Counting down the Irish: 20-16

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Working off of yesterday’s kick-off to the Top 25 players on the Irish roster, we’re ready to roll out the next five members of the Irish Top-25.

But first, a few observations:

* 2/3s of us put Nick Tausch in the top-fifth of the roster, which makes sense when you consider that a football team has 11 starters on offense and defense and a few key reserves. That said, I’m not just giving the job to Tausch after the season that David Ruffer had. For all the wonderful walk-on to hero stories in ND lore, Ruffer’s heroics got lost in the wash while the season went down hill.

* Mike Ragone was another popular name, with three people putting him at 22. While it looks like ResLife isn’t going to take a chunk out of Ragone’s season, I’m hesitant to rely on him as an offensive playmaker until I start hearing good news out of preseason camp on Ragone. While most of us realize that Ragone has gotten a tremendous opportunity, what he makes of it will determine his impact this season.

* Shaq Evans only made one Top-25 list (unless he’s ranked higher than 16 on somebody’s board), which puts into perspective the hype vs. impact conundrum that occurs with high-ranking wide receiver prospects. For every Michael Floyd that walks in the door and makes a difference there are guys like Shaq and Deion Walker, two highly-touted prospects that aren’t quite ready for primetime.

Without further ado…

IRISH TOP 25: 20-16

Frank of UHND.com

20. Darrin Walls, CB: Expected a lot more out of Walls last year. Hopefully Chuck Martin can help Walls fulfill some of his potential in 2010.
19. Gary Gray, CB: Gray was the most consistent Irish corner in 2009. Why he didn’t play more I have no idea.
18. Harrison Smith, DB: Toughest player on the team to rank. Talent is clearly there — production hasn’t been.
17. Zach Martin, LT: Hasn’t played much but was a fast riser in spring ball and could be the starting LT. If he is, let’s hope this ranking is too low.
16. Kapron Lewis-Moore, DE: Was a training camp star last year, but was inconsistent in the fall.

Anthony of ClashmoreMike.com

20. Robert Blanton, CB: Good one-on-one cover skills and strong in run support.
19. Theo Riddick, WR: Speed and quickness should prove valuable in the slot.
18. Ian Williams, NT: Interior defensive lineman has shown flashes of great play, needs improved consistency.
17. Cierre Wood, RB: Excellent straight-line speed, great in the open field.
16. Jamoris Slaughter, DB: Hard hitting safety brings plenty of athleticism to the position.

Matt of HerLoyalSons.com

20. Nick Tausch, K: Consistency at the kicker position at Notre Dame? Sign me up!
19. Ian Williams, NT: Former 1st team All-Freshman after 40 tackles, followed up with a 2009 with 39 tackles.
18. Chris Stewart, LG: Once the size of a planet, the man can do a split and about 20 more pull-ups than I can manage. But can he block?
17. Braxston Cave, C: Enjoys pain, suffering, and long walks on the beach — for other people.
16. Jonas Gray, RB: Quick, shifty, versatile. Perhaps ideal one-back type for a Kelly offense.

Chris and Matt of RakesofMallow.com

20. Cierre Wood, RB: What the speedster from Oxnard, CA lacks in experience he more than makes up for with confidence.
19. Theo Riddick, WR: Riddick showed flashes of dynamism last season, but also looked like a true frosh at times (Opening play fumble vs. Stanford). Look for him to show his explosiveness in the kick return game this season.
18. Darrin Walls, CB: Last chance for the speedy, but inconsistent corner.
17. Jonas Gray, RB: Fumbling issues have bugged Gray in his first two years, but his size, speed, and toughness are frequently lauded by fans.
16. Brian Smith, LB: I may catch some grief for having “Puppy” this high, but I think the switch back to the outside, and to the 3-4 defense, will keep Smith out of the doghouse.

Pat, man of the people:

20. Brian Smith, LB: It really is now or never for Smith, and while he made a lot of mistakes, he did have 71 tackles last season, 5.5 TFL, and 1.5 sacks along with 2 INTs.
19. Darrin Walls, CB: Seemed to regress last season, but he did miss a year and hopefully can duplicate his early performances.
18. Cierre Wood, RB: The first recipient of my “Really Looking Forward to Seeing Him in a Real Game” award based on his Blue-Gold Game performance.
17. Trevor Robinson, OL: While he may have underperformed to some people so far, he has been a two-year starter and should be a lineman-to-watch next season.
16. TJ Jones, WR: His performance in the spring game co-earned him my “Really Looking Forward to Seeing Him in a Real Game” award.

