Former Irish players ready for their NFL closeup

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Combine-mania is upon us. The annual meat market is the perfect marriage of football, with proud college fans watching their recently departed stars chase their professional dreams, as rabid NFL fans hope rookie X or Y will be the difference between 9-7 and the Super Bowl.

Notre Dame has 10 former players getting poked and prodded in Indianapolis, with Nick Martin, Ronnie Stanley and C.J. Prosise the first to go on Wednesday. And with some of the most intriguing prospects in the draft pool, let’s get up to speed on public perception heading into the underwear olympics.

Jaylon Smith might be in the first phase of his knee recovery, but he hasn’t lost any fans. ESPN’s Mel Kiper said he could be the draft’s best player if healthy. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock echoed those sentiments, per CSN Chicago’s JJ Stankevitz.

“This kid is so good that if his medicals are good, you have to take a big-picture look at him; by that I mean two years from now. You might have one of the two, three, four best linebackers in football. You might have to wait a half-season for him. I’m sure every team is going to have a different answer to that… But if he has a clean medical and it says you’re going to get him for a half-season and then he’s going to be fine, then yeah, I think you pull the trigger on a kid like that.”

Ronnie Stanley has his share of fans, and will likely only add to him when he displays his athleticism this week. The NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks has Stanley ranked only behind Ole Miss’s Laremy Tunsil at offensive tackle, comparing him to All-Pro Ryan Clady.

Here are Stanley’s strengths, according to Brooks:

Big, athletic offensive tackle with light feet and exceptional movement skills. Stanley not only has the requisite physical tools to shine as a pro, but he has a combination of size, length and athleticism few offensive tackles can match on the perimeter. Measuring 6-foot-6, 315 pounds, Stanley is a natural left tackle with the balance, body control and lateral quickness to mirror shifty rushes on the edges. He displays one of the best kick-slides you’ll see from a young player, which allows him to neutralize pass rushers with explosive first-step quickness. Stanley shows exceptional strength and anchor ability stopping rushers on bull-rush attempts. As a run blocker, Stanley is an athletic “people mover” at the point of attack. He knocks defenders off the ball and displays the competitive grit coaches covet when finishing blocks. Considering Stanley’s experience on both edges (26 starts at left tackle; 13 starts at right tackle) and his high football IQ, the Notre Dame standout is a transcendent top-five talent capable of earning honors early in his career.

Meanwhile, Will Fuller might be the biggest wildcard at the combine. Predicted by some to be the fastest man in Indy, it takes just one team to fall in love with Fuller to boost the range of predictions that have him being drafted anywhere from the second to fourth rounds.

The fashionable comp this week has been comparing Fuller to Carolina’s Ted Ginn. The former Ohio State speedster was a top-ten pick out of Ohio State, but has struggled at the NFL level with inconsistency (hands, effort, etc). Yes, Fuller’s drops have been well documented—especially here. But for me, the apples to apples comparisons end here.

(Plus, I don’t remember a big game where Fuller ran out of bounds instead of fighting for yardage, like Ginn did in the Super Bowl.)

While Smith and KeiVarae Russell aren’t participating in workouts, C.J. Prosise is back in action after injuries ruined the second half of his season. Prosise will likely open some eyes with his speed this week, and depending on the evaluator is somewhere between a mid-to-late round pick and perhaps something earlier.

Mel Kiper’s a believer.

Mike Mayock thinks there’s a fit just north in Detroit, where Prosise would potentially join a backfield with former Irish teammate Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah.

 

Quick Hits: 

Expect Chris Brown to light things up at the combine. Notre Dame’s No. 2 receiver is a perfect fit for the testing environment, and should blaze in the 40-yard dash.

Even if Sheldon Day doesn’t have a “breakout” combine, the game tape he put together in 2015 is just too good for Day to slide deep into the draft. He finished the season as PFF_College’s No. 1 interior defensive lineman in a 4-3 scheme.

I’m excited to see the reaction to teams meeting KeiVarae Russell. You’ve got to expect someone will fall in love with him after sitting down to chat. Russell is a third rounder according to a way-too-early mock draft at NFL.com.

Nick Martin has a chance to be the first or second center off the board. He also benefits from the early success of not just his brother, All-Pro guard Zack Martin of the Cowboys, but the early success of Chris Watt in San Diego. Harry Hiestand’s finger prints and Martin’s pedigree—not to mention being a two-time captain—are all things trending in his direction.

Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate will certainly “look the part” in Indianapolis. I’m interested to see how heavy Shumate is when he hits the scale, likely shedding weight to get his 40-yard dash time as fast as possible.

Rotoworld’s Josh Norris had this to say about Okwara when chatting with Stankevitz to preview the Irish’s draft prospects.

“He’s kind of everything that you want walking off the bus. If you want to talk him up that way, at that edge rusher spot, you want someone that’s long and looks athletic and toned. To me, he just didn’t do much with it, or didn’t know what he was doing in terms of using that length to his advantage or the hand use or anything like that.”