When it comes to the NFL Draft, Notre Dame football has been on a hot streak. Two years ago head coach Brian Kelly had eight player players drafted, good enough to tie Alabama for the second most of any college football program. And most recently Notre Dame and Ohio State totaled 19 NFL Draft selections from their Fiesta Bowl match-up. With the 2016 draft in the books, it’s time for a way too early preview of next year’s NFL Draft prospects.
Mike McGlinchey, T
Brian Kelly has completely turned around Notre Dame’s drought of not producing NFL players, and his chef-d’oeuvre is at offensive line. Not only have Kelly’s last two left tackles been drafted, but both have been first round picks. And McGlinchey seems well prepared to keep the momentum going.
McGlinchey has some commonalities with recent No. 6 overall draft selection, Ronnie Stanley. Both have lengthy frames and both began their careers at right tackle before making the switch to left. But they also differ in some key areas. McGlinchey possesses the nasty demeanor NFL teams were concerned Stanley may lack, and unlike Stanley, the odds of McGlinchey, who has eligibility through the 2017 season, staying an additional year are slim. The fallout from Jaylon Smith’s injury will likely lead to a rash of early defections for Notre Dame in the coming years, and with a strong 2016 campaign, McGlinchey will be poised to continue Notre Dame’s dominant offensive line run in the NFL.
Isaac Rochell, DE
Notre Dame lost two starting defensive linemen from 2015 and will look for big things from senior Isaac Rochell this fall. With the departure of Sheldon Day to the NFL and the graduation of Romeo Okwara, Rochell leads the pack for most tackles for loss for returning players (7.5) and was second only to Day in the number of quarterback pressures in 2015. And with Jarron Jones recovering from last year’s knee injury, defensive line coach Keith Gilmore will be counting on Rochell to fill the leadership role vacated by Day.
Rochell has the ability to be a star player, as evidenced by what he did to Andrus Peat, a first round NFL pick of the New Orleans Saints, when he was at Stanford in 2014. A strong showing in 2016 and a bright future may await him at the next level.
Jarron Jones, DT
Jarron Jones should be an interesting NFL prospect for 2017. Notre Dame’s starting nose guard struggled his first two seasons in South Bend, which led some to speculate whether the lower level of competition in his native New York may have negatively impacted his development. But Jones had a breakthrough junior season in 2014 and tied Sheldon Day for the most tackles by a defensive lineman, offering hope 2015 would be the year he established himself as a star. That hope, however, was derailed before the season even began when Jones suffered an MCL tear during summer camp.
Now nearly at full health, the expectations for 2015 have followed him into 2016.
“It’s Notre Dame – all you need is one good fall,” Brian Kelly said after announcing Jones’ injury to the media last summer. “I just remind him of that. If he has a really good fall here, he’ll get plenty of suitors.”
Cole Luke, CB
Cole Luke may not have the blazing speed of the Kansas City Chiefs’ recent third round pick and former Notre Dame standout, KeiVarae Russell, but he’s an experienced and talented cornerback in his own right. Highly coveted in high school and boasting elite scholarship offers, Luke saw his first extended game action while filling in for Russell, who missed the 2014 season due to academic misconduct.
Luke was charged with covering Stanford’s Ty Montgomery, a draft pick of the Green Bay Packers who was making a name for himself his rookie year before suffering a season-ending injury. Luke limited Montgomery to 12 yards receiving while racking up two interceptions, a sack, a forced fumble and four tackles.
Luke is entering his third season as a starter for the Notre Dame defense and will be looked upon as the senior statesmen at cornerback. Another strong season for Luke and the NFL will surely await in 2017.
DeShone Kizer, QB
Is it crazy to include a player who hasn’t even been named the starter and who has eligibility through the 2018 season? Perhaps, but it’s not as a big of a stretch as you may think.
Although far too early to call, Kizer has an early edge on Malik Zaire for the quarterback competition, and his experience – Kizer has already started 11 games for Notre Dame – isn’t as problematic as it may appear considering Carson Wentz, this year’s No. 2 overall selection, had only started 23 games at the FCS level. Add in the fact Kizer’s 2,600 passing yards in 2015 was No. 9 all-time at Notre Dame and he possesses the size, arm strength and mobility all NFL coaches covet, and a jump to the NFL doesn’t seem that far-fetched.
Max Redfield, S
Max Redfield is a bubble prospect for 2017 at this point. A former 5-star prospect rated as the No. 3 overall safety for the Class of 2013, Redfield has the physical tools of an elite safety but has failed to show it on the field, and is currently battling early enrollee true freshman Devin Studstill for the starting free safety position. Battling a freshman for your own starting spot isn’t the best way to impress NFL scouts.
Unless something drastic occurs in 2016 Redfield is likely destined to be a late round gamble for an NFL team willing to give him a chance due to his physical ability.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.