Notre Dame junior offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley walked off the stage Friday night with the team’s Lineman of the Year Award. He’s still uncertain if it’s the last time he’ll take part in the season-ending festivities in South Bend.
Stanley has requested an evaluation from the NFL’s college advisory committee, joined by Sheldon Day, Everett Golson and Nick Martin. It’s the same process that’s led players like Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas and Kyle Rudolph to leave early while Zack Martin, Michael Floyd and Manti Te’o decided to return to school.
So while most of the talk over these next few months will be surrounding the stay-or-go decision in front of Stanley, the junior told Tim Prister at Irish Illustrated that he’s not ready to make any decision.
“Right now, I’m just focusing on finals and our next game,” Stanley told Prister. “I’m not even thinking about making a decision any time soon.”
While Stanley continues to show up as a top-rated offensive line prospect as college football’s silly season begins, it’s not all universal praise for the first-year left tackle. In a story at BlueandGold.com, ESPN’s Mel Kiper thought Stanley could be a Top 10 pick… if he waits to come out after next season.
“He needs another year,” Kiper said, according to Lou Somogyi. “I didn’t see the consistency week to week. Some games he had some struggles in pass protection, there were other games where he played really, really well. Flashing it and being consistent is different.
“In another year he could be a top 10 pick. Would he be that this year? No. I think he would probably be a late first or second round pick …[maybe] mid-second round. He’s got to go back.”
That opinion was echoed by former NFL personnel man Greg Gabriel. When talking to Prister, Gabriel was fairly emphatic that Stanley would do himself well by returning for another season.
“I think he’s a mid-round pick on talent. He’s athletic, but I don’t think he’s strong enough, I don’t think his technique is good enough and there’s lackadaisical play. There’s not a consistent, aggressive approach.”
Gabriel cited the benefits Zack Martin derived from not only returning for his senior season, but a fifth year as well.
“Let’s put it this way: (Stanley) ain’t no (Zack) Martin,” Gabriel said. “There’s not that down after down effort and tenacity. He doesn’t finish, and Martin is a perfect example of that. He was a fifth-year guy and got better all the time.
“Somebody could take (Stanley) high for what he could be, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to succeed and that doesn’t mean it’s right to leave. Guys get fired by making picks for what a guy could be.”
After making the move to left tackle this spring and starting every game there while the other four linemen up front mixed and matched, Stanley’s got more than a few fans at the next level. That’s understandable when you consider Stanley’s athleticism, not to mention the length and reach that has so many tantalized by his natural ability.
But after watching Tuitt, Niklas and Louis Nix all decide to leave South Bend without completing their eligibility and slide outside the Top 50 picks, it’s a datapoint that should give Stanley pause when seeing his player evaluation.
An even bigger one? The lack of impact that trio has made on Sundays.
Only Tuitt has started a game, with just 11 tackles on the year, and those starts came after injuries hit the Pittsburgh defensive front. Niklas made just three catches before going on the season-ending I.R., the same place where Nix has spent the entire season.
Stanley has a decision to make before January 15, the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft. And it doesn’t sound like one that’s going to be made in a hurry. Stanley told Prister he’ll wait until after the bowl game — a good test against a talented LSU front four.
Stanley is a key piece to Notre Dame’s plans in 2015. So while the Irish coaching staff is out trying to solidify a strong recruiting class, they’ll likely turn their focus to their own left tackle, trying to hold on to a lineman who has shown that the sky is truly the limit.