In the afterglow of the holidays and the Fighting Irish's win over the Louisiana State Tigers, attentions drift from Brian Kelly's squad to various other pursuits. The population returns to their routine. Hungry college football bellies devour the remaining morsels of bowl games while preparing for the national championship. The strong efforts of Coaches McGraw and Brey propel their teams during the long journey to March and its associated insanity. A young Notre Dame football squad reflects on their season while coaches crisscross the country, strengthening the bonds of committed recruits and convincing other young people and their families that the University of Notre Dame is the fit for them. With a new season's cycle on the horizon, offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley has much to think about.
Four Notre Dame underclassmen submitted paperwork to the NFL Advisory Board for draft grades - Sheldon Day, Everett Golson, Nick Martin, and Ronnie Stanley. Martin announced a decision to return for next season. Day has not announced publicly, but Pete Sampson reported that Day received a "stay in school" grade and will return to Notre Dame. Even with a confident bowl performance, Golson's next career move will be a popular discussion topic given the emergence of Malik Zaire. Stanley's decision seems to be most difficult.
Ronnie Stanley, known to some as Shy Ronnie and known to others as Stanley Steemer (as his offensive line play keeps QBs cleaner) emerged during the 2014 season as a more-than-capable replacement for NFL All-Pro Zack Martin. During a marquee 2013 season for the Notre Dame line, Stanley manned the right tackle spot. The move to the left side has not deterred Ronnie, as he has been consistent at his position despite the overall line's shakier play this past season. Stanley has always been a strong player, but his emergence as a mock draft darling was unexpected. That is not to say that Stanley has been overmatched as a player for Notre Dame or that he cannot succeed at the next level. With only a full season of LT play under his belt, the redshirt sophomore remains a mysterious and divisive prospect for draftniks.
Some evaluators have not scouted Stanley simply because he has not formally announced his intentions. In answering a question of his most recent mock draft, SB Nation's Dan Kadar said he has not included Stanley yet, but if he does declare he will begin "working him in." CBS Sports' Rob Rang has Stanley being selected by the Minnesota Vikings with the eleventh pick. Both of the latest mock drafts on the highly trafficked Walter Football site have Stanley as a top ten selection.
Not all evaluators are singing Stanley's praises, however. Before the Music City Bowl, multiple sources confirmed to Keith Arnold that Stanley didn't receive a first-round grade.An unnamed scout told Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller that he graded Stanley as a second-round prospect. Scout Greg Gabriel believes in Stanley’s potential and size, but as he writes for the National Football Post, he does not think Stanley is ready for the NFL, predicting a jump this year for Stanley would look something like Rams’ offensive lineman Greg Robinson’s disappointing rookie year.
Brian Kelly and staff would assuredly prefer Stanley stay in school and continue to develop while solidifying the offensive line. In the event Stanley does leave, Notre Dame's depth on the offensive line would hopefully lessen any impact of a departure. Freshman Alex Bars has earned high praise from Coach Kelly in recent weeks. The legend of former five-star recruit Quenton Nelson and his weight-room heroics also cuts down the impact of a Stanley-less line. While the talent of Notre Dame's line is not in doubt without Stanley, there is something to be said for consistency. The team would hope to avoid making large-scale movements on the line in 2015.
So Ronnie Stanley has a lot to consider. He has to consider in multifaceted ways what is best for him. With information coming from all angles, none in a vacuum, Stanley must consider each piece from his loved ones and advisors in context. Complicating matters for any potential draftee are the humongous amounts of misinformation and uninformed opinions swirling around. While mock drafts are a fun way to spend time on the world wide web and good bar talk fodder, most have no bearing on the real sports world, especially not months before the draft or even the scouting combine. The world of mock drafts contains many hobbyists. While these folks are no doubt very enthusiastic about football, their evaluation time and access is limited. Mock drafts can introduce you to prospects and apparent position needs, but even the writers with the most access whiff on selections.
While some NFL front office personnel are giving honest reviews of Stanley's prospects to the media, they could spread information for their own benefit. After all, their job is not to give scoops to reporters. Their job is to help teams win and be profitable. Combining that with the fact that some NFL front offices seem genuinely off their rockers, taking their word as gospel seems misguided. For example (And! I say this with the caveat that this is a rumor! An amusing rumor, but a rumor), it is wonderfully weird to believe that Zack Martin's All-Pro career with the Dallas Cowboys might have not happened if not for the son of owner Jerry Jones grabbing the draft card out of his father's hand. The interests of current NFL players also stand against Stanley. For every underclassman that does not enter the draft, an NFL veteran will gain a contract, an invite to camp, or a consideration that might not have existed due to Stanley’s declaration. Asking Ronnie Stanley to forgo the NFL draft is antithetical to the characteristics we value in athletes. Athletic competition and success are inextricably linked to poise and confidence. Surely a confident left tackle would believe in his skills at the next level. At the same time, we crave humility from professional athletes. A humble Stanley could admit his game still needs development and would return to Notre Dame. The relationship between the two qualities isn't as clear a dichotomy as we see in the sport pages.
Stanley stares into a murky future, unsure of so much. He is not sure what other underclassmen from other schools will declare. He is not sure what NFL teams are currently interested and where they evaluate his talent. He is not sure to what degree he could develop in another year or two at Notre Dame. He is not sure what injuries might befall him in the freak environments of the football field at either the professional or NCAA level. If he stays at Notre Dame, he will continue to accrue credits leading him closer to an academic degree that might open doors later in his life. If he joins an NFL team, he will be paid money for his work.
From combing through the discussion on Stanley, this much seems clear. Stanley has a prototypical NFL tackle body. He moves fluidly and has good footwork. Many scouts would like to seem him increase strength and power. He has performed well against other prospect competition - notably University of Southern California's Leonard Williams - but his two seasons of starting time is a smaller frame of reference than other prospects available. I believe Stanley could succeed next year in the NFL given the right situation. The situation he lands in, though, is not in his control
Soon, we will have word from Ronnie Stanley about his future. His career at Notre Dame could continue or come to an abrupt end. Even if you do not think Stanley is ready for the NFL, try not to take his decision as a referendum on his character or his ability. There will be myriad struggles for Ronnie at either level, but they will be of different types. He could falter at Notre Dame and succeed at the next level. He could be drafted highly and not make it to a second contract in the league. The successes and failures of Ronnie Stanley will not be decided based on this one choice he makes. His future unfolds open before him and he is the only person who can decide his next step.