Notre Dame's Ronnie Stanley faces NFL Draft allure
SOUTH BEND — Ronnie Stanley drew a crowd Friday night that might even have made emcee Skylar Diggins have reason for envy.
Winning the Guardian Life Insurance Guardian of the Year award at the 94th Notre Dame Awards Show wasn’t the reason for the excessive post-show media attention. It was all about the Irish junior left offensive tackle’s future.
And whether the next chapter will be unfolding at Notre Dame.
"I'm not even thinking about it right now,” insisted the 6-foot-6, 315-pound junior from Las Vegas.
He seems to be in the minority where that’s concerned. Stanley has suddenly and repeatedly popped up in NFL Mock Drafts, and in the first round, no less.
The actual 2015 draft is set for April 30-May 2 in Chicago, the first in five decades not to be held in New York.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly recently acknowledged Stanley was one of four Irish players, with remaining eligibility beyond this season, who have sent in paperwork to the NFL Draft Advisory Board requesting a potential draft grade.
The others are defensive tackle Sheldon Day, offensive guard Nick Martin and quarterback Everett Golson. Stanley, who was granted a medical redshirt year as a freshman (2012), is the only one of the four who would be leaving more than one season of eligibility on the table. The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Jan. 15.
“I'm just focused on finals and the next game ahead of us,” Stanley said repeatedly.
That game is the Music City Bowl, where the sliding Irish (7-5) match up with LSU (8-4), Dec. 30 in Nashville, Tenn.
The Tigers lost 17 underclassmen to NFL Draft early entries over the past two seasons. Kelly lost three true juniors — defensive end Stephon Tuitt, tight end Troy Niklas and running back George Atkinson III — last spring, as well as nose guard Louis Nix, who turned away a fifth-year option.
Should Stanley come out, he would be just the 12th Irish player to wade into the NFL Draft pool as a true junior since the league opened its doors to underclassmen in 1989.
The advisory board has revised its grading system this cycle from five possible outcomes (as high as the first round; as high as the second; as high as the third; rounds 4-7; and no draft potential) to three (first round; second round; and essentially go back to school).
According to NFL.com’s Albert Breer, the league made the change in large part because of the difficulty in projecting players beyond the second round. Breer pointed out that of the 21 players who received “as high as third round” as their grade and entered the draft in 2014, nine of them went later than the third round with three of those nine going undrafted.
Analyst Scott Wright of draftcountdown.com didn’t have Stanley listed anywhere among his top tackle prospects in recent weeks, an omission he made because he never envisioned him wanting to leave this early in his career.
Here is Wright’s assessment of the feedback Stanley and the others are likely to receive from the NFL Draft Advisory Board and what returning to school for another year could mean for them.
Ronnie Stanley: “If he came out, I think he would project relatively high. He’d be in that top 50 mix, maybe even in the first round.
“One of the reasons I didn’t include him is because it’s relatively rare for redshirt sophomores to come out, especially offensive linemen. They, of all people, understand the need for the additional strength and physical growth that comes with another year of experience.
“That’s why you have guys like Brandon Scherff from Iowa and Cedric Ogbuehi from Texas A&M, guys who would have been first-round picks a year ago, they went back to school for their senior year. There are absolutely exceptions. And if Stanley came out, he’d be in that top handful of tackles.
“The one thing, though, even without underclassmen involved, tackle is one of the strongest positions in this draft. It’s like, yeah, you can come out and maybe be a first-round pick, but maybe fall into the second round. Or Ronnie Stanley could go back for one more year and maybe he’s the No. 1 offensive tackle going into next year.
“And if you’re the No. 1 or No. 2 offensive tackle, you’re probably a top 10, top 12 overall pick, so there’s the potential to go back and make even more money a year from now.”
Nick Martin: “I can’t imagine it will be particularly positive feedback. And there’s another case where people are going to say Zack Martin’s little brother, but he didn’t have the best season this year. He’s been dinged up, he’s been hurt. He was hurt last year, too.
“He’s got talent. Certainly right off the bat, you’re going to be intrigued by the bloodlines. He’s a good player when he’s healthy. He’s shown he can play center and guard. But you usually want to enter the NFL Draft as an underclassman with positive momentum, and I don’t know that Martin has that.”
Sheldon Day: “He’s a real, real good football player. As a 3-4 defensive end he’s been a good football player. I think his ideal fit is on the interior as that 3-technique with his quickness to penetrate and make plays in the backfield. But there again, health. This isn’t the first year he’s been hurt.
And he’s already going to have that knock that he’s undersized, so you wonder how is he going to hold up in a big man’s game? He hasn’t been able to hold up at the college level. What happens when he’s playing against 30-year-old men who have been in strength programs for most of their lives?
“That’s going to be the knock on him. Even so, I still think he has top 100 potential. I think he could go in the second or third round, but durability is a real concern with him. That versatility to play multiple positions and in multiple schemes is going to be a feather in his cap.”
Everett Golson: “Even when he was playing well early in the season, I thought the hype was getting out of control from a draft perspective. I saw people talking about ‘first round’ and ‘the third quarterback,’ and that was absurd at that time. And with the way he ended the season, it’s even more absurd.
“Best case scenario, he’s a poor, poor, poor man’s Russell Wilson. There are similarities between them and their games. I think this is a case where the height really hurts him. There’s a reason why there are only a couple of guys in the league that are 6 feet or shorter who are starting — Russell Wilson and Drew Brees.
“It’s tough, and with Golson, from what I’ve seen, he misses a lot of open receivers and I don’t know if it’s just a lack of vision. I don’t know if he can see over the offensive line. Can he not find the throwing lanes? He misses a lot of open targets and leaves a lot of big plays on the field.
“He gets passes batted down. And the big thing is turnovers. That’s the one thing coaches are not going to want at quarterback, guys who turn the ball over multiple times a game.
“If he played like he did early in the season for the entire year and came out, then yeah, maybe he could have been a day-two type of pick, second or third round, but now I believe mid rounds would be a best-case scenario.
“To be honest, the one thing that could help him is this isn’t a great crop of senior quarterbacks. It’s really bad, so maybe there’s room for an underclassman to get pushed up the board a little bit. But he’s another guy who has a lot more to gain going back for another year, because at this point, is he even Notre Dame’s starting quarterback?”