2017 Norte Dame Draft Prospect Preview

?Another year of Notre Dame Football is in the books and as we head toward a new season, a new group of former Irish players will be trying to make the jump to the NFL. In the 2016 NFL Draft, Notre Dame had seven players selected, including top-10 pick Ronnie Stanley. This year’s group could produce a first round pick in Deshone Kizer, but getting more than three players drafted could prove to be difficult. Here is a breakdown of the Irish draft prospects and some possible scenarios for where they will land.

Draft Locks
Deshone Kizer – QB (Jr.)?

After playing the majority of the last two seasons for Notre Dame, quarterback Deshone Kizer decided that it was time to test the waters in the NFL. He is one of the most intriguing prospects in the 2017 Draft, because on one hand, Kizer has physical tools that make talent evaluators salivate. Kizer’s 6’4” and 230 pound fame combined with his big arm and athleticism make him the prototype in today’s NFL. On the other hand, Kizer’s on field performance leaves a lot left to be desired. If Everett Golson never transferred from Notre Dame before the start of the 2015 season, we might not know Deshone Kizer’s name. After starting QB Malik Zaire was lost for the season, Kizer stepped up and played well for the Irish. If Golson was still on the roster, Kizer might not have had the chance to see the field. Even after playing well in 2015, head coach Brian Kelly could not commit to Kizer as the starting QB for 2016. Kizer significantly out-played Zaire in the season opener, which made him the starting QB moving forward for the rest of 2016. Although he started the rest of 2016, the season was miserable. The combination of a poor team season and a lack of confidence from his head coach most likely led Kizer to declare for the draft. ?
In terms of on-field performance, Kizer has the athleticism to escape the pocket but takes far too many sacks. Over his two seasons as the Irish QB, Kizer took 48 sacks and a considerable number of those were at times when he should have been able to scramble or throw the ball away. Kizer has great arm strength but suffers from poor accuracy, throwing 19 interceptions in his two seasons. He is a player that could have definitely benefitted from staying in school, rather than forgoing his remaining two years of eligibility. ?

Best Case Scenario: Several teams inside the top five (Cleveland, San Francisco, and Chicago) all have a need at QB. Some talent evaluators have Kizer listed as the top QB on the board and if his physical tools stand out, he could be a top five pick.

Worst Case Scenario: Teams are more interested in game film and Kizer drops down to the early 2nd round.

Likely Scenario: I think Kizer is best served as a project for an NFL team with a starting QB. On his physical stats alone, Kizer should be a 1st round pick. A team like San Diego or New Orleans would be the best fit for Kizer, but I think he will end up going 12th overall to the Browns. 

Jarron Jones – DT/NG (RS Sr.)

Similar to Deshone Kizer, Jarron Jones is another player who has the physical tools and talent to be an NFL star, but the biggest question mark surrounding Jones is his effort. Coming in at 6’5”/315 lbs., Jones has great size for a defensive tackle and when he wants to put it on, he can be a force. However, there are games in 2016 where Jones turned into a ghost, including not making the stat sheet against Navy. After suffering a knee injury during summer camp in 2016, Jones was able to make a recovery and play against Ohio State in the Fiesta bowl, which may be looked at as a bright spot in his dedication to the game. Just like his performance in games, there is a lot of uncertainty as to where he will land in the Draft.

Best Case Scenario: A team decides that the good games and his physical tools are too much to pass up and he goes early in the 2nd round.

Worst Case Scenario: Teams decide that the bad games and his questionable effort are too much to take a risk on and he goes in the 5th round.

Likely Scenario: Jones will likely end up somewhere in the 3rd round, possibly to the Ravens.

Isaac Rochell – DE (Sr.)

Unlike the first two Notre Dame players profiled, DE Isaac Rochell is hoping that his consistency is the key to his draft stock. Rochell’s raw numbers do not jump off the page and out of the three Irish players invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, he has the most to gain by a good workout. Over his three years as a starter, Rochell averaged 55 tackles per season, including an average of 7 tackles for loss. Rochell is far better run defender than a pass rusher, as evidenced by his 4.5 career sacks. He can still play on passing downs because he has the ability to take up blockers, but he should not be considered a pass rusher. The biggest issue Rochell will face heading into the draft is the wealth of defensive line talent in front of him and there will be a number of DE prospects that will go off the board before his name is called.

Best Case Scenario: Rochell has an excellent workout at the combine and jumps up the defensive line rankings, leading him to a high 3rd round pick.

Worst Case Scenario: Rochell’s workout numbers are worse than expected and he drops down draft boards to the 5th or 6th round.

Likely Scenario: I think Rochell can sneak in at the end of the 4th round. He’s a solid player and can be a productive NFL player, but I don’t think he will ever be a standout. The Colts at pick 144 overall is an interesting option.

Draft Hopefuls
Cole Luke – CB (Sr.)

Cornerback Cole Luke is one of three Irish players who hope to hear their name called on draft day. A year ago, it didn’t seem like Luke would have to hope to hear his name called. Through his junior year, Luke had 89 tackles, 6 interceptions, and 16 pass break-ups. He came up with some big interceptions and played well enough to be on many people’s draft radar. Unfortunately, a sub-par 2016 season dropped Luke off most, if not all draft boards. Luke does not have great speed and can be a liability against the run. He was not invited to the Combine, so Luke will need a strong pro day to be drafted.

Best Case Scenario: A team uses a 6th round pick on some of Luke’s past performance combined with a solid pro day.

Worst Case Scenario: Undrafted free agent.

Likely Scenario: Through his time at Notre Dame, Luke played well at times against high profile receivers. I think a team may look at that and take him in the 7th round. The Steelers could be landing spot.

James Onwualu – LB (Sr.)

After coming to Notre Dame as a wide receiver, Onwualu was converted to a linebacker before his sophomore season. He has decent athleticism and is more of a coverage linebacker. He is a bit undersized and unfortunately doesn’t have the speed to make up for it. Onwualu’s impact in the NFL is going to be felt on special teams. I think he can make a 53-man roster on that value alone, even though his route to that spot may be difficult.

Best Case Scenario: A team is sold on what Onwualu can bring to special teams and takes him in the 6th or 7th round.

Worst Case Scenario: Undrafted free agent.

Likely Scenario: I think Onwualu will go undrafted, but he will be one of the first players signed by a team as an undrafted FA. 

Tarean Folston – RB (Sr.)

As a sophomore, Folston carried the ball 175 times for 889 and ended the season as Notre Dame’s leading rusher. It looked like Folston would be living up to his four-star billing until disaster struck in the 2015 opener against Texas. A torn ACL ended Folston’s junior season and introduced everyone to fellow running back Josh Adams. In 2016, Folston competed for carries with Adams, which was a battle he lost. Folston could see the writing on the wall as he was now firmly behind the younger and more talented Adams on the depth chart. Instead of coming back to Notre Dame for his last year of eligibility or transferring to another school as a graduate student, Folston decided to declare for the NFL draft. Folston flashed moments of brilliance during his time in South Bend, but he still had a lot left to prove and would have benefitted by using his last year of eligibility.

Best Case Scenario: Folston can go as high as the 6th round. He is a talented running back and a team may be willing to take the risk.

Worst Case Scenario: Undrafted free agent. ??

Likely Scenario: I can't see Folston getting drafted. There are a lot of talented RBs in this year's Draft and the position isn't worth drafting unless you are getting value. He will sign with a team in free agency, but I feel he is a long shot to make a 53-man roster. ?