ’18 cornerback target Houston Griffith

“It’s awesome, it speaks volumes for the program, coaching staff and how they develop their players and get them ready to play at the next level.” – ’17 wide receiver target Trey Blount

“I think it shows how well the Notre Dame coaches develop the players the three to four years that they go there. They are able to take in the talent that everyone comes in with and have them reach their max potential. It’s great to see.” ’17 tight end commitment Cole Kmet

“I think it speaks for itself on how great of a coaching staff they have. It proves to you that they know how to progress their players to their max potential and make it to the next level.” – ’18 running back target Markese Stepp

“It means that when I get there I know I will be getting coached by the best. And I also know I will be getting prepared properly for the next level.” - ’17 safety commitment Isaiah Robertson

Staley likes Prosise

Former Irish running back C.J. Prosise, a projected as a possible third round pick, will have to wait a little bit to hear his name called in the NFL Draft. But there are plenty of potential landing spots and clubs like what they’ve seen.

Eagles running back coach Duce Staley offered his thoughts to Irish Illustrated.

“He has talent! But raw…”

That’s nothing Irish fans didn’t already know about 2015’s starting running back, but nonetheless, it sums up the work-in-progress outlook that is drafting Prosise.

Philadelphia chose quarterback Carson Wentz on Thursday with the No. 2 overall pick. The Eagles don’t pick in the second round and have a need at running back. If Prosise is still on the board, he could be headed to Philly.

Demetris Robertson announcing on Sunday

Five-star athlete Demetris Robertson of the Class of 2016 is expected to publicly announce among a top four of California, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta on Sunday, May 1.

The Savannah (Ga.) Christian Academy product will travel to the state’s capital city on Sunday and will be joined by his legal guardian and older brother, Carlos Robertson, as well as his mother, who lives on the outskirts of Atlanta.

Robertson took his first and only visit to Notre Dame back in September on an official visit for when Notre Dame’s season opener vs. Texas. He made the trip alone.

Robertson’s announcement on Sunday is simply a verbal one. His college destination will not be made official until he steps foot on a campus in June as a freshman.

Irish assistants Mike Denbrock and Scott Booker, who recruits Georgia for Notre Dame, headed Notre Dame’s chase of Robertson.

Should Robertson choose Notre Dame he’ll be the lone five-star prospect in the 2016 class. He would be expected to compete for immediate playing time at the X wide receiver position.

The general consensus among Scout analysts that have covered Robertson’s marathon recruitment is that first-year Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart will keep the playmaker in-state. That means Robertson could still play in Notre Dame Stadium, but it wouldn’t be until 2017 when Georgia visits South Bend in September.

New offer roundup

Capehart is the latest in a long line of top prospects from Ocean Lakes High School, one of the top programs in the Tidewater region. Most recently, five-star cornerback Levonta Taylor signed with Florida State out of Ocean Lakes. Capehart is cut from a similarly elite cloth with offers from Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Miami and several others.

Top programs have already been making their move on Carman for months now. Notre Dame is just the latest offer on a list that includes Alabama, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, West Virginia, Wisconsin and others. Carman attends the same high school as defensive end Malik Vann, another Irish target in the Class of 2018.

Recruiting coordinator Mike Elston sees a playmaker on offense in Gill, who recorded more than 1,600 yards rushing and 330 receiving as a sophomore. Gill is one of the elite targets in Ohio for the Class of 2018 and has the offer list to back it up. He’s already looking at a potential Irish Invasion visit.

There’s not much information out there on where things stand with Jarrell, so that might be good news for Notre Dame as the latest program to offer. Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Colorado, Louisville, Nebraska, Oregon State, UCLA, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin are all giving chase with scholarship offers.

Johnson is an intriguing front seven prospect — linebacker or defensive end depending on the site — from SEC country. South Carolina has offered but the other in-state heavyweight, Clemson, has yet to pull the trigger. Duke, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest are also on board.

Notre Dame is back at Good Counsel, one of the top programs on the East Coast, with an offer to Paschal this week. Although the Irish haven’t had much success there, Good Counsel consistently churns out top prospects. Paschal is a powerful defensive line prospect with Maryland, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Clemson and Ohio State among the programs in pursuit.

Another expansion of the recruiting board at safety, Pola-Mao is one of the top prospects out west. Both in-state programs have offered the Arizona native while BYU, Cal, Nebraska, Oregon State, Utah, Washington and Washington State are in the mix. Adding Notre Dame takes Pola-Mao a little more national.

News and notes

- Wide receiver Devonta Smith recently nabbed five-star designation and is now trimming down the list. Ten programs are left for the Amite, La., native: Notre Dame, Tennessee, Baylor, Nebraska, Florida State, Mississippi State, Alabama, Miami, Florida and LSU. It’s always tough to pull Louisiana prospects away from LSU and even tougher to get them out of the South in general, but Smith appears worth the effort.

- Four-star safety Daniel Wright also announced a top list. Notre Dame, Florida State, Miami, Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, USC, Clemson, Michigan and Auburn made the cut. Wright hails from Cardinal Gibbons High in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the same program that produced Irish signee Deon McIntosh.

- Defensive backs coach Todd Lyght started the week by checking on some top targets in Texas: Four-star safety Grant Delpit and four-star cornerback Kary Vincent, Jr.

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