Notre Dame’s 2016 NFL Rookies Impresing Early

Jaylon Smith - Dallas Cowboys
Former Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith (Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

While the 2016 Notre Dame Fighting Irish are just three days into their fall camp, many of their former teammates who are now pursuing their NFL dreams have been working for weeks.  NFL training camps kicks off in late July and pre-season games are about to start – assuming their are no more unplayable field surfaces this week.  A few weeks in, Notre Dame’s crop of rookies is already impressing.

Notre Dame has been killing it on the recruiting trail lately, but one way for the Irish to elevate their recruiting game even more is to have a couple Irish stars become NFL stars.  Brian Kelly has done a great job of producing quality NFL talent like Michael Floyd, Zack Martin, Harrison Smith, Theo Riddick, Tyler Eifert, and Kyle Rudolph; adding more star power playing on Sunday’s to the Irish recruiting arsenal can only help.

With that in mind, here’s a run down of the Irish rookies who were drafted last spring who are jockeying for position on NFL depth charts.

Jaylon Smith – Dallas Cowboys

Jaylon Smith isn’t impressing on the practice field so far, but he is impressing in his rehabilitation from his nasty knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl. According to NFL expert Gil Brandt, Smith could end up playing this season after all.

Interestingly enough, even after Smith’s injury that cost him millions in the draft and could rob him of his rookie season, Smith recently told the Dallas Star-Telegram that he wouldn’t advise college stars to sit to avoid the fate he has suffered.   Not only that, Smith said that if he could go back he would still play in the Fiesta Bowl because he was that committed to his teammates.

“If could go back, I would have played in that bowl game. I would have played. That’s how much I was committed to Notre Dame and my teammates,” said Smith, who played high school football for the same team as former Cowboys first-round pick Anthony Spencer in Fort Wayne, Ind. “It was my last game. We were in the Fiesta Bowl going against Ohio State. It was me vs. [Cowboys rookie running back] Ezekiel Elliott. That was what was going on.”

Why on earth did Jaylon have to land of all places Dallas where he will torment my Eagles for the next 10 years?  Kid is still going to be a BEAST.

Ronnie Stanley – Baltimore Ravens

Stanley was Notre Dame’s highest drafted player under Kelly as the #6 overall pick by the Ravens.  No rookie has ever started at left tackle in the history of the Baltimore Ravens, but that looks like it will change soon according to what John Harbaugh told the Baltimore Sun recently.

“That’s a premier position in the National Football League and Ronnie’s going to be – if he continues to progress – manning that spot as a rookie,” Harbaugh said recently. “He’s doing well with all positives so far. Really, no negatives other than just minor technique things he needs to get better at. I’m sure he’ll be game-planned and schemed-up, and tested and all of those kinds of things. We’ll find out if he’s up to the challenge, but up to this point he has proven to be up to the challenge.”

Nick Martin – Houston Texans

Nick Martin was one of the most under-appreciated players on the roster last year.  He was so steady, so rock solid that he often got overlooked.  He isn’t getting overlooked in the Texans camp.  While he’s missed the last few days of practice with a minor injury, he got some high praise from his head coach late last week.

“It’s been good; he’s a good player,” O’Brien said of Nick Martin. “He’s tough, he’s strong, very smart guy. He’ll have his ups and downs just being a rookie and having to deal with the different physical nature of pro football versus college football, but he’s one of the better rookies I’ve been around.”

Will Fuller – Houston Texans

Given Notre Dame’s lack of experience at wide receiver it sure would be nice to have Will Fuller around for his senior season.  After being selected in the first round of the draft, however, it was clear Fuller made the right decision.  So far in camp with the Houston Texans, Fuller is doing exactly what we all got accustomed to him doing the last few seasons.

Fuller has made several splash plays since his arrival at camp, beating cornerbacks with his superior speed. He’s aware there’s much more to the game than his explosiveness as far as selling routes and having the strength required in a physical league.

 “Yes, Will’s physical enough,” Texans receivers coach Sean Ryan said. “I think every receiver I’ve ever coached daily you work on releases. It’s a difficult part of the game. You have to be great with your hands, great with your feet.”
Former Notre Dame DT Sheldon Day
Former Notre Dame DT Sheldon Day (Photo: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)

Sheldon Day – Jacksonville Jaguars

Sheldon Day slid farther in the draft than many felt he would – mainly because he lacks ideal height for his position.  Any Notre Dame fan who watched Day knows though that there aren’t many defensive linemen quicker off the line than Sheldon Day.  So far in camp, it looks like Day could be a bit of a steal for the Jaguars.  Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley had good things to say about Day to the team’s official website.

“We really like Sheldon Day,” Bradley said. “Again, he’s another guy who has a high motor. He can play inside. He has good pass rush. He has the ability to play the run. He has faced a lot of double teams and he’s holding up well against that, but the play after play after play – his motor I think jumps out.”

The Jaguars’ plan this season is to rotate the defensive line to the point that the entire line could change at times from one down to the next.  All indications are Day and Ngakoue have a major chance to be part of that rotation, and those indications are also that that could be a good thing for the Jaguars’ pass rush.

CJ Prosise – Seattle Seahawks

CJ Prosise netered camp with a chance to fight for carries in the Seattle backfield that no longer features Marshawn Lynch.  Last week, however, he suffered a hamstring injury and isn’t expected back until the Seahawks 2nd pre-season game at the earliest.

Keivarae Russell – Kansas City Chiefs

In Kansas City, Keivarae Russell is getting some looks at both the outside corner and nickel spot for the Chiefs.  Couldn’t find a whole lot else out there on Russell’s performance so far, but with pre-season games starting soon there should be more on Russell and all other Notre Dame rookies soon.

“So far they have tried me at the nickel and corner spot, so I’ve been trying to learn it all,” Russell said via quotes from the Chiefs. “Trying to learn the safety just in case somebody goes down in that position and they want me to play safety – I got to know that as well. So far, I’ve been trying to learn a little bit of nickel, a little bit of corner.”

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