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Looking Ahead: Notre Dame’s 2018 Draft Prospects

Draft week is upon us! Draft season does not interest everyone, but I have always enjoyed analyzing film and watching the draft to see where players land. Unfortunately, the 2017 draft will be somewhat uneventful for Notre Dame fans and prospects. Deshone Kizer leads a list of 5 that have a realistic chance at hearing their names called and he is the only one worth in the early rounds. It might not be a popular opinion, but I consider him the best QB in the draft and someone worth a first round pick. Rounding out the list of Irish prospects are DE Isaac Rochell, CB Cole Luke, DT Jarron Jones, and OLB James Onwualu. None of these four should expect their name called earlier than the fourth round, and a few might end up as undrafted free agents.

With the draft just days away, and Notre Dame likely having a quiet few days,  I wanted to take this time to analyze the 2018 Irish draft prospects. It should be a more interesting weekend for Irish fans as multiple players (Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson) return to South Bend as impressive NFL prospects. All projections are assuming the players leave, and I am only including players I feel could take that leap or have a realistic chance for the 2018 draft. Let’s start with the two most recognizable names:

OT Mike McGlinchey

McGlinchey made the switch to left tackle as red-shirt junior after two very solid seasons on the right side for the Irish. He could have declared for the 2017 draft, and in all likelihood would have been a first or second round selection; maybe even the first offensive lineman selected. He elected to come back for his 5th year in hopes to establish himself as a true left tackle prospect and help lead Notre Dame to a playoff appearance. I am probably in the minority on this one, but I think McGlinchey’s best position is at right tackle, and that will evidently hurt his draft stock come April 2018. With that said, I think he has a chance to be special on that side. Projection: Mid-Late First Round with All-Pro potential at right tackle.

LG Quenton Nelson

Much like McGlinchey, Nelson could have declared for the 2017 draft and been an early selection. Nelson came to South Bend as a 5-star prospect and will be entering his 3rd season as the Notre Dame left guard. He is not Zack Martin, but he is an elite interior offensive line prospect in his own right and deserves first round consideration. Martin is a technician and insanely gifted athletically. Nelson is a mauler, standing at 6’5 329. He is nearly impossible to move and holds the pocket with ease. Notre Dame will miss these two greatly next season.

Projection: Late First Round to Early Second Round. Potential Pro Bowler at Guard.

WR Equanimeous St. Brown (ESB)

ESB comes back to South Bend after a terrific sophomore campaign. He lead the team in all receiving categories, and at 6’5 he’s a matchup nightmare for cornerbacks and safeties. He is not the downfield threat Will Fuller was, but when he hits full gear he’s hard to catch. I would like to see St. Brown add some bulk to his skinny frame, but he has all the potential to eventually be an early round wide receiver. Only a junior, he will have the option to return to Notre Dame for his final year, but if he improves on his numbers from last season it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he declares early.

Projection: Second Round with upside.

RB Josh Adams

After two successful seasons for the Irish, Josh Adams returns to Notre Dame for his junior season as the true number one in the backfield. As a freshman, he was thrown into an unexpected prominent role. Greg Bryant transferred, Tarean Folston went down against Texas, and CJ Prosise dealt with nagging injuries late in the season. He answered the call and ran for a Notre Dame freshman record 838 yards and 7 touchdowns. Last season, he dealt with some injuries himself, but still ran for nearly 1,000 yards and 6 touchdowns. Adams is on the taller side for a running back at 6’2 and tends to leave himself exposed to hits at times with his upright running style. He is also not a natural hands catcher which leads to drops. However, he has great burst in the open field and can run away from defenders while also running with power. Look for him to expand his arsenal this year and develop as an every down back.

Projection: Second or Third Round. At least a reliable early down back.

ILB Nyles Morgan

Morgan is a tough guy to project at the next level. He has been poorly coached for the majority of his time at Notre Dame, but he matured a lot last year as a player. He plays a physical game and has natural instincts at linebacker, but there are questions about his sideline to sideline speed. Unfortunately, this will determine his draft stock. I have no doubt his on field production will benefit from the new defensive staff, but his pro status is up in the air.

