BOB WIENEKE (South Bend Tribune)
SOUTH BEND .- In terms of the attention tossed the way of Notre Dame football players as the 2014 season inches closer, there’s the obvious big two of Everett Golson and Jaylon Smith.
But where do the other guys stand?
One of those other guys — junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell — is potentially good enough that he could be facing a decision of whether or not to jump into the NFL Draft pool following this season or return to ND for his senior year.
Russell is one of a number of ND players who will have college eligibility remaining after this season, but also could jump to the pros. Russell, though, at this date, seems to be the one with the highest current draft stock.
“He’s a really talented guy,” said analyst Scott Wright, who runs DraftCountdown.com. “Doesn’t get a lot of publicity, but I think that’s going to start to change.”
Russell entered college as a running back but switched to corner prior to the start of his freshman season. He has started every game since he arrived and Wright believes the NFL types are watching.
“I think he’s got a chance to be one of the top corners in next year’s draft, maybe a top 50-, top 75-type of pick,” Wright said. “I think he’s that type of talent.”
Chances to prove himself certainly will be available. The Irish face some of the top receivers in the country this fall, including DaVante Parker of Louisville, Rashad Greene of Florida State andUSC’s Nelson Agholor.
“So he’s going to have a spotlight on him and I think if he comes through with the type of season he’s capable of, I think we could be talking about him as one of the maybe five or 10 best corners in the NFL Draft,” Wright said. “He’s definitely one of the better draft-eligible pro prospects on the roster, no question.”
But he’s not the only draft-eligible player on the roster, one of the other being quarterback Everett Golson.
Golson did not play as a true freshman in 2011, led the Irish to the BCS National Championship Game in 2012, missed last season because of an academic suspension and returns this fall.
“From an NFL perspective, I think Golson is still kind of an incomplete if you will. We really don’t know,” Wright said. “He played a couple years ago but even then he wasn’t 100 percent full time; they brought in (Tommy) Rees in certain situations. And Golson struggled at times, like all young quarterbacks are going to.
“But this is going to be a big season for him. This coming year he needs to kind of step up and take care of his responsibilities off the field so something like that doesn’t come up again, and show that development off the field.
“Certainly we’ve heard all the reports about how he was working out in California with George Whitfield and he’s gotten bigger, stronger and faster, but he needs to translate that to the field. It’s kind of to-be-determined, but I think he’s going to be a guy who needs to use all of his eligibility most likely. I don’t see him as a quarterback who will probably be thinking about going pro early, at least not at this point.”
When the 6-foot Golson does leave Notre Dame, one of the questions he’ll face is his height.
“There aren’t many quarterbacks in the NFL that are right around that 6-foot tall mark that are starting. Everyone talks about Drew Brees but he’s the exception to the rule,” Wright said. “Russell Wilson is having success in the NFL so that’s going to work in the favor for Golson because Wilson is probably the best comparison for Golson, a poor-man’s Russell Wilson