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Ranking Notre Dame Football's Pro Prospects for 2016

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There could be many Irish picks in next year's NFL Draft. We break down where the chips may fall for everyone.

The eyes of a first round pick.
The eyes of a first round pick.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Tight end Ben Koyack was the only Notre Dame player taken in the 2015 NFL Draft among a small group of players who were eligible. The next Draft, and the one after that, are going to be quite different.

Before breaking down the prospects for next year let me briefly discuss those who will be eligible but I'm guessing will be near locks to return for 2016.

Staying in School

RB Greg Bryant, Redshirt Sophomore

He's going to likely need an injury to Folston plus a huge year and/or a burning desire to leave school and get his pro career started ASAP. The odds of enough of these factors coming together seem very small.

WR Corey Robinson, Junior

Robinson famously graced the first round of a couple recent mock drafts and may have become the first college receiver ever to be awarded such praise without totaling 50 career receptions. Factor in that he'll have to absolutely blow up to realistically make it worth leaving early and his devotion to academics (even if as an EE he could be close to graduating by December) is a major part of his life and I feel super comfortable betting he's coming back for 2016.

RG, Steve Elmer, Junior

I know there's been some talk and positive speculation that Elmer has improved a lot this spring and is settling into a more comfortable role at guard. But as spring passes I think we'll realize expecting him to leave early would be pretty ridiculous.

RT Mike McGlinchey, Redshirt Sophomore

There's no doubt that McGlinchey's combination of size, length, and athleticism has him currying favor from NFL scouts down the road. But look at it like this: Irish players leaving after their redshirt sophomore year is basically unheard of, plus McGlinchey is going to have one less year of starting than Stanley did this past off-season, plus he's at right tackle instead of left tackle. He'd pretty much have to be the best tackle in the country to leave early.

DE, Isaac Rochell, Junior

Out of all of these players listed I think Rochell is the sleeper pick to leave early. His combination of size and speed is quietly very underrated. He's the one guy who I would believe could have a monster year and bolt.

S Max Redfield, Junior

There's been some talking (perhaps some what if scenarios is more accurate) about Redfield leaving early after 2015. Quite frankly, if he wasn't a 5-star recruit I don't think anyone is having that conversation.

***

For the sake of this piece we'll assume the remainder of the players discussed will seriously think about entering the NFL Draft next spring. For those with eligibility left past 2015 we'll discuss if they should come back based on where I've projected them being selected.

Name: Avery Sebastian

Position: Safety

2015 Eligibility: Graduate Student

Potential: 6th Round

Eric's Pick: Undrafted

If Cody Riggs didn't have his named called it's probably not happening for Notre Dame's second straight graduate transfer. Sebastian probably won't have quite as big of a role as Riggs did, plus he's had his own injury concerns over his career.

Name: Jarrett Grace

Position: Inside Linebacker

2015 Eligibility: Graduate Student

Potential: 6th Round

Eric's Pick: Undrafted

Even though Grace has made a tremendous comeback from his leg injury he's still quite a ways away from being a NFL pick. He'll have to stay healthy first and foremost, and over-take a pair of linebackers on the roster while playing at a very high level.

Name: Joe Schmidt

Position: Inside/Outside Linebacker

2015 Eligibility: Graduate Student

Potential: 6th Round

Eric's Pick: Undrafted

I hate to do this but I don't think Schmidt has the size to earn a draft pick. Some expect him to be under 6-0 when the NFL comes measuring. Can he be a poor man's Chris Borland and sneak into the mid-to-late rounds somewhere? Sure, it could happen. If he's legitimately close to 240 that will help too.

Name: Amir Carlisle

Position: Wide Receiver

2015 Eligibility: Graduate Student

Potential: 6th Round

Eric's Pick: Undrafted

If you recall our latest scholarship numbers update had Carlisle dangerously perched on the not coming back list. We could hear soon about a transfer or two in which case Carlisle is most definitely part of the program in 2015. Either way, there's not much room in the NFL for a 5-10 receiver. As SB Nation recently wrote it's getting more and more difficult for shorter receivers to get drafted. Carlisle could have a solid year but probably doesn't have several attributes that will be needed at the next level.

Name: Matthias Farley

Position: Safety

2015 Eligibility: Graduate Student

Potential: 6th Round

Eric's Pick: Undrafted

Farley is likely to leave Notre Dame with around 200 career tackles, double digit tackles for loss, and maybe as many as 10 interceptions. In the big picture he overachieved in college. He'd probably struggle dealing with NFL speed and I'd imagine he won't test that well leading up to the Draft.

Name: Chris Brown

Position: Wide Receiver

2015 Eligibility: Senior

Potential: 5th Round

Eric's Pick: Undrafted

There's always a chance that a franchise falls in love with Brown's speed in combination with his nearly 6-2, 200 pound frame. Like Farley, he'll be a 3-star who will quietly leave South Bend with quality production (roughly 1,400 yards ain't nothing) but would probably have to battle in a camp invite situation.

Name: Romeo Okwara

Position: Defensive End

2015 Eligibility: Senior

Potential: 6th Round

Eric's Pick: Undrafted

It could be tough for Okwara who has never flashed enough pass rushing ability for his size and will likely struggle handling bigger bodies in the NFL. He could benefit from a team liking his potential (he's basically an early entry junior in terms of age) but he'll still have to get much more physical as a senior and approach 10 sacks or so.

Name: Everett Golson

Position: Quarterback

2015 Eligibility: Graduate Student

Potential: 3rd Round

Eric's Pick: 182nd, 6th Round

NOTE: I finished this a couple days before Golson announced he was transferring. Instead of deleting it I'll just leave it up here as general talk about his chances with the NFL.

Golson's draft stock is fascinating and has been for several years. Let's address the height concerns first. Here's a list of all the shorter quarterbacks who have been picked over the last 10 NFL Drafts with height and overall selection included:

  • Johnny Manziel 6-0 (22nd)
  • Aaron Murray 6-1 (163rd)
  • Tajh Boyd 6-1 (213th)
  • B.J. Daniels 5-11 (237th)
  • Russell Wilson 5-11 (75th)
  • Tyrod Taylor 6-1 (180th)
  • Colt McCoy 6-1 (85th)
  • Pat White 6-0 (44th)
  • Nate Davis 6-1 (171st)
  • Troy Smith 6-0 (174th)
  • Bruce Gradkowski 6-1 (194th)
  • D.J. Shockley 6-0 (223rd)

Over the last 10 Drafts there have been 114 quarterbacks selected. That means 10.5% were 6-1 or shorter, 3.5% were 6-0 or shorter, and 1.7% were 5-11. Gun to my head I'm guessing Golson will measure below 6-0, and if so, the odds are stacked against him being picked.

CBS doesn't even list Golson among their top 25 quarterback prospects for 2016, NFL Draft Scout doesn't have him listed among the top 5 with draftable grades, and Walter Football has Golson listed as the 19th best right now. Obviously, this doesn't mean much but it does show that Golson isn't on too many people's radars right now.

With a strong 2015 season there could be a few things working in Everett's favor. One, a franchise could fall in love with him and be willing to take him late in the Draft. Two, this past Draft saw the fewest quarterbacks taken since the AFL-NFL merger back in 1967. That could signal a new trend of teams becoming more frugal with their quarterback selections, or just a terrible 2015 crop, or perhaps a sign that the 2016 Draft is going to make up for the previous low number.

The more I think about it the more I lean toward Golson not being drafted. But I think he'll sneak in somewhere.

Name: Nick Martin

Position: Center

2015 Eligibility: Graduate Student

Potential: 4th Round

Eric's Pick: 171st, 5th Round

Center isn't the easiest position to get drafted from but there have been 23 taken in the first 3 rounds since the 2006 Draft. That's probably more than most people think. Martin has had a solid career and with a second straight season as captain and better play than an injury-riddled 2014 I think this is a fair, if maybe a little optimistic, spot for him to land. Is he better than Braxston Cave? Yes probably, but Cave went undrafted. A lot of good college centers go undrafted so it wouldn't shock me if that happened to Martin too.

Name: Tarean Folston

Position: Running Back

2015 Eligibility: Junior

Potential: 3rd Round

Eric's Pick: 166th, 5th Round

Stay or Go: Go

Folston has done some nice things through 2 seasons and with a third under his belt it may be worth it to leave early. He's not a burner so anything higher than the 3rd round is likely out of the question. Even a big season (1,200 yards, 15 TD) keeps him in the middle rounds. I just don't know if Folston will be able to improve his grade all that much.

Name: Elijah Shumate

Position: Safety

2015 Eligibility: Senior

Potential: 3rd Round

Eric's Pick: 144th, 5th Round

Physically, I am positive there will be plenty to like about Shumate from a NFL perspective. With a good season and solid testing across the board he could move up from the later rounds in a league that is hoarding defensive back talent in recent years.

Name: C.J. Prosise

Position: Wide Receiver

2015 Eligibility: Redshirt Junior

Potential: 3rd Round

Eric's Pick: 131st, 4th Round

Stay or Go: Stay

Prosise could possibly be invited to the Combine where I imagine he'd slay it in a number of ways. His speed at his size is going to be super enticing for a NFL team. However, I don't think he'll be developed enough as a receiver and/or running back by the end of 2015 to the point where he'll max out his draft stock.

Name: Will Fuller

Position: Wide Receiver

2015 Eligibility: Junior

Potential: 2nd Round

Eric's Pick: 124th, 4th Round

Stay or Go: Stay

This prediction may surprise some people but hear me out. Fuller is tiny, with maybe the skinniest legs I've ever seen on a Notre Dame receiver. If he's a legit 180 I'll be surprised. Look at Rashad Green from Florida State with similar size. He's the all-time receiving leader in Tallahassee with almost 4,000 career yards and he went 139th overall last weekend.