Keith:

20. Zack Martin, LT: From redshirt to blind side, it’s clear that the coaching staff must be pretty high on Martin. Spread offense or not, that’s high praise for the Indy native.
19. Duval Kamara, WR: While his career trajectory hasn’t been what anyone wanted, he’s still got a nice set of tools. In his senior year, it’ll be up to Duval to prove he’s also got a rock-solid tool-box to carry them in. I think the coaching change will be a big help.
18. Steve Filer, OLB: Ultimate wild-card. Hopefully Bob Diaco’s 3-4 defense will be the key to turning one of the Irish’s best athletes into a front-line defender.
17. Jamoris Slaughter, DB: I’m high on this jack-of-all-trades defensive back, who I think will bring better cover skills to safety than Kyle McCarthy, who he’ll be replacing.
16. Robert Hughes, RB: Hughes very well might be the man lost in the shuffle, but he’s a big body that can catch the ball out of the backfield, something BK will hopefully utilize.
 

Path to the draft: Ronnie Stanley

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #6 overall by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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Your name didn’t have to be Mel Kiper or Mike Mayock to understand that from the moment Jaylon Smith stepped foot on campus at Notre Dame he was destined to be an early-round NFL draft pick. But as the dust settles on the Irish’s impressive 2016 draft haul, a look back at the developmental process of the team’s seven draft picks serves as a wonderful testament to Brian Kelly and the program he has built.

Notre Dame’s draftees come in all shapes and sizes. Fifth-year seniors like Nick Martin. Three-and-out stars like Jaylon Smith and Will Fuller. Consistent four-year performers like Sheldon Day and one-year wonders like C.J. Prosise.

But each followed a unique path to the NFL, one that was fostered by a coaching staff that allowed each athlete to develop at their own pace and ascend into a role where an NFL team thought highly enough to select each player in the first 103 picks of the draft.

Let’s take a trip down (recent) memory lane, as we connect the dots from recruitment, development and playing career as we look at Notre Dame’s seven success stories.

 

Ronnie Stanley
No. 6 overall to Baltimore Ravens

The first offensive lineman selected in the 2016 draft, Stanley’s recruitment saw the Irish find their first bit of success at Bishop Gorman High School, leading the way to Nicco Fertitta and Alizé Jones. A four-star prospect who hovered between a Top 100 and Top 250 player depending on the evaluation, Stanley was invited to the Semper Fidelis All-Star game, a second-tier game that all but signified his status outside of the elite, at least on the recruiting circuit.

That’s not how Notre Dame’s coaching staff felt about him, though.

“He’s probably as gifted of an offensive linemen that we have seen in many years,” Kelly said on Signing Day in 2012.

Stanley proved early that Kelly wasn’t blowing smoke. He saw the field in 2012’s first two games, earning reps against Navy and Michigan before he suffered an elbow injury that allowed him to save a year of eligibility.

But even offseason surgery didn’t prevent Stanley from stepping into the starting lineup, flipping to right tackle and playing 13 games in a very successful sophomore campaign across from first rounder Zack Martin.

Even though Stanley was blossoming into one of college football’s best players, we still openly wondered who would slide to fill Martin’s left tackle spot. (That’s how it goes with offensive linemen, their work only truly appreciated by those with either inside information or a coach’s eye of evaluation.)

In his opening comments before spring practice in 2014, Kelly named Steve Elmer, Christian Lombard and Mike McGlinchey as candidates along with Stanley, so it wasn’t necessarily a lock for the staff yet either. But it took just a few practices for the Las Vegas native to solidify his spot on the left side.

Stanley’s first season at left tackle was so solid that some wondered if there’d be two. While some of the online analysts saw Stanley as a potentially elite draft pick, the NFL Advisory Board came back with a second-round grade, perhaps all Stanley needed as he made his decision to stick around for his senior season. Still, Notre Dame took no chance. Kelly, Harry Hiestand and Jack Swarbrick traveled to Las Vegas to sell Stanley on the virtues of a final season in South Bend.

It worked. With a healthy offseason and weight-room gains needed, Stanley stuck to the script and played a mostly anonymous 2015 season. That was a very good thing—only along the offensive line can All-American honors and being named Offensive Player of the Year be considered ho-hum.

Add in the vanilla off-the-field life, and an elite academic profile that’s a comfort to teams investing millions in a potential cornerstone, Stanley’s placement as a Top 10 pick should have never been in doubt. While he lacked the dominance at Notre Dame that we saw from Zack Martin, he possesses athleticism and a body that Martin wasn’t given—a big reason the Cowboys shifted him inside to guard from day one.

Picked instead of Laremy Tunsil amidst a bizarre scenario that’ll go down as one of the draft’s cautionary tales, John Harbaugh talked openly about his relationship with Harry Hiestand and the comfort that came from Notre Dame’s offensive line coach as they pulled the trigger on Stanley. And Stanley, almost epitomizing that faith that the Ravens showed, all but embodied that when he told Joe Flacco in his first visit to Baltimore that he celebrated his selection by heading back to his hotel room and going to sleep.

Counted on by Baltimore to be a key piece of the puzzle as the Ravens look to rebuild an offensive line tasked with protecting a franchise quarterback in his prime, now it’s up to Notre Dame’s highest draft pick since Rick Mirer to continue his ascent.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.