Notre Dame was well represented at the 2016 NFL Draft. From Ronnie Stanley, taken sixth overall by the Baltimore Ravens, to Sheldon Day, selected in the fourth round by Jacksonville, seven Fighting Irish players heard their names called this past weekend.
While there are approximately 360 days and a full college season to play before next year’s NFL Draft, let’s take a look ahead and profile Notre Dame’s top prospects (in alphabetical order) for NFL entry in 2017.
Tarean Folston, RB (Sr., 5-9, 214)
Folston’s first priority is to fully recover from last season’s knee injury. But when healthy, Folston is a strong, tough runner that can catch the ball out of the backfield and teams could see value in that during the middle rounds.
Torii Hunter Jr., WR (Jr., 6-0, 195)
Hunter was not even a starter this past season, but many project him to be Notre Dame’s top wide receiver next fall. If that occurs, considering the success Notre Dame has had throwing the ball in recent years, Hunter will put up numbers that may have him considering an early departure.
Jarron Jones, DT (Sr., 6-5, 315)
Jones battled his own knee issues in 2015. The big interior lineman was able to make it back for the Fiesta Bowl game against Ohio State. Like Folston, Jones is an impact player whose draft stock is contingent on the number of snaps he plays this year.
DeShone Kizer, QB (Jr., 6-4, 230)
It’s not a given that Kizer is even named the starting quarterback when the Irish open up at Texas on Sept. 4. But he has NFL size and showed the kind of toughness that NFL teams love. A big season, one that includes cutting down on mistakes, could lead to Kizer being talked about as a top prospect. As of now, though, quarterbacks like Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Miami’s Brad Kaaya, and Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly are being mentioned more in early 2017 mock drafts.
Cole Luke, CB (Sr., 5-11, 193)
Luke’s standing may have dipped after a junior season that was not up to the standards set by his sophomore campaign. He’ll have one more crack at impressing the scouts and with KeiVarae Russell gone; Luke now becomes the leader of the Irish secondary.
Mike McGlinchey, OT (Sr., 6-7, 310)
Former Irish left tackle Zack Martin was selected in the first round by the Cowboys in 2014. The next fall, right tackle Ronnie Stanley moved into Martin’s spot and made himself into the sixth pick in last week's draft. McGlinchey could be next in line as he will switch sides this season. He is perhaps the most likely Irish candidate to be selected in the first round.
Quenton Nelson, OG (Jr., 6-5, 325)
Nelson and McGlinchey will make a formidable left side of the Notre Dame offensive line. Nelson could develop into a top interior line prospect. However, guards are not regarded as highly as tackles, meaning it will be more difficult for him to achieve a really high draft grade.
James Onwualu, LB, (Sr., 6-1, 232)
He’s never going to be the biggest linebacker on the planet, but Onwualu has some athleticism that may allow him to stick in the NFL for a while. His versatility to contribute on special teams may make him a possible late-round selection.
Max Redfield, S (Sr., 6-1, 205)
There were rumors at the end of last season that Redfield was contemplating entering the 2016 draft. Since his play has been inconsistent throughout his entire Notre Dame career, coming back for a final season was a wise move. Early-entry freshman Devin Studstill is pushing Redfield for playing time and the former 5-star recruit will have difficulty impressing NFL evaluators if he is not on the field.
Isaac Rochell, DE (Sr., 6-3, 290)
When considering defensive ends, NFL teams first look at guys that can get after the passer. That’s really not Rochell’s game. His forte is setting the edge in the run game and providing flexibility by being able to shift inside in certain situations. That type of skill set, along with Rochell’s intelligence and motor, probably equate to a middle-round selection.
Malik Zaire, QB (Sr., 6-0, 225)
It’s far more likely that if Zaire leaves Notre Dame following the 2016 season it’s as a graduate transfer so that he can play quarterback right away. However, if he is utilized in multiple ways by the Irish this fall and he is okay with continuing the slash role in the NFL, maybe there’s a chance.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.