Everett Golson remains in play to be part of ND's 2016 draft windfall

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Perhaps the most pungent prophecy emanating from the deluge of 2016 NFL mock drafts — yes, 2016 — is that Everett Golson is still in play.

Not in the stratosphere of uber-early mock heartthrobs Connor Cook of Michigan State, Christian Hackenberg and Cardale Jones, the latter Ohio State’s third option at quarterback until the last three steps of its national title quest last season.

And certainly he’s not the headliner in a glut of draftable talent on Notre Dame’s own campus, which could swell to historic numbers next spring depending upon early-entry decisions.

But the fifth-year senior-to-be, the object still of stubborn transfer rumors, a player embroiled in a real competition for his job with junior Malik Zaire, still carries with him some pro panache.

“I’m not as high on him as some,” draft analyst Scott Wright of draftcountdown.com assessed of the 6-foot, 200-pounder. “I know at one point last year, when he was putting up big numbers, there was talk of him being a first-round pick. I never saw that.

“I think if you want to make the poor man’s Russell Wilson comparison, you could probably make that. There are similarities there. He’s got a strong arm, but he lacks the ideal height, and in Golson’s case, I think it really does affect him.

“He leaves production on the field. I don’t know if he doesn’t pull the trigger or he doesn’t see things developing down the field. Maybe he’s struggling to find throwing lanes. But I think the height is going to be a concern and then, more than anything, turnovers.

“But if Everett Golson puts together a whole season like he did early last year, he absolutely has a chance to be a top 100 pick.”

And if Golson got drafted, he’d be the first quarterback to be selected that ND head coach Brian Kelly has coached since Tony Pike in 2010.

Pike, a sixth-round selection of the Carolina Panthers, was a QB Kelly inherited from the Mark Dantonio regime and who came to Cincinnati with so little fanfare that he doesn’t show up in Rivals.com’s voluminous prospect database and then was grayshirted upon his arrival at UC.

“I think Everett Golson is a guy who’s very much a wait-and-see approach with him, see how he performs as a (fifth-year) senior,” Wright said. “I think the best-case scenario is day 2 (rounds 2-3), and I guess I’d err a little more toward day three (rounds 4-7).”

Notre Dame’s best-case draft scenario, as a team, starts with two players who have 2016 college eligibility.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who turned away an early-entry hankering in the just-completed NFL Draft, pretty much as said this coming season will be his last. Linebacker Jaylon Smith, a true junior in 2015, hasn’t hinted what his 2016 future may look like yet.

Both players are staples in the early mock drafts, with Stanley projected as the 12th pick and Smith the 17th in Bleacher Report’s version. The most ambitious slating regarding the pair comes from SB Nation, with Stanley and Smith going third and seventh, respectively.

If Stanley and Smith both go in the first round in 2016, it would mark only the second time ND has produced multiple first-rounders since actualizing three in the 1994 draft (Bryant Young, Aaron Taylor, Jeff Burris).

“I think at this point, it’s not a stretch at all to say top 10 is a legitimate possibility,” Wright said of Stanley. “Now we were saying the same thing a year ago about Cedric Ogbuehi from Texas A&M, and he ended up as a late first-rounder, in part because of uneven performances as a senior and part because of an injury.

“But no question, Ronnie Stanley is going to be one of the big names heading into the fall from an NFL Draft standpoint.

“Jaylon Smith is one of the more freaky athletes that Notre Dame has had in recent years. He’s absolutely a first-rounder talent.

“I thought that he was underutilized or misused last year, when they were playing him on the inside. I think you want to put him on the outside and let him run free and do what he does best and make plays.”

If either so much goes in the top 32 in 2016, it will be a milestone for Kelly — the first recruit that he signed in his head coaching career to develop into a first-round draft choice.

He’s helped develop some signed by previous coaches, including safety Harrison Smith, wide receiver Michael Floyd, tight end Tyler Eifert and offensive lineman Zack Martin at ND.

He also took an undersized tight end he inherited at Central Michigan and convinced him to move to offensive tackle. Current San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle and 2007 first-round draft choice Joe Staley was that player.

