Ronnie Stanley has an NFL decision to make

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Notre Dame’s season may have gone down the tube in November, but left tackle Ronnie Stanley‘s stock has been sky-rocketing. The third-year junior (Stanley is a sophomore eligibility wise) is finishing up his first season as a left tackle and beginning to garner plenty of looks as a potential first-round draft pick.

On Sunday, Brian Kelly acknowledged that Stanley was one of four players to submit paperwork for an NFL evaluation, joined by Nick Martin, Sheldon Day and Everett Golson. But only Stanley will have a true decision to make, with many believing the Las Vegas native is one of the country’s top tackle prospects.

As we begin to transition to the silly season leading up to the NFL Draft, early big boards are coming out fast and furious. And Stanley finds himself among the players listed as a top prospects.

(Quite frequently.)

I caught up with Rotoworld’s Josh Norris, who was one of the early champions of Stanley’s work. And after a tip from a Notre Dame fan over the offseason, Norris has watched Stanley’s prospect status explode after his position switch.

“I did a preview piece going into the season going over all the tackle prospects because a lot have been taken early, even if they’ve struggled. After I finished, I think a Notre Dame fan commented, ‘You should check out this Ronnie Stanley guy,'” Norris recalled.

“I knew he was a right tackle switching to left tackle, but I was like, ‘Wow, this guy is really good.’ To me he was a Top 50 prospect heading into the season. And I think he’s only gotten better.”

That opinion has been shared, with the NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah applauding his work against USC. Norris walked me through what it is that scouts are seeing from Stanley that has them so excited.

“I think he’s playing like the top tackle in all of college football right now,” Norris said. “I was worried with how assertive he was and aggressive he was. Because [last season] he was kind of more using his length and frame just to keep a distance, not asserting his will on opponents. But this year, he really does look far more aggressive. He has more power and more strength.”

After seeing Zack Martin become one of the fastest risers in last year’s NFL Draft, I wanted to see how Norris compared Stanley to the former Irish captain, now having an impressive rookie season for the Dallas Cowboys at guard.

“I think Stanley and Martin are very different prospects, even if they play the same position,” Norris said. “I think that Martin, where he really won was how strong his grip and his latch was. He loved to control you with your chest and manipulate you and was the aggressor. I think he won in tighter spaces, and that’s why he’s playing guard and succeeding very well there.

“In terms of staying on an island and succeeding in pass rush situations, I think I would trust Stanley more than I did Martin. Because I think Stanley has more length, and he’s adding on to his strength.”

After a season of watching tape, Stanley ranks as Norris’ top draft-eligible tackle, ahead of LSU’s La’El Collins, who the Irish will matchup against in the Music City Bowl. Even with one year of experience at left tackle and two seasons of eligibility remaining, Stanley could be the next Notre Dame first rounder, perhaps as soon as this spring.

“I do think he’s ready now. I would not advise him against declaring, so it’s his decision,” Norris said, before looking at the depth of the tackle prospects across the board. “But I think it’s actually one of the better positions in the class. So that might contribute to a reason why Stanley stays.”

After watching the Irish lose Troy Niklas and Stephon Tuitt after just three seasons in the program, Notre Dame fans are hoping Stanley sticks around — not just to graduate and get his degree but to be a key cog up front on a 2015 team that returns largely in tact.

But after an impressive junior season, the future looks bright for Ronnie Stanley.