After Pro Day, Daniels remains ND's most perplexing prospect

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Perhaps the biggest jolt DaVaris Daniels provided Tuesday on Notre Dame Pro Day occurred outside of earshot and view of the NFL scouts gathered at the Loftus Center to further unravel his enigmatic shell.

In dancing around the finer points of just what pulled the wide receiver into ND’s academic dishonesty investigation and ultimately truncated his college football career, Daniels offered that he was open to coming back at some point and getting a Notre Dame degree, of which he professes to be 2½ semesters short.

“I don’t hold any grudges,” he qualified.

In an adjacent breath, the nearly 6-foot-2, 195-pound NFL Draft early entry and one of five players who were at the center of the probe, pondered whether his first trip back to campus since November would be his last ever.

Daniels’ performance before his quasi-confessional and in front of reps from purportedly 28 of the NFL’s 32 teams on Tuesday was equally polarized.

He improved his disappointing NFL Combine numbers from a month ago, notably from 37 inches to 39.5 in the vertical leap, from 10-feet-2 to 11-1 in the standing broad jump and from 4.62 to a still-unremarkable 4.57 in the 40-yard dash.

But in the position drills, he looked like an unpolished route-runner at times, had trouble synching up with former Irish QB Andrew Hendrix consistently and attracted the interest of only one scout to the far end of Loftus when the tight end/receiver/running back group of five broke down into blocking and end zone drills.

“I think it went really good,” Daniels assessed.

Perhaps it’s because he fit in with Tuesday’s theme of the day — comebacks and long shots.

The most compelling of which, among the 11 players with a Notre Dame connection participating Tuesday, was that of sixth-year senior Jake Golic.

The son of former ND standout linebacker Mike Golic and younger brother of recent Irish starting offensive guard Mike Golic Jr. (both in attendance on Tuesday), finished his career at Cincinnati as a graduate student.

He garnered his only career catch, a 2-yard TD toss from former Irish QB Gunner Kiel, late in the season against coach Bob Diaco’s UConn team. That after battling through two broken arms and a chronic and debilitating back condition.

“My time here was a blessing in disguise,” said the 6-4, 246-pound tight end, who still considers ND “home.” “I got a chance to sit behind guys like Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert, so I got to learn from some of the best. And I got to take some of that experience to Cincinnati.”

What finally allowed him to use that experience was a stem-cell procedure performed by Dr. Kenneth Pettine last offseason. By Golic’s estimation, 2014 was the first season he had been healthy since his junior season in high school (2007).

“They took bone marrow from my own vertebrae, spun it, took the stem cells out and shot it in my back, basically just re-inflated those discs to the point I didn’t have nerve pain down my leg,” Golic said, “and it worked incredibly well.

“It felt good to run around and be healthy.”

Golic and the other 10 participants did it in a much less electric atmosphere than usual.

There were markedly fewer media on hand, no national TV outlets, no Mike Mayock and fewer current players spectating, though suspended defensive end Ishaq Williams, notably, was one of them.

Of the pro reps, unlike other years where you’d know many by face, this time you really needed the jacket insignia in most cases to connect which team sent them to South Bend.

Then again, for the first time since the 2009 draft, Notre Dame will not produce a player in the mix to become a first-rounder. Tight end Ben Koyack, who per draft analyst Scott Wright kept his status quo as a third- or fourth-rounder at best, remains the most likely player to be chosen first among ND prospects in this draft.

Five of the 11 players at Tuesday’s Pro Day had their connection to ND interrupted by either a grad-school-style transfer (Golic, Hendrix and Alex Welch) or ND’s academic probe (Daniels, Kendall Moore). Another, defensive tackle, Ethan Johnson, last played for the Irish in 2011.

Among the five participants who suited up for ND this past season (Koyack, Cam McDaniel, Cody Riggs, Kyle Brindza and Justin Utupo), the subdued turnout around them was much more a product of lack of roster turnover than lack of actual talent.

The group of onlookers, though, was teeming with it, including likely 2016 first-round pick Ronnie Stanley — ND’s starting left tackle — defensive tackle Sheldon Day and possible 2016 early entry linebacker Jaylon Smith.

Among what they took in was kicker Brindza and running back McDaniel helping themselves the most, but not enough to guarantee either will be drafted. Riggs, with a 4.45 40, would have fit in the “helped himself” category had he not tweaked a hamstring during his second shot at it.

Brindza recovered from a deep slump at the end of the 2014 regular season to hit 10 of 12 field goals outdoors on Tuesday and consistently pounded his kickoffs out of the end zone. He also put up 21 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press — five more than Koyack.

McDaniel was better than anticipated in the physical testing, including a 4.59 clocking in the 40. His ability or not to fit into special teams schemes will likely be the deciding factor on whether he makes an NFL roster.

As for Daniels, the range of where he might be drafted — including not at all — is the widest of any Irish player in this draft cycle.

“DaVaris Daniels is one of those players that a pretty good argument could be made for or against him,” said analyst Wright of “If you want to look at it from the glass half-full perspective, he’s got these pro bloodlines. He’s got this good size. He’s been mostly productive when he’s played.

“You could make an argument that he’s a top 100 player as a physical talent, so maybe you take a chance in the late rounds.

“On the flip side, well he doesn’t have a lot of actual on-field experience. He’s been in trouble off the field, and it’s hurt his on-field development. He hasn’t played since 2013. From a speed perspective, he’s fine. It’s about the range we expected him to be in. His vertical shows maybe he has more explosiveness. Maybe.

“There’s a lot of maybes, but it only takes one decision-maker that’s a fan of his.”

Daniels said Tuesday that there was an avenue available to him to return to Notre Dame for the 2015 season and that the decision not to pursue it was difficult.

“There’s a lot more details into the story,” he said, but didn’t say what those details might have looked like.

He professed to having been honest with the NFL teams, which continue to prod him about the academic probe and his 2014 spring semester that was wiped out by academic shortcomings.

“It’s just maturing as a person,” Daniels said of the probe aftermath. “Regardless of what happened and stuff, I think that we all handled it the right way and moved on and made a great decision to turn our lives around and make something positive out of it.

“I think we all came out here today and took another step in that direction.”

Is he scripted or sincere? Contrite or contrary?

“They did what Notre Dame should do or would do in that situation,” Daniels continued. “Whether or not we were treated fairly, it’s over and it’s in the past. And that’s what it is.”

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Former Irish wide receiver DaVaris Daniels runs a drills during Notre Dame's Pro Day, Tuesday at the Loftus Center. (SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)