Yes, the league wants a lot of receivers but there's a ton of competition and nearly every highly rated wideout is bigger and more physical than Fuller. You could make the case that due to Fuller's size--and the likelihood of back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons--that he won't be able to improve his stock much. I'd advise him to stay and see if he can move up the Irish record book and climb up another round or two in the 2017 Draft.

Name: Jarron Jones

Position: Defensive Tackle

2015 Eligibility: Redshirt Junior

Potential: 3rd Round

Eric's Pick: 118th, 4th Round

Stay or Go: Go

If Jones can stay healthy in 2015 I think he's as good as gone. He plays a physically demanding position and if he gains more consistency he could be a steal in the 4th round. Guys with his size don't grow on trees and he's shown flashes of dominance already in his young career.

Name: Sheldon Day

Position: Defensive Tackle

2015 Eligibility: Senior

Potential: 2nd Round

Eric's Pick: 105th, 4th Round

Day often gets talked about as someone with 1st round potential but I don't see it. Shelton, Armstead, Malcolm Brown, Donald, Easley, Richardson, Lotulelei, Floyd, Sylvester Williams, Poe, Cox, and Brockers are the tackles who have been first round picks over the past 4 drafts. Across the board all of those players are bigger and/or more productive in college.

Day has great burst off the line and can be a good 3-tech in the NFL. Beyond that, he's going to get knocked for being short (closer to 6-0 than his listed 6-2), lacking ideal physicality, and health concerns thus far through his career. With a good senior season this should be a comfortable draft spot.

Name: Cole Luke

Position: Corner

2015 Eligibility: Junior

Potential: 2nd Round

Eric's Pick: 96th, 3rd Round

Stay or Go: Go

Luke often gets lost in the shuffle when discussing next year's draft prospects. I may be bold and say his 2014 season was, pound for pound, better than any of KeiVarae Russell's seasons. Solid tackling, 4 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, and 11 passes broken up is damn good.

This placement does feel a little bit hopeful, though. I could easily see Luke being projected in the 5th or 6th round. It's just if he improves and gets better there's such a huge market for quality corners. I think he'll stay for his senior season but if he's projected to go in the 3rd he should probably leave after this fall.

Name: KeiVarae Russell

Position: Corner

2015 Eligibility: Redshirt Junior

Potential: 2nd Round

Eric's Pick: 73rd, 3rd Round

Stay or Go: Go

I tend to pull back on the reigns when it comes to Russell. He had a nice season for a freshman in 2012 but an up and down sophomore season in 2013. People are talking about him going in the first round and thus far from what I've seen he'd have to make a pretty significant jump in 2015.

Now, if Russell truly can post a 4.34 in the 40 and keep this 11 foot and 1 inch broad jump heading into the Combine he's probably going to shoot up some draft boards. That's some freaky athletic stuff, but I'm not sure I've seen that translated onto the field.

Even at 73rd overall, Russell would be the highest drafted Irish corner since Brock Williams (86th) in 2001. Bobby Taylor (50th, 1995) was the last Notre Dame corner to go in the second round and Jeff Burris (27th, 1994) the last to be picked in the first round.

Name: Jaylon Smith

Position: Outside Linebacker

2015 Eligibility: Junior

Potential: Top 10 Overall

Eric's Pick: 21st, 1st Round

Stay or Go: Go

Smith's pro projections are going to be wild and fun. He does a lot of thing so well from sideline to sideline speed, to rushing off the edge, to dropping in coverage that nailing down where he'll play in the NFL is going to be a huge guess until he joins a team--and even then there might be some mystery. Already, some scouts are drooling over Smith's edge rushing ability with some mock drafts even listing him as a defensive end.

I think most NFL scouts are leaning toward a Khalil Mack type of growth but I still see Jaylon being closer to someone like Lavonte David with his versatility. Either way, he should be a first round pick.

Name: Ronnie Stanley

Position: Offensive Tackle

2015 Eligibility: Redshirt Junior

Potential: No. 1 Overall

Eric's Pick: 6th, 1st Round

Stay or Go: Go

As things stand today 51 weeks away from the next NFL Draft a Notre Dame player is in the conversation for the top overall selection. Quickly checking a handful of mock drafts, Stanley comes in at 7th, 6th, 2nd, 2nd, and 4th respectively.

Working in Stanley's favor is that only three tackles were taken in the first round this year and none went inside the Top 10. There should be a healthy market for an elite tackle this time next year.

One thing I'm curious to see with Stanley is how he holds up to the scrutiny of being such a huge prospect. Remember as recently as November the consensus was that Stanley could develop into a first round pick for 2016 but almost no one was talking about him leaving after 2014. Then he put together big performances late in the season, the talk accelerated that he was the top tackle for the 2015 draft, and he almost left school.

***

Will Notre Dame really have 12 11 draft picks next spring? Maybe an even more important question is will the Irish lose 8 players who will have eligibility still left in college?

We'll probably see 3 players come back from the 12 11 listed above. I'd guess Prosise (so raw and could improve his stock), Folston (could risk not being drafted versus getting his degree), and Luke (Kelly's 6-star recruit we'll really, really need him helping the secondary in 2016) as the likely candidates.