Kelly has come close with some second-rounders he recruited – most recently defensive end Stephon Tuitt and Troy Niklas, both early entries in last year’s draft. He also recruited a couple of eventual second-rounders at Cincinnati — running back Isaiah Pead and defensive end Derek Wolfe — and a couple of more Bearcats who went in round three — defensive tackle John Hughes and tight end Travis Kelce.

Whether Kelly will also produce a class with enough depth to break the school record of 10 for draftees in the first seven rounds (prior to 1994 the draft extended beyond seven) depends on a variety of factors beyond who decides to stay in school and who doesn’t.

Injuries and returns to full health, slumps and ascents, and in some cases an opportunity to play full-time could affect draft trajectories.

Here’s Wright assessment of six of the more intriguing Irish players potentially in the 2016 draft pool:

• Sheldon Day, 6-2, 285, defensive lineman, senior: “The first thing you notice is he’s undersized. On the positives, he can help you in a lot of different areas. He’s played in a 3-4 and 4-3 defense. He’s a good player, but along with the size, durability has been a concern.

“Staying healthy as a senior is going to be a big thing for Sheldon Day. If he does and plays up to his ability, I think he could be a day 2 pick in the second or third round.”

• KeiVarae Russell, 5-11, 190, cornerback, senior with a 2016 fifth-year option: “I believe he has a chance to be one of the top corners in the country, and conservatively, I think a top 100 pick is well within the cards.”

• Will Fuller, 6-0, 180-pound, wide receiver, junior: “I think he could have a decision to make, especially if he scores 15 touchdowns again. He’s a little slight of build. He doesn’t have the bulk, which might limit his upside to a certain degree, but boy he can stretch a field and not many people can run with him vertically.

“That’s a pretty valuable trait. If you’re only going to do one thing really well, running fast is a good thing to do really well. I think Will Fuller is going to be very much in that top 100 conversation if he elects to come out next year, but he could certainly use the extra development in college, not only as a player, but physically.”

• Joe Schmidt, 6-1, 235, linebacker, grad student: “Certainly there are going to be some physical shortcomings there. He’s a former walk-on. He doesn’t have the size you look for. He’s not the greatest athlete. He’s not going to run particularly well.

“But it’s all about the intangibles with Joe Schmidt. He’s so smart, and sometimes that’s what you’re looking for in a linebacker. If he gets drafted, I think he’s going to be more of a late-round pick, but boy he’s the type of kid you don’t want to bet against.

“It’ll be interesting to see how he plays as a senior coming back from that injury, but it seems like he overcomes every obstacle that’s put in front of him. And if anybody can overcome the lack of ideal measurables, it would be a kid like Joe Schmidt.”

• Elijah Shumate, 6-0, 213, safety, senior: “Notre Dame’s safeties have underperformed in recent years, and Shumate is kind of a classic example. I think he absolutely has next-level type of talent.

“Once again it’s a matter of consistency with both him and (junior) Max Redfield. And Max Redfield, I think you could make an argument on paper, at least, he’s got a first-round type of talent. It’s just a matter of consistency.

“You’ve been waiting for the light to come on for both of them. You see the potential. You see the physical tools. It’s just a matter of him tapping into it and getting the most out of it.”

• Ishaq Williams, 6-6, 270, defensive end, senior: “He was a player that I was really anxious to see last year before he got suspended. I thought he was kind of a square peg in a round hole in the 3-4 defense, so I was excited to see him put his hand on the ground as a defensive end and just get after the quarterback.

“I think that’s something he still has to prove. I think he very much has that underachiever label and hasn’t lived up to the hype of when he was coming out of high school, but certainly he’s a talented kid. He’s got a long, rangy frame and there is still some potential there.

“I think he missed a huge opportunity last year with that suspension to kind of finally emerge. So whether it’s at Notre Dame or maybe he transfers to a lower level of competition where he’ll be able to play immediately, I think he has the type of talent to have a breakout senior campaign.

“Once again, we haven’t seen him in a 4-3 defense. I know I’ll be watching very closely regardless of where he ends up playing, just to kind of see how he acclimates to that role. And maybe that’ll be the magic bullet that turns things around for him.”

ehansen@sbtinfo.com

(574) 235-6112

@EHansenNDI

Notre Dame’s Everett Golson (5) still projects as a draftable prospect in 2016. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)