8 potential stars from Notre Dame’s loaded 2016 draft class

The Fighting Irish could make numerous appearances at the top of the 2016 NFL draft.

| 9 months ago
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

8 potential stars from Notre Dame’s loaded 2016 draft class

When Notre Dame took the field against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on New Years Day, there was more draft-eligible talent on the field than in any other game of the bowl season. While Ohio State is rumored to be flirting with the record for players selected in the first round (six, set by the University of Miami in 2004), Notre Dame could very well have four first-rounders themselves.

Let’s break down those top guys from the Fighting Irish as well as some others that could come off the board in later rounds.

LB Jaylon Smith

A lock as a top-15 pick until a gruesome knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl put his rookie season, and career, in doubt. At 100 percent though, Smith has all the tools you’d want in a modern linebacker. The junior moves like a safety even though he’s over 240 pounds and blitzes like a defensive end. He is one of three draft-eligible linebackers to grade above +5.0 in pass rushing, coverage and run defense. In 2014 he had a bit of an issue with missed tackles with 18 on 106 attempts, but he cut that number in half in 2015. If he does end up falling out of the first round, someone is going to get a steal.

DT Sheldon Day

An undersized defensive tackle, but good luck saying that to his face. As high a motor player as you’ll see at the position, Day is relentless against both run and pass. After he struggled through an injury plagued junior season, the defensive tackle came back for his senior season and made a bigger grade jump than anyone else in the country. His +60.0 overall grade led all defensive tackles. At just a shade over six feet tall and 285 pounds, teams will likely pigeonhole Day as a 3-technique in a 4-3. Wherever he ends up playing though, Day has proven that he can be a productive player.

LT Ronnie Stanley

As smooth a pass-blocking tackle as you’ll see in this year’s class. Stanley’s size, length, hands, and change of direction are all what you’re looking for in an NFL left tackle. The big question mark is his strength — it really showed up in his run grade which was ranked 37th in the country last year. It wasn’t much of an issue in pass protection though at the college level as he only allowed 14 pressures all season long on 458 pass blocking snaps. If he can add the requisite muscle, Stanley could easily be a starting left tackle in the league for a long time.

WR Will Fuller

The most productive deep threat in all of college football in 2015. On targets 20+ yards downfield he had 10 touchdowns (second in FBS), 708 yards (third in FBS), and 17 receptions (third in FBS). He has speed for days that will fit in nicely at the next level, but his ball skills are a tad worrisome. He led the FBS in drops on deep passes (five), and his 21 drops over the past two seasons were the most of any receiver.

RB C.J. Prosise

The first of the mid-round prospects for the Irish, Prosise had a very interesting career at Notre Dame. He started out as a safety before transitioning to wide receiver. Then this past offseason, Prosise made one more switch to running back. This would be the most successful move as Prosise put together one of the best seasons from a running back in the Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame. He averaged 6.6 yards per carry, 2.8 yards after contact, and totaled 43 broken tackles. Prosise’s calling card is his speed and he gained 49.7 percent of his yards on runs of 15 or more yards.

C Nick Martin

The younger brother of Dallas Cowboys’ guard Zack Martin, Nick has a similar story. An unheralded recruit, Martin was a two year starter at center and graded out highly both seasons including being the sixth highest graded center in 2015. The senior is slightly built, but moves very well and should fit in well in a zone schem. He’ll be one of the first centers off the board come April.

CB KeiVarae Russell

A physical freak whose production never seemed to match his abilities. After being suspended for the 2014 season, Russell had an up and down 2015. He would have games like USC where he picked off a pass and defended another en route to a +3.3 grade and then others like two weeks later against Pittsburgh where he gave up 111 yards and a touchdown for a -4.1 grade. Russell could have benefited from another year in college, but he’ll be a later-round project.

WR Chris Brown

A reliable number two option in the Irish attack. Brown graded out very well despite not producing the stats that one might covet. He only had 1,188 yards in the past two seasons, but the reason being that Brown was part of a heavy receiver rotation and only had 1,066 snaps. The senior has enough speed to be an intriguing later-round option.

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • Mike J.

    There are reports that since Jalon Smith’s knee injury did no nerve damage, he could be back on the field earlier than many people think.