With the NFL Combine in Indianapolis pushed back a week, starting at the end of February, Irish Illustrated offers its analysis of Notre Dame’s top prospects through the eyes/film study of Greg Gabriel, who directed college scouting in the NFL for three decades.
The NFL draft will be conducted in Philadelphia April 27-29.
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The early-entry quarterback remains in a battle with North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson to be the No. 1 quarterback selected in the draft.
The process of sorting out the quarterbacks on the NFL level is a multi-layered endeavor. No position is scrutinized by NFL personnel quite like quarterback, and the completion of the process if far from over.
All-star games begin the process. It continues at the combine, where quarterbacks must not only show their physical wares, but also thrive in one-on-one meetings where NFL personnel require prospects to break down/draw up plays and offer pre-snap reads. Then come the individual workouts.
The process of choosing the top quarterbacks has just begun.
NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who was a scout for the Ravens, Browns and Eagles, recently stated that he “couldn’t find a scout or executive who was excited about DeShone Kizer or Mitch Trubisky,” while Watson has received mixed reviews as anywhere from a late-first round to middle-round pick.
“I still think (Kizer’s) a first-round pick,” Gabriel said. “Daniel Jeremiah, who worked in the league, has him as the No. 1 (quarterback). I worked in the league and I have him as the No. 1 quarterback. If I were picking, I’d take him over the other two.
“The system he played in, the size, the athleticism, the arm strength, the intellect, what he was asked to do…He’s the best guy. I can’t tell you he’ll be the first guy off the board because teams will look at it differently.”
Gabriel sees numerous reasons why Kizer’s performance slipped in ’16 after an eye-opening debut in ’15.
“He’s the most NFL ready of the three top guys,” Gabriel said. “When you look at the full body of work and you don’t know all the circumstances, you could say he regressed this past year.
“But throw in the circumstances – the offensive line lost two high NFL draft picks, the running game wasn’t as good, he lost three starting receivers who were replaced by inexperienced guys…When you watch the tape, that stuff shows.”
The inexperience of Notre Dame’s receivers following the loss of wideouts Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle was apparent.
“You can say there were deep throws (Kizer) made where he was off-target,” Gabriel said. “I guarantee you I could pull out four or five deep throws where the receivers weren’t running full-out, which is part of the inexperience. But it gets put on Kizer.”
Gabriel assessed what was asked of the various quarterbacks in the offense each team ran. Kizer, said Gabriel, was asked to make full-field reads while Trubisky and Watson were required to make half-field reads – one side of the field or the other.
“What (Kizer) was asked to do compared to what the other guys looked at, he had a lot more,” Gabriel said. “Until all the info is in, who knows how they’re going to go. It’s still early in the process and it will shake itself out over the next two-and-a-half months.”
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com
Rochell stood out during the week of practice for the Senior Bowl. His toughness and try-hard characteristics caught the eye of NFL scouts.
Rochell’s limitations – pass rush and upper body strength -- will prevent him from going in the top two rounds, and probably the third, although a mid-to-late round selection is likely.
“He showed a toughness, a strong, competitive attitude,” said Gabriel of Rochell’s all-star showing. “He’s got to get stronger. His upper body did not match up to the other guys. He’s got smaller arms.
“But he did some good things. In the one-on-ones, he showed quick hands. He showed some explosiveness through his hips and a quick first step.”
Finding the right fit to a specific team’s needs will be crucial to where Rochell ends up.
“I’ve always thought he’s a five-technique,” Gabriel said. “I never thought he was a defensive end (in a 3-4). He just doesn’t have that explosiveness and speed to be a defensive end. I don’t think he’s quick enough as a three-technique. He’s a natural five and an interior pass rusher.
“If you get him up to 295 and a little stronger in the upper body, he could be pretty good. Will he be a starter? Maybe not, but he’s going to be a good rotational player.”
The Chicago Bears organization probably has the best angle on Rochell. The Bears’ coaching staff worked the Senior Bowl.
“I’m not speaking for the Bears, but they’re going to have a good feel for him,” Gabriel said. “If they like him and he’s better than some of the guys they’ve got, they may take him. That’s one of the advantages of coaching down there.
“He could go as high as the third round and as low as the fifth or sixth round.”
Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com
It was a long process for the wide-receiver-turned-linebacker. Onwualu excelled as a senior for the Irish at Sam linebacker. By 2016, he was an impact player with 11½ tackles for loss and a good awareness of where the play was going. He also was the emotional leader of the Irish defense.
Gabriel considers Onwualu a Sam or Will linebacker prospect in the NFL.
“He practiced well during the week and didn’t play in the game,” said Gabriel of Onwualu’s week of practice at the East-West Shrine Game.
“I don’t know if he had an injury. Sometimes that’s an agent thing, especially if he practiced good. I’m not saying it was in his case, but it wouldn’t be the first time that happened.
“From what I understand, people liked his movement skills, his toughness and range. When you get the testing done, that will add to it.”
OTHER NOTRE DAME PROSPECTS
• Nose tackle Jarron Jones, like Rochell, has been invited to the combine. Gabriel has been on the bandwagon for trying Jones on the offensive line where his temperament may be better suited.
Jones’ on-again (six tackles for loss vs. Miami) and off-again performances/effort will be at issue with the NFL.
“If you look at the flashes on the defensive line, you know he can play,” Gabriel said. “But is this a guy that will run through a brick wall for you, or is he just there? Some people are saying he’ll be better off on the offensive side of the ball.”
NFLDraftScout.com has Jones as a fourth-round draft prospect at defensive tackle.
• Cornerback Cole Luke was never a player who wowed with his flat-out speed. He could run a 40 somewhere in the range of the upper 4.5s, which aren’t desirable numbers in the NFL for the position.
By the same token, the NFL is always looking for and drafting an abundance of cornerbacks. Luke could compensate for a lack of great speed by running a respectable 40 and showing himself in other areas.
“He may not run that well, but let’s say he runs a 4.58 or 4.55, and then jumps 37 inches and has a real fast three-cone, a real fast 20-shuttle and his long jump is good,” Gabriel said.
“Then you’re seeing explosiveness and quickness. Some of that quickness can overcome (the lack of top-end speed). If you don’t run well and don’t test well in the other areas, then you’re dead in the water.”
The circumstances surrounding Notre Dame’s disastrous run under defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is something the NFL will take into consideration when evaluating Luke.
“The defensive coordinator gets canned, so if I’m a scout, I’m saying, ‘Okay, was it the circumstance or is it that he just can’t play?’” Gabriel said. “If he knocks it out of the box in testing, then people will want to look at this guy.”
• Running back Tarean Folston chose to bypass a final year of eligibility at Notre Dame with Josh Adams expected to be Notre Dame’s bell-cow back in ’17 and promising Dexter Williams waiting in the wings.
Rather than seek a year of playing experience at a lower level of college play, Folston decided to pursue a professional career.
Folston never did quite regain his form after suffering a torn ACL in the 2015 season-opener against Texas. There were flashes of his old self against Stanford, in particular, and Army.
“I think he’s a free agent,” Gabriel said. “He had a durability issue. He doesn’t have enough yardage. There are some good plays, but not an abundance of good tape. He’s got quick feet, there’s no question about that, and he’s got some short-area burst. But there’s just not enough good tape to know what he is.”
• Wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. has decided to pursue a career in baseball.