Eyeing Notre Dame's prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft

South Bend Tribune


Both the freaky allure and the downright absurdity of 2015 NFL Mock Drafts and Big Boards this soon — and there already are more than a handful floating in cyberspace — can be summed up in two words.

Gunner Kiel.

The former Notre Dame quarterback, incubating the past 12 months at the University of Cincinnati, not only will be draft-eligible next spring, but Bleacher Report’s NFL Draft lead writer Matt Miller rates him as the seventh-best quarterback prospect in the next NFL Draft.

Without ever having taken a snap in a college game.

And the Columbus, Ind., product and nephew of the late former ND quarterback Blair Kiel is ranked ahead of such proven QB commodities as (No. 8) Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly and (No. 10) Ohio State’s Braxton Miller — and presumably a quarterback he couldn’t beat out while at ND, Everett Golson, who was not listed among the top 10 in the QB position group.

In terms of mocks, Dane Brugler of doesn’t have any Notre Dame players listed in his first-round-only projection, but 11 out of the 32 players in it will show up on the Irish schedule this fall. That includes five players from Florida State, ND’s Oct. 18 opponent in Tallahassee, Fla.

The five from the defending national champs are Nos. 7 quarterback Jameis Winston, 16 cornerback P.J. Williams, 17 offensive tackle Cameron Erving, 26 defensive end Mario Williams and 29 tight end Nick O’Leary (grandson of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus).

The top overall draftable prospect the Irish will face in the fall, per Brugler’s mock, is USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams. He’s projected to go No. 2, behind only Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

In terms of pure senior eligibility, Notre Dame has only 10 such players, so if it is going to have a sizable draft class approaching the eight recent selections, numbers will likely come from either seniors who renounce their fifth-year option or true juniors like Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas and George Atkinson III in this last draft cycle, who went three-and-out.

ND’s top draft prospect among its 10 seniors, with no eligibility left after this season, is tight end Ben Koyack. Miller has him as the No. 2 tight end behind FSU’s O’Leary. Analyst Scott Wright, of, says a strong year could propel Koyack into the top 100 picks in next spring’s draft.

“I think it’s pretty clear, if Notre Dame has a tight end, the league is going to be looking,” Wright said, referring to ND’s track record of each of its last five starting tight ends being drafted in the first two rounds.

Wright, though, sees Notre Dame’s top two draft-eligible prospects overall as members of its junior class — cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive lineman Sheldon Day.

“I think Russell, if he comes out, he could go real early,” Wright said. “With Sheldon Day, I’m kind of excited to see what he’s going to do this year. I think he’s a better fit inside at defensive tackle. I think he could have a really good year and get teams excited about him as that pene-trating 3-technique player.”

Wright sees offensive guard Christian Lombard, a fifth-year senior coming off a wrist injury in the spring, as a mid-round pick.

The four biggest draftable wild cards are Golson — whom Wright says needs to stay at ND beyond 2014, Florida cornerback transfer Cody Riggs, senior outside linebacker/defensive end Ishaq Williams and suspended senior wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, the latter of whom is expected to be reinstated next month from academic exile and return to school. He, like Golson, retains a fifth-year option.

Here’s Wright’s assessment on those four:

•On Golson: “It's really far too early to say on Golson, who just needs to get back on the field and re-establish himself at the college level before thinking about the pros. I would say if everything goes well in the next couple of years, the top 100 is a pos-sibility, but a lot must happen between now and then.

“Also, we'll see if shorter quarterbacks (Manziel, etc.) continue to have success in the NFL over the next couple of years, which could help his cause.”

•On Riggs: “I haven’t taken a real close look at him, but I am inclined to say he is a potential draftable pick as a guy who is capable of playing both cornerback and safety. Riggs should also have more of an opportunity to showcase himself at Notre Dame than he did at Florida, where he was stuck behind (Jaylen) Watkins, (Loucheiz) Purifoy, (Marcus) Roberson, etc.”

•On Williams: “He has all the talent in the world. It’s all there for him. Step up and take it, because there’s no denying the physical tools and the talent.

“He’s going to have the opportunity, and especially if Notre Dame plays as much 4-3 as people think they are. Maybe that’s going to be a better fit for him. Maybe the light will come on, and that’s what needed to happen. We’ll see if he has the type of year he’s capable of.”

•On Daniels: “I think he has top 100 talent. It’s just a matter of getting him to play up to it on a consistent basis. But the opportunity is there to have a really good senior year, get back in school. You’ve got Everett Golson throwing you the ball now.”

Jersey boys

Newly minted Cleveland Browns’ quarterback Johnny Manziel, not surprisingly, has the top-selling jersey since April 1 at, per ESPN’s Darren Rovell — not just among rookies, but among all NFL players.

No. 2 among rookies is Rams’ seventh-rounder defensive end Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted, followed by No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney of Houston, last pick of the first round Teddy Bridgewater of Minnesota, and Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles.

Only three of the eight Notre Dame players drafted Thursday through Saturday even have been officially assigned jersey numbers.

Dallas first-round pick Zack Martin will wear No. 71, after donning 70 in his five years at ND. Third-rounder Louis Nix, a nose guard for Houston, has been assigned No. 92 after wearing 67, 9 and 1 for the Irish. Tight end Troy Niklas, No. 58 and 85 at ND, is No. 87 for the Arizona Cardinals.


•Tuitt has the best chance of playing for a Super Bowl-winning team in 2014-15 among ND’s eight draftees per Bovada.LV.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, Tuitt’s new team, are 33-1 shots to win Super Bowl XLIX, but there are 10 squads with better odds overall.

•Scott Wright, of, says the second-rounder may have walked into an ideal fit in Pittsburgh.

“Tuitt may be disappointed that he fell, but what a great fit for him in terms of the type of player he is, the opportunity,” Wright said. “They have a glaring hole opposite Cameron Heyward. He’s going to be able to come in and maybe win that starting job right off the bat — a strong veteran organization. You’ve got Troy Polamalu in that locker room and it’s just a great fit for him.

“If you were going to list the teams that gave Stephon Tuitt the best chance to maximize his potential, the Steelers would absolutely be on that short list. He just needs to stay healthy and in shape. But boy he couldn’t have landed in a better spot.”

•One of the first calls new San Diego Charger Chris Watt received Friday night after getting THE call, came from former ND teammate Manti Te’o, a linebacker who heads into his second year with the Chargers as a starter.

•Texas’ whiff of draft picks over the weekend means Notre Dame now holds the record all by itself for consecutive drafts of having at least one player selected, with 77. | 574-235-6112 | Twitter: @hansenNDInsider

Despite paltry numbers during his first three seasons at Notre Dame, Ben Koyack has a chance of becoming the next in a long line of Irish tight ends to make the jump to the NFL. (SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER)