A couple weeks back, Tex provided some evidence as to why Notre Dame having but one player picked in the 2015 NFL Draft shouldn’t be too troubling. Of course, telling ND fans not to panic is a lot like telling USC students to go to class – it’s just not going to happen. While there are certainly stronger indicators of program performance than NFL selections, it’s undeniable that analysts, fans, and even (theoretically) recruits consider a team’s track record of NFL graduations when assessing program health. Because we live in a weird and crazy world where the future is NOW, several of the major sports sites have already begun posting their look at the potential 2016 NFL Draft. It seems fairly safe to say that Notre Dame’s primed to get more than one guy drafted.
When Mel Kiper releases a big board, people pay attention (and Frank Caliendo gets an extended lease on relevancy). Kiper released his “way too early Big Board for 2016” ($$) today, and the Irish were well represented in the top 25. The players are unsurprising. Finding himself in Kiper’s top 10 is returning receiver offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley. Stanley’s draft stock rose towards the end of last season and by the time the deadline to declare for the NFL draft neared, Stanely seemed perhaps more likely to go than stay. Many draft professionals/analysts have suggested that had Stanley come out this year, he would have been the first offensive tackle off the board. With players like Laremy Tunsil (Ole Miss) and Jack Conklin (Michigan State) also draft eligible after next season, Stanley may no longer be a lock to be the first lineman off the board, but barring a serious catastrophe (someone please light a candle at the Grotto for me saying this), Stanley’s a near lock to go in the top 10-15 of next year’s draft.
The other player Kiper (and others) are already sold on is favored son Jaylon Smith. Smith’s combination of athleticism and production make him a near lock to go early in whatever draft he decides to wade into. That’s the catch with Smith. I tend to this early in the process be among the people who think Jaylon will comeback for his senior season in order to graduate regardless of what the draft report says about him. He’s had a bright light shone on him for quite sometime being a top national recruit and immediate starter for the Irish following in the footsteps of a similarly touted player, Manti Te’o. It’s a gut instinct based off of Smith’s interviews, but unless his relationship with the university sours, I view him as a guy more likely than not to comeback despite being draft eligible.
Kiper’s colleague and on again, off again lover Todd McShay put out his “Way-too-early 2016 Mock Draft” ($$) recently as well. Similar to Kiper, McShay views both Stanley and Jaylon Smith as early favorites to be first round possibilities.
So I’m not accused of being a corporate shill for ESPN Insider subscriptions, I’ll point you to another early 2016 draft big board that might have ND fans losing their damn minds. Matt Miller over at Bleacher Report’s released his early Top 50 for the 2016 draft, and ummmm…he might be receiving a paycheck from Brian Kelly.
In addition to having Stanley (4) and Smith (8) in his top 10, he also has Sheldon Day (18), Corey Robinson (!)(22), and KeiVarae Russell (28) all as (theoretic) first round caliber players. Both Day and Russell are names that I would expect to gain momentum as the season goes along. Prior to Russell’s off field problems last season, he seemed like a guy in a fantastic position to get himself into the first or second round draft conversation. Coming back to graduate and gain additional exposure while rehabilitating his character has an opportunity to reap major rewards for his stock.
Day’s another guy who I’ve seen written about multiple times. He seems destined to be drafted but has plenty riding on his on field performance this year. No one doubts Day’s technique or quickness. The question will be his weight and durability. Throughout his ND career, Day’s had a propensity to get nicked up at times. Additionally, from what I’ve read, several NFL scouts would like to see him add some weight while maintaining his quickness. A productive and healthy final season in South Bend could lead to him reaching Miller’s lofty rating, but for my taste, his early ranking feels like more of a cap than a starting point.
Then there’s Corey Robinson, who I’ll confess, had my jaw dropping a bit that he was mentioned in any spring early look ahead to the 2016 draft articles. Miller does not have individual write ups, so it’s tough to tell exactly what his thought process was. However, it appears to be based more on Robinson’s potential given his size than on production to this point in his career. At 6’5” and with a strong athletic background, this is not as far-fetched as it may initially seem. After all, Rob Rang at CBSSports also put Robinson into the first round of his early 2016 mock draft. Miller also likes Chris Brown as a potential sleeper candidate.
With all of these write ups, I didn’t even see guys like Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston, or Will Fuller mentioned, and well, that’s fine by me. I will be happy to keep as much talent in South Bend for as long as possible. In the short run though, people legitimately worried about 2015’s 1 draft pick should be able to put those fears to rest because in 2016 it sounds like there’ll be a lot of Irish in attendance wearing flashy suits and hugging the commish.
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