Projection: Conservatively in the 3rd-5th round. Combine numbers will tell the story.

TE/WR Aliz’e Mack

Mack makes this list because of his athletic ability, potential, and shaky past. One terrific season could get him drafted high and because of his noted problems in the classroom I can see him bolting if the money is there. I don’t have a problem calling Mack the most physically gifted athlete on the team, and his NFL potential is through the roof. Mack could be the best TE/WR in the country if it all comes together. One very good season, and NFL teams will come calling.

Projection: 3rd Round, with 1st round ability.

OL Alex Bars

The biggest question for Bars is his position…Is he a guard or tackle at the next level? I think you can make the argument his value will come as a swing man. If he shows well at guard this season, teams will see a guy that performed well at both RG and RT. Bars will not leave college as a wow prospect in all likelihood, but he deserves a chance.

Projection: 3rd Day OL Prospect.

LB Greer Martini

Martini will need to answer the same questions as Nyles Morgan. Can his speed translate to the next level? I think it can. Martini should rack up a ton of tackles this season, and he is one of Notre Dame’s most reliable run defenders. He plays smart, physical, and under control. This season will go a long way towards his draft stock.

Projection: 3rd Day LB or UDFA.

C Sam Mustipher

Mustipher struggled in his first season as the starting center for Notre Dame last season. He had many snap infractions and struggled leading the offensive line. On top of that, he did not perform well against powerful defensive lineman. However, Coach Kelly had nothing but positive things to say about Mustipher during the spring and he deserves credit for fending off Junior Tristen Hoge for the second straight season. Notre Dame’s reputation for putting offensive lineman in the NFL will help here if Mustipher has a solid season.

Projection: 3rd Day OC or UDFA.

TE Durham Smythe

Smythe has been a disappointment in his career since coming to South Bend out of the Texas High School ranks. I was very high on him as a recruit,  but he has simply never been impactful. This in large part is due to the lack of TE utilization in the passing game, but he has not capitalized on the opportunities given to him and has dealt with some injuries. With Chip Long taking over at offensive coordinator the tight ends will be a big part of the offense. If Smythe wants a chance at the NFL, he needs to have a productive receiving season. Early reports coming out of Spring are encouraging.

Projection: UDFA

S/LB Drue Tranquill

Tranquill is somewhat of a tweener. When he originally committed to Notre Dame, he was known for his elite speed as a hybrid linebacker/safety, but that has yet to translate into consistent production. Missing the majority of his first two seasons with two separate ACL injuries doesn’t help his cause, but the talent is evident. Under the tutelage of DC Mike Elko he will play the ROVER position, which at least for the time being seems like a perfect fit. If Tranquill can stay healthy for a second straight season and perform well at ROVER, that could go a long way toward finding a path to the NFL.

Projection: UDFA

CB Nick Watkins

Watkins is set to start at corner again after missing all of last year with injury. He has always had the talent, but injuries, inconsistencies, and depth chart have prevented him from starting too many games during his Notre Dame career. Reports are positive from spring practices and he showed well in the Blue & Gold Game. His draft status, like many of the players on this list, is wait and see.

Projection: UDFA with mid-round talent upside.

QB Brandon Wimbush

The last guy I want to talk about is Brandon Wimbush. It will be his first season as the starting quarterback in South Bend, but as a heralded recruit it is easy to see the upside and his NFL potential. I do not see him leaving after one season, but stranger things have happened. If Notre Dame finds themselves in the playoffs, he will be a big reason why and receive a lot of TV time. Wimbush can wow scouts with his athletic ability and arm strength. If he shows well in other facets of the game, anything is possible.

Projection: First Round if he comes out.

I understand that some on this list will be back at Notre Dame, but I wanted to mention the players I think are most likely to wow scouts in a certain way. Is your favorite player didn’t make the list? What about your sleeper? Someone on this list have no business on it? Share your thoughts. However, one thing is for certain in my mind. Notre Dame will have a better draft class in 2018 than 2017.