Notre Dame RB C.J. Prosise wades into NFL Draft pool

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

C.J. Prosise's final college play turned out to be a pass that fluttered through his hands for an incompletion and coaxed the Notre Dame senior running back to finish ND's 44-28 Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State Friday on the sideline.

“He just felt he couldn't go,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said.

Prosise's sentiments about the 2016 NFL Draft were quite the opposite. On Saturday, the Irish senior running back announced on Instagram and Twitter that he'll forgo his fifth-year option and enter the 2016 NFL Draft.

“Thank you to Notre Dame, the coaches, staff, faculty and fans,” the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder wrote. “I couldn't have asked for a better university to play for. It's been an honor to have played with Team 127, and I'm glad to have had the opportunity. I look forward to what lies ahead. Thank you, Go Irish!!!”

Players with remaining eligibility have until Jan. 18 to declare for the 2016 draft, set for April 28-30 in Chicago.

In his first season playing the running back position, after coming to ND as a safety then converting to wide receiver, Prosise logged the 18th 1,000-yard rushing season in school history, with 1,032 on 156 carries (6.6 average) with 11 touchdowns.

He was ND's fifth-leading receiver in 2015, with 26 catches for 308 yards and a score.

But a concussion and high ankle sprain severely limited him in the second half of the season. After being bottled up for 25 yards on 14 carries in ND's 24-20 escape at Temple on Halloween, Prosise amassed just 85 yards on 13 carries and three catches for 46 yards over the six-game balance of the season.

The Irish (10-3) return projected 2015 starter, junior Taraen Folston, next season, as well as ND's new freshman rushing record-holder Josh Adams, at the top of a still-stacked depth chart.

Folston, ND's leading rusher in 2014 (889 yards on 175 carries, 6 TDs), missed all but a handful of plays this season, suffering a season-ending knee injury in ND's 38-3, season-opening rout of Texas on Sept. 5.

Freshman Dexter Williams also returns, while the Irish add a pair of three-star running back prospects from Florida in the 2016 recruiting class — 6-1, 212-pound Tony Jones and 5-10, 175-pound Deon McIntosh.

Former wide receiver Justin Brent, a sophomore who dabbled at running back this past season while redshirting, also may remain a running back option.

As for Prosise, his future is less defined, given his injuries and his inexperience at the position combined with his enticing wide skill set and first-half-of-the-season production.

"I think of all the ND underclassmen who were considering coming out for the draft, Prosise's decision was the most difficult,” draft analyst Scott Wright, of draftcountdown.com, said.

“I'm confident he got a back-to-school grade (from the NFL Draft Advisory Board), so he's looking at day three, rounds four through seven. Running backs tend to slide as it is. And given his experience at the position, he's going to be more of a project for teams.”

Folston's return and Adams' rise (835 yards on 116 carries, 6 TDs) complicated what kind of opportunities Prosise might have in 2016 had he stayed at ND.

“From a developmental standpoint, from a draft standpoint, I think he had a lot to gain by going back,” Wright said, “but when you talk about running backs, you always have to take the position and the unique circumstances about the position into account.

“It is such a very short shelf life, especially in this day and age where that position has been devalued, where it's not like four or five running backs go in the first round. You have to be really special to go in the first round.

“So if you're a fourth-round pick as a running back, it's not so bad. Those guys wind up starting as rookies.”

But would he have started for Notre Dame in 2016?

“I'm sure he took all those things into account,” Wright said. “Now he's not looking at the same kind of money Will Fuller and Jaylon Smith are, but just if you look at all the factors that go into his decision, it had to be a tough decision for him.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame running back C.J. Prosise (20), here headed for the end zone on a pass play at Clemson last Saturday, looks to help the Irish running game get back up to speed this Saturday against unbeaten Navy. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)