While Notre Dame is making final preparations to win that important 10th game of the season, a quartet of juniors on the Irish roster also have a lot to play for personally tomorrow – their NFL futures. The Irish have four juniors who are said to be considering leaving early for the NFL following the Citrus Bowl. The decision for each, however, won’t be easy and in some cases the decision to return seems to be obviously potentially more lucrative given their current draft status. Still these decisions will loom large for Notre Dame heading into the off-season.
Juniors have until January 15th to declare for the NFL Draft so the following four players will have two more weeks to decide after the final gun sounds tomorrow – if they haven’t decided already.
(Also remember, schools are allowed to pay for the insurance for players who return for senior seasons.)
Jerry Tillery (NT)
There seems to be more and more chatter of Monday being Tillery’s last game. If that’s true, it would be a shame because the junior defensive tackle would benefit greatly from another season of college football. For the first time in his career, Tillery showed flashes of the potential that thrust him into the starting lineup as a true freshman.
Where Tillery is still lacking is in consistency. There were games where Tillery looked unblockable. There were other games where you never heard his name called. Right now, he is very similar to Jarron Jones a couple years ago. Some flashes here and there, but hasn’t shown he can be a dominant player week in and week out. Another year in Mike Elko’s defense and Matt Balis’s strength program could provide that consistency.
Some projections have Tillery going as high as the second round and if that is where he would be picked in 2018, it’s hard to argue with him leaving. That said, 2nd round picks in the NFL, except in rare cases, are expected to be contributors from day one and I just don’t see Tillery being a day one contributor on a NFL team next year.
Tillery’s stats in 2017 were pretty good, but still not the type that jump off the page and get you into early round discussions. He had 8.5 TFL and 4.0 sacks. Those were good enough for second and first on the Irish defense respectively. By comparison, Jarron Jones had 11.0 TFL and 2.0 sacks last year.
Josh Adams (RB)
Of the four Notre Dame juniors who have a decision to make, Josh Adams’ might be the easiest because he has the best chance to be drafted high and he plays at a position with the shortest shelf life in the NFL. Adams was an absolute animal earlier this year before he got banged up and wore down a bit. That will be the knock on him heading into the Draft too since last year he did the reverse – started the season banged up and then came on at the end. He has still not shown an ability to stay fully healthy.
All that said, Adams has also shown a combination of speed and tackle breaking that is very, very rare these days and for that reason, it would be hard for a running back needy team to pass up on Adams if he was sitting there in the second round. CJ Prosise had a lot of the same knocks two years ago and he was still drafted 90th overall in the 3rd round by the Seahawks. And Prosise had a much smaller body of work.
It’s a damn shame that Adams slowed down at the end of the season, because he could have had a truly special season – an all time great season in fact. As is, Adams still rushed for 1,386 and with a big game on Monday, he could top 1,500 yards. He’s not the best pass catcher at this point in his career, but he doesn’t have to be. With the NFL moving more and more towards utilizing multiple backs and less workhorse backs, Adams has a home in the NFL next fall if he so chooses.
Equanimeous St. Brown (WR)
The case of Equanimeous St. Brown, on the other hand, is not as simple. After his breakout sophomore season, most fans prepared for this being St. Brown’s last year at Notre Dame all off-season. Unlike Adams, though, St. Brown’s numbers fell off dramatically this year as Notre Dame focused on the ground game and then struggled to move the ball with any sort of consistency in the air. As a result, St. Brown didn’t even top 500 yards receiving this year and scored less than half of the touchdowns that he scored in 2016.
Had St. Brown topped 1,000 yards this year we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. If anything, we might be talking about whether or not St. Brown would even play in this game or if he would sit out like some juniors have been doing. Bottom line is St. Brown doesn’t have the stats to be a high enough draft pick to make coming out worth it. That would leave NFL evaluators decisions up to St. Brown’s measurables and would leave them left to determine how much of St. Brown’s lack of production in 2017 was on him versus Brandon Wimbush’s struggles as a passer.
Measurables wise, St. Brown will probably put up some good numbers, but he isn’t considered to be a “workout warrior”. His 40 yard dash time will probably be pretty average – it won’t be slow but probably won’t be eye popping either. Add that all up and it’s hard to envision a NFL GM investing a second round pick on that much of a gamble. That doesn’t mean that a) one won’t or b) that that would deter St. Brown.
If St. Brown were to have a monster game tomorrow – and he very well might with all of the suspensions and injuries to Notre Dame receivers – it could propel him to declaring for the draft and could be enough to get a GM or two to roll the dice on him early. Without a monster bowl game though, it’s tough to see St. Brown going higher than the 3rd round.
Shortly after the regular season ended, Tevon Coney let the media know that he was at least pursuing his NFL options. On the surface it was a bit surprising since Coney was not even a full time starter as a junior, but he did still lead the Irish in tackles (99) and TFL (13). He was also tied for second in sacks with 3.0.
Coney has the most to gain by coming back for a senior season. Right now, he is most likely a day 3 pick (round 4 or later). If he comes back and starts every game next fall though, Coney has a chance to skyrocket up draft boards. He would likely move over to MIKE next year and based on what we saw this year, he could have the kind of ridiculous season that most expected from Nyles Morgan this year. Mike Elko’s defense is designed to funnel plays to the MIKE. Coney is a physical specimen and with a year as a full time starter at MIKE, a first round selection in 2019 is entirely possible.
The decision of Tillery though could influence Coney’s decision somewhat. While the defense is designed to funnel plays to the MIKE, a stalwart at NT is needed as well and without Tillery, Notre Dame would be turning to a true sophomore at NT next season.
Of the four, Coney might have the biggest impact on 2018 should he choose to return. By the end of the season Coney was flashing All-American potential. Another year in the program would be very mutually beneficial for both parties.