Counting down the Irish: The Top Five

9 Comments

For the rest of the picks, check here for 25-21, 20-16, 15-11, and 10-6.

As we wrap up the Top 25 lists, I’ll post the top five players for everyone and then follow-up tonight with some next-level analysis. It’s pretty clear that Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph, and Manti Te’o are three of the best players on the roster in this group’s mind.

(Also clear that Pat feels that special teams are critical to this team’s success, as Nick Tausch joined Ben Turk in his top ten players on the roster.)

I struggled ranking the top two players, and let the fact that I’ve watched Floyd catch fade routes since he was a 9th grader probably sway my opinion, but both of these guys are first-team All-American candidates, so if they live up to their expectations, I’m sure neither will mind taking second-billing…

IRISH TOP 25: THE TOP FIVE

Frank of UHND.com:

5. Ethan Johnson, DE: Johnson looked over-matched last year as a DT. An off-season with Paul Longo and the 3-4 defense should do him wonders.
4. Trevor Robinson, OL: Stewart might be the leader of the offensive line, but Robinson could be the best lineman to come out of Notre Dame since Jeff Faine.
3. Michael Floyd, WR: Floyd is a rare talent, but injury issues his first two years bump him down the list a little.
2. Manti Te’o, LB: Te’o will be playing the role of Ray Lewis in Notre Dame’s 3-4 defense. It’s been a while since ND has had a LB of Te’o’s skill.
1. Kyle Rudolph, TE: Floyd and Te’o might get more publicity, but Rudolph might be the best player at his position in the country.

Anthony of Clashmore Mike:

5. Armando Allen, RB: Speedy back should be an excellent fit for the spread offense.
4. Darius Fleming, OLB: Rising junior has a knack for playing behind the line of scrimmage.
3. Manti Te’o, LB: Combination of size and athleticism makes him perfect in the middle of the defense.
2. Kyle Rudolph, TE: Incredible versatility, he should excel in the spread offense.
1. Michael Floyd, WR: Exceptional athlete is a one-on-one match-up nightmare on the outside.

Matt of Her Loyal Sons:

5. Darius Fleming, OLB: Leave him on the field and he’ll record a tackle for loss about every 18 minutes. Leave him on the field.
4. Trevor Robinson, OL: Would be an absolute shame for Trevor not to be one of the “featured players” in the new Notre Dame offense.
3. Ethan Johnson, DE: This year, Ethan gets to come out and play.
2. Kyle Rudolph, TE: Only 2009 Mackey Award semi-finalist to return to college football in 2010.
1. Michael Floyd, WR: Currently the best average yards receiving per game among all active players in major college football.

Matt and Chris of Rakes of Mallow:

5. Trevor Robinson, OL: A potential switch to RT for the top Irish lineman will put his talents to the test.
4. Dayne Crist, QB: The team will only go as far as the former five-star recruit will take them.
3. Manti Te’o, LB: The Flyin’ Hawaiian is poised to have a breakout sophomore season after showing great flashes as a frosh.
2. Michael Floyd, WR: If he can stay healthy, the Biletnikoff is his to lose.
1. Kyle Rudolph, TE: Top tight end in the country. He will dominate even more in Kelly’s quick strike offense.

Pat:

5. Darius Fleming, OLB: His 12 TFLs were the most on the team last season. In the 3-4, I think he has the potential to shine considering his rushing skills.
4. Manti Te’o, LB: Manti showed last season that he has the ability to be a great football player and I think in the 3-4 he will be given more of a chance to do that.
3. Nick Tausch, K: If he can remain healthy, he has the potential to be a real weapon. The top scorers on both teams in the BCS Championship game were the kickers and Tausch joined them kicking over 75 percent from over 40 yards. With over 80 percent accuracy last season despite an injury, he has the potential to have a monster season next year.
2. Kyle Rudolph, TE: In his years at ND, Rudolph has been a great pass-catching TE and should be a very good threat in Brian Kelly’s offense.
1. Michael Floyd, WR: He played in only 7 games last year but amassed 795 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns. He has the potential to be the number one WR in the country statistically.

Keith:

5. Trevor Robinson, OL: Robinson’s name seems to be popping up on preseason watch lists, a sign that the secret is out. While his position is still in flux, I expect this to be the year where Trevor starts dominating.
4. Chris Stewart, LG: Maybe I’m a sucker for a great story, but this true student-athlete is ready to become the vintage, physical, veteran offensive lineman that Notre Dame used to churn out under Joe Moore.
3. Manti Te’o, LB: His body of work isn’t as impressive as the potential he showed in glimpses last season and during the Blue-Gold game. If things click, Te’o could be a tackling-machine in Bob Diaco’s system.
2. Kyle Rudolph, TE: I’ve bounced back and forth with Rudy at the top spot, and if I was an NFL talent evaluator, I’d probably swap him to the top spot. That said, the preseason All-American honors that Kyle earned speak to his talent at tight end, and I expect him to have a monster year and then make a tough decision on his professional future.
1. Michael Floyd, WR: When he’s on the field, the Irish are a different team. I expect Floyd to put up bigger numbers than Golden Tate did last year, and bring back-to-back Biletnikoff Awards to South Bend.

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)
Getty
Leave a comment

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
21 Comments

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
11 Comments

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
Getty
6 Comments

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.