Four Notre Dame players taken on day two of NFL Draft

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

The state of Texas should have no love for Notre Dame.

Last September, on a pristine fall Saturday in South Bend, the Irish hammered its state school into submission. On national television, junior linebacker Jaylon Smith terrorized the Texas quarterbacks. The nimble 6-foot-2, 240-pound predator swallowed Jerrod Heard for a sack and a near-safety. Wide receiver Will Fuller gouged the Longhorn defense to the tune of two touchdowns and 142 receiving yards, galloping around white jerseys and into the well-worn end zone. Center Nick Martin contributed relentless physicality, paving the way for 214 rushing yards and two more Irish scores.

Final score: Notre Dame 38, Texas 3.

It was a long, long night for the Longhorns, the beginning of another long season. But if the state was supposed to hold a collective grudge, its NFL teams didn’t comply.

Three of Notre Dame’s first four picks of the 2016 NFL Draft landed in the Lone Star State, as Fuller (No. 21 overall) and Martin (No. 50) were chosen by the Houston Texans and Smith was scooped up with the No. 34 overall pick in a shocking twist by the Dallas Cowboys. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley led the way, going sixth overall to the Baltimore Ravens.

The 6-5, 301-pound Martin and Smith both jumped off the board in the second round on Friday night. Senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell was poached by the Kansas City Chiefs in the third round with the No. 74 selection, while running back C.J. Prosise went to the Seattle Seahawks with the 90th overall pick.

Martin joined a new team with at least one familiar face.

“Oh my gosh, absolutely, that was one of the first things that I thought of,” Martin responded when asked for his reaction to continuing to play with Fuller. “When we watched the draft last night as a family, I (was) very happy. I texted Will when he got picked. He couldn’t be a more explosive and better player and just a better guy and teammate off the field.”

Martin’s brother, former Notre Dame teammate and fellow offensive lineman Zack Martin, was taken in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys in 2014 and has since earned Pro Bowl berths in each of his first two seasons.

On Friday, Nick Martin called his brother his “best friend.”

That relationship might soon be tested.

“It’s about three and a half hours from my brother,” Martin said of Houston. “We’ve been teammates all our life and we’re enemies now.”

Smith, too, became Martin’s in-state rival on Friday. The Dallas Cowboys’ second selection, following Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, was named a consensus All-American while winning the Butkus Trophy as college football’s best linebacker in 2015. The Fort Wayne native, who watched the draft from a bowling alley in his hometown, led the Irish in tackles in both 2014 and 2015 and started all 39 games of his decorated Notre Dame career.

Smith’s draft hopes took a tumble in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State on Jan. 1, when the assumed top-10 pick tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee while also sustaining peroneal nerve damage.

He tumbled to the 34th pick, where the Cowboys couldn’t resist.

“He just leaps off the screen,” Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “He is really good. He is really athletic in space, great hands, great tackler, great blitzer. He is just a real ball player. He fits anybody, but in our system with the way we will use him, he will be pretty special.”

A 5-11, 196-pound corner, Russell finished with 60 tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a sack in 2015 despite playing the season’s first 11 games with a stress fracture and missing the last two with a fractured tibia. The converted running back started 37 games at cornerback in his Irish career, sandwiched around an academic dishonesty suspension that wiped away his 2014 campaign.

Prosise took the opposite path to success in South Bend, transitioning from defensive back to wide receiver before exploding as a running back in 2015. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior was a dual threat weapon in the Irish offense, combining 1,032 rushing yards and 11 scores with 308 receiving yards and one more touchdown in his final 11 games.

When Notre Dame opens its season at Texas on Sept. 5, those six Irish standouts won’t be on the roster.

Even so, Fuller, Smith and Martin won’t be far away.


Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley (78) and Nick Martin (72) celebrate after a touchdown during the Notre Dame-Southern Cal football game on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN