NFL Decision Looms Large for Ronnie Stanley

Ronnie Stanley - NFL Decision
Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive lineman Ronnie Stanley (78) celebrates defeating the LSU Tigers 31-28 during the second half at LP Field. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Following Notre Dame’s bowl win over LSU earlier this week there hasn’t been a whole lot of negative topics to discuss after a season full of them.  The future of starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley, however, is one of the very few with the junior’s impending decision on whether or not to leave early for the NFL after starting the last two seasons for the Irish looming large.

After Stanley moved to the spotlight left tackle position on the line and excelled throughout the season, scouts and NFL personnel took notice.  Many mock drafts have pegged Stanley as a potential first round draft pick – some even suggesting that Stanley could be in the top half of the first round.  Some old school draft pundits like Mel Kiper are a bit more conservative with their projections for the junior left tackle, but with the potential to be a first round pick already it made sense for Stanley to request an evaluation from the NFL Advisory Committee last month.

While it’s not known exactly what grade Stanley received in his evaluation, Keith Arnold has reported that Stanley did not receive a first round grade. Before Notre Dame fans get too excited though, Troy Niklas didn’t receive a first round grade last year either and that didn’t stop him from leaving a year early for the NFL.

When this season started it would have surprised many to think that Stanley would be facing a decision to leave early or not.  He came into his junior season off a solid sophomore year where he started every game at right tackle.  In his first gig as a starter Stanley was solid but didn’t get much attention with Zack Martin and Chris Watt anchoring the left side of the Irish offensive line enroute to NFL paychecks.

In 2014, however, Stanley stepped into the spotlight when he moved over to the starting left tackle position Martin held strong for the previous four years.  Despite some struggles on the interior of the line, Stanley has stood out as one of the few bright spots prior to Tuesday’s dominant performance over LSU when the offensive line finally played at a level it was expected to play at all season.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley (78) battles with Michigan State Spartans defensive end Marcus Rush (44) in action during the 2013 game between the Notre Dame and Michigan State.  Notre Dame won the game by a score of 17-13. (Photo: Robin Alam / Icon SMI).
Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley (78) battles with Michigan State Spartans defensive end Marcus Rush (44) in action during the 2013 game between the Notre Dame and Michigan State. Notre Dame won the game by a score of 17-13. (Photo: Robin Alam / Icon SMI).

If Stanley were to return, Notre Dame has the potential for an elite offensive line in 2014.  With a return from Stanley, all five starters from the line that paved the way for 263 rushing yards over the LSU defense on Tuesday will be back and with some of the talented underclassmen waiting in the wings, there won’t be a lack of competition in spring and fall camps.

That young depth is also why the Irish could potentially survive the loss of Stanley should he decide to leave early for the NFL.  Mike McGlinchey made his first career start in the Music City Bowl and more than held his own.  If anything most people were asking why McGlinchey hadn’t been starting earlier.   Behind McGlinchey Notre Dame has freshmen Quenten Nelson and Alex Bars waiting in the wings.  Bars was described by Kelly as “one of the best I’ve seen in 25 years,” in the lead up to the MUsic City Bowl.  He would add, “He’s that good. Those guys ought to be nervous about whose job he’s going to take. He’s that good of a player.”  Either one could be ready for a starting role in 2015 if given the opportunity.

Then there’s junior to be Steve Elmer.  The Michigan native was originally recruited as a tackle before moving to guard out of necessity.  Elmer struggled as a sophomore, but still possesses immense talent and potential and could slide back to tackle if it were to give Notre Dame the best starting five potentially.

While the Irish have the talent and depth to withstand the loss of Stanley, they would certainly be better off with Stanley returning for another season to anchor an offensive line that could pave the way for a top notch offense.  We got a glimpse of what an offense led by Malik Zaire might look like on Tuesday against LSU and if that’s any indication, the 2015 Notre Dame offense could be pretty damn fun to watch.

Where Notre Dame could potentially use Stanley the most, however, is in the leadership department.  Brian Kelly noted on Tuesday night that Stanley was very vocal in firing up the troops before Tuesday’s tilt with LSU. “Ronnie today was extremely vocal and kind of lit a fire under everybody today. Kind of charged up everybody, and Ronnie’s not a big talker and it just seemed to elevated everybody’s play on the offensive line,” said Kelly on Tuesday.

Notre Dame struggled in the leadership department over the last couple of seasons after losing a core group of natural leaders following the 2012 season when Manti Te’o, Kapron Lewis Moore, and Theo Riddick all graduated.  Whatever Stanley did on Tuesday certainly had everyone fired up.  If he can carry that over to 2015 – assuming he returns – he would be a strong contender for a captain role.

Underclassmen have until January 15th to declare for the draft so Stanley has some time to decide what he will do.  Sheldon Day, meanwhile, will reportedly be coming back for his senior season after receiving a “stay in school” grade from the Committee.  Hopefully for the sake of the 2015 Fighting Irish offense Notre Dame goes two for two in NFL decisions a year after getting ravaged by the early departures of Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas, Louis Nix (5th year available), and George Atkinson.


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  1. I think some of the poor performance of the O line was the inconsistent play of the qb and the schizophrenic scheme Kelly used. Establish physicality on the O line and build the offensive scheme around this.

  2. While I think that Stanley’s wisest decision is to return, I hope that this is the last time we go without an early entrant.

    One thing that’s happened under Kelly is that he has upgraded both the talent and player development. Thus guys like Tuitt and Niklas left early.

    You may not like this, but I hope in future years that ND has at LEAST two kids leaving after their third year on campus. That would be a trailing indicator that our talent level has “arrived.”

    To Michael re the OL, I think the staff made a mistake, perhaps influenced by loyalty to the upperclassmen, by “holding” slots open for Hegarty, Martin and Lombard. It may have been the most senior best player, not the best player.

    I doubt that it will happen again under this staff. I firmly expect Martin to be the only senior starter. If Stanley stays, the OL will, be, I surmise, LT Stanley, LG Nelson, C Martin, RG Elmer, RT Mcglinchey. If Stanley were to depart then it would be Bars at LT.

    One other thing about Stanley. He is TRULY an RKG. His recruiting trip to ND was delayed because he was in the homecoming court at Gorman. And he’s been active in the Christian Fellowship meetings while at Notre Dame.

    Ronnie, if you were my son, I’d tell you to stay another year, but if you choose to go, then God bless you and thank you for coming to, matriculating at and playing for, Notre Dame.

  3. I hope he comes back bcause he is our best lineman. Regardless I think that both Bars and Q. Nelson are going to take someones spot. They are both very very physical and we need that from our line if we are going to make a legit run at a title.

    1. What makes it difficult to evaluate Q.Nelson and Bars and the other heralded OL recruits is the obvious.
      Many H.S. All-Americans never transform into dominant college stars, regardless of position.
      Also, when practicing everyday against not-yet dominant defenders, it’s difficult to get an accurate read as to whether young players are ready for prime time until they face a top team.
      Re: our OL, after what I considered an unimpressive body of work by this season’s OL, they did very well against an elite LSU D’. Maybe it’s less about what they can do and more about how motivated they remain. Let me explain.

      Being home and visiting a local gym over the holidays was a defensive lineman and family friend from this year’s Northwestern team. His perspective seemed both relevant and interesting to me because NW used him in multiple positions along the line depending on the situation, so he competed against several different linemen each week. He knows I’m an ND fan, so I asked him a general question regarding which OL he faced this year was his toughest challenge. Without hesitation, he immediately claimed Iowa had the toughest OL he competed against, with Nebraska a close second (and not so coincidentally, NW was blown out by both of them). He also thought Wisconsin was probably the third most difficult line he faced. When I asked about ND, he said they, along with Michigan, didn’t seem to be very intense or motivated for NW, and suggested their lack of intensity (perhaps a “let-down due to the AZ.St. game”) might have determined why they didn’t seem to impress him as much as the top three he mentioned. I thought I’d share the perspective from one who competed against our OL, and be it motivation or maturity, the ND OL was not what he considered very formidable, especially in the middle, suggesting NDs skill players were the reason NW gave up as many (forty) points as they did.
      So the good news is the center and the two starting guards are returning for ND- or is that the bad news?
      Or maybe they are finally coming of age, with evidence offered versus LSU ? Or will Bars and Nelson overtake them as starters? Stay tuned.

      1. Not surprising at all hearing that about the o line. The O line played horrible to start the year off despite the team starting 6-0 and it got worse after the Fla St game.

        The interior of our line badly needs a upgrade for 2015. I think Nelson is going to be special. I really do. Nelson and McGlinchey are just nasty players and we have not had those type of players at ND in a very long time. I thought Nelson had a opportunity to start this season. I am not a big fan of Hegarty or Nick Martin. Martin played with a bad hand but he was constantly getting knocked backward a lot this season. For Kelly to say what he said about Bars it gets me a little excited. We have to win in the trenches if we are to have any real success in ’15. I believe in this O line but the defensive line is suspect and has been since 2012. It won’t be in this class but BK and his coaches badly need to bring in a elite DL or two.

      2. Good post Michael, nothing like getting an opinion from someone that’s been there done that.

      1. Thanks Frank much appreciated. Saw an article re the performances of several past ND players (not just the 2014 group of draftees) and a guy like Robt. Blanton who was not a big name draftee at the time has made a nice spot for himself in the def. secondary for an NFL club along with Harrison Smith. Teo has gotten a lot more snaps recently due to injuries of linebackers at SD and according to a couple of his teammates seems to be improving in leaps and bounds. Interesting to see how often the “big name” draftees just seem to disappear at the next level after 2-3 yrs and others like Blanton step up. Cheers mate.

  4. He is not ready. He needs to improve all aspects of his game. If he goes, he will sit the bench in the pros for a year or two.

  5. I’ll admit I was surprised by the Niklas decision, so I might be wrong here. But I don’t see Stanley leaving.

  6. Any chance of getting a “brief” summary of how players taken in the 2014 have played for their NFL teams this past season? In light of Stanley having to make a decision in the next 2 weeks it would be good to see how guys like Tuitt, Nix, Niklas etc did this past year after passing up their final year at ND.

    1. Z.Martin had a MONSTER season as a rookie. I think he started every game for Dallas and made both the pro bowl as well as the only rookie to be named all pro. I think Nix never played a snap as a rookie with Houston putting him on IR. Tuitt is starting for Pittsburgh and I think Niklas was hurt as well this season and did not play much.

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