Notebook: Notre Dame WR Equanimeous St. Brown adamant early entry was right decision

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

He’s 36 hours away from a Notre Dame degree, has no plan yet how or if he’ll ever finish school, and really isn’t overly concerned which round his name is called when it comes to the 2018 NFL Draft.

Among the 16 true juniors who have opted to become early entries from ND in the 30 years NFL rules allowed that to happen, wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown is perhaps the biggest outlier.

In his business plan. In his draft aspirations. In his not even pay lip service to the educational opportunity he’s putting in mothballs.

“I played (college) football to play in the NFL,” ND’s leading receiver the past two seasons said matter-of-factly in March at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I started this journey to play in the NFL. I feel like I’m ready to take this next step, and I feel like it’s the right decision.”

After 100 total picks, 10 of which were wide receivers, the 6-foot-5, 213-pound son of former Mr. Universe John Brown was still waiting, Rounds 2 and 3 unfolded Friday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The mock drafts gave St. Brown the widest range of ND’s five perceived draftable prospects, anywhere from round 3 to the final round, 7.

Offensive line teammates Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey both went in the top 10 of the first round Thursday night, Nelson to the Indianapolis Colts and McGlinchey to the San Francisco 49ers.

They’re the first Irish teammates to go in the top 10 since quarterback Rick Mirer (2) and running back Jerome Bettis (10) in 1993 and marked just the third time in the past 50 years that two offensive linemen from the same school were both selected in the top 10.

The seven-round draft concludes Saturday with the final four rounds, beginning at noon EDT.

Running back Josh Adams, a projected day 3 pick, joined St. Brown as a true junior early entry. Nelson also left a year of college eligibility on the table, though he picked up his degree in December.

The two juniors in this draft bring to eight in the past five draft cycles from ND. That matches the number the Irish had in the 25 years that preceded that run.

Only three of the previous 14 juniors were selected in the first round — Bettis, cornerback Tom Carter and wide receiver Will Fuller.

Wide receiver Rocket Ismail, the first true junior from ND to be an early entry, almost certainly would have been a first-rounder had he not signed with Toronto of the Canadian Football League before the 1991 NFL Draft was staged. Instead he went in the fourth round.

Linebacker Jaylon Smith would have been a sure-fire first-rounder in 2016 had he not suffered a debilitating knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl at the end of his junior season. He went in the second to Dallas instead.

Scott Wright of is among the analysts who profess St. Brown could have been in the conversation to be a first-round pick in 2019 had he returned to Notre Dame for the 2018 season.

St. Brown had 58 catches for 961 yards and nine TDs in 2016, then dipped to 33 for 515 and four scores last season.

“New offense, didn’t run the same offense,” St. Brown said of the drop-off in production. “We did whatever it took to win games.”

Two juniors who seriously considered joining Adams and St. Brown in this draft, but elected to return to ND, were defensive tackle Jerry Tillery and linebacker Te’von Coney.

Wright said both will benefit greatly from that decision, especially Tillery.

“He really intrigues me,” Wright said, “and maybe he’s going to become the prospect we thought Jarron Jones could have been.

“They are similar big bodies, kind of jumbo athletes, but Jarron Jones was missing that X-factor. Jerry Tillery started to turn it on last year. He had some inconsistencies in his career, like Jarron Jones did, but with Tillery, the light started to come on last year.

“If he could continue to develop like that, I definitely think he has early-round potential. He’s scheme-versatile. Big, athletic guys in the interior like that are valuable.”

What if, Kizer …?

The business decision former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer made last draft cycle was to separate from what looked like a bumper crop of elite QB prospects in 2018 and come out as a redshirt sophomore in 2017.

The Cleveland Browns selected him in the second round last April with the 52nd pick overall, anointed him their starter in the fall, then dealt him to Green Bay after the season.

In retrospect, would he have benefited by staying and having a really good college season in 2017?

“That’s a really good question,” Wright said. “The X-factor is the (assumption of a) really good year. To what degree?

“I don’t think there’s any question he had first-round talent. The worst case if he had stayed, I think he’d be in a similar range, a top 50 pick. I think you’d lump him in with maybe Mason Rudolph from Oklahoma State.

“But certainly if he had a great year and played up to his potential, he could have been a top 10 overall pick potentially (in this draft).”

Four QBs went in the top 10 Thursday night: Baker Mayfield No. 1 to the Browns, Sam Darnold No. 3 to the Jets, Josh Allen No. 7 to the Bills and Josh Rosen No. 10 to the Cardinals.

“(Kizer) is going to get a good opportunity now to have the career he was supposed to with Green Bay,” Wright said. “He’ll sit behind Aaron Rodgers for a couple of years, learn and develop that immense talent.

“He’s got an opportunity to maximize it, whereas going to Cleveland he was just really set up to fail.”

The Hiestand factor

Former Irish O-Line coach Harry Hiestand sent six of his protégés into the NFL during his six seasons with the Irish, including Nelson and McGlinchey on Thursday night.

Three of the six weren’t even deemed top 250 prospects nationally by coming out of high school. Two of the three ended up being first-rounders, McGlinchey overall No. 9 on Thursday night and Zack Martin No. 16 overall in 2014.

The third — Martin’s younger brother, Nick, was a second-rounder and No.50 pick overall in 2016.

Ronnie Stanley was the No. 176 player in his national recruiting class and was drafted sixth overall in 2016. Even five-star prospect Nelson improved his lot, from 29th overall coming into ND to No. 6 leaving the Irish.

Guard Chris Watt, 77 coming in, was the only one of the six with a similar high school recruiting ranking and draft position (89th in 2014). Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Equanimeous St. Brown runs a drill during the Notre Dame Pro Day workouts, March 22 at ND's Loftus Center. 

When: Final rounds on Saturday

Where: AT&T Stadium; Arlington, Texas

Times and Format: Rounds 4-7, Saturday at noon.

TV: NFL Network, ABC, ESPN

Remaining Notre Dame Draft Hopefuls: (With ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay’s top 300 rankings) WR Equanimeous St. Brown (138); TE Durham Smythe (185); RB Josh Adams (195); LB Nyles Morgan (Unranked); LB Greer Martin (Unranked); DE Andrew Trumbetti (Unranked).