Leading up to the Fiesta Bowl, one of the major story lines was how much NFL talent would be on display in the Glendale. After invitations for the NFL Scouting Combine were sent out, there was little surprise to see the Irish and Buckeyes at the top of the list. Receiving invites for the Irish were RB C.J. Prosise, WRs Chris Brown and Will Fuller, OLs Nick Martin and Ronnie Stanley, DLs Romeo Okwara and Sheldon Day, and DBs Keivarae Russell and Elijah Schumate. The ten players were second among all schools this season behind Ohio State who had 14 former players receive invites. The Irish were one spot ahead of College Football Playoff National Champions Alabama and UCLA who both had nine players invited. While last season's draft only saw one Irish player picked, that will undoubtedly not be the case this season. For what must be the first time in ND athletics history, more Irish basketball players were drafted than football players.
At the top of most experts mock drafts, Ronnie Stanley is considered by many to be one of the top tackles in the draft alongside Ole Miss lineman Laremy Tunsil, and before his injury Jaylon Smith was mocked as the top LB in the draft. Even after wrecking his knee in the Fiesta Bowl, Smith is expected to be taken in the first round. Either the Irish Godbacker or UCLA's Myles Jack (also coming off injury) should end up as the first OLB taken. At the skill positions, Will Fuller leads the Irish as one of the top wideouts in the draft, and could end up being taken in the first couple rounds of the draft. Chris Brown should also be taken in the later rounds of the draft. Both Irish prospects could put up pretty impressive 40 times in Indianapolis. CJ Prosise presents an interesting puzzle to NFL scouts. While he obviously excelled last year before struggling with injuries down the stretch, Prosise has limited experience playing RB. That said, he has the receiving skills, size, and speed that NFL teams will be looking for in a prospect.
While not as highly rated as his older brother, Nick Martin was listed as the second best center prospect behind Alabama's Ryan Kelly by NFL Network's Mike Mayock. While he won't be taken as high as brother, the younger Martin could still end up as an early-to-mid round pick. Sheldon Day should be taken in a similar part of the drafy. Day lacks the prototypical size of an NFL defensive lineman, and this year's class of defensive lineman is particularly strong. That said, despite Day's injury history, he'll be a great asset to whichever team takes him due to his ability to both rush the passer, and make plays against the run. Romeo Okwara is another interesting prospect. He has the size that NFL teams will be looking for in a pass rusher, and after Von Miller's performance in the Super Bowl, expect teams to be looking high and low for players that can rush the passer.
The two Irish DBs face a lot competition at their respective positions. Of the two, Kevairie Russell should be taken higher, but will need to quickly bounce back from his late season leg injury and put up some numbers during his Combine workout. The end of Russell's college career wasn't as impressive as his first season in South Bend, but he still looks the part of an NFL corner. Elijah Schumate is currently rated by CBS as a fringe seventh round pick or undrafted free agent. That said, a strong performance at the Combine and Irish Pro Day would help him hear his name called in April. Even if his name isn't called, he'll undoubtedly receive a phone call to join an NFL squad as an undrafted free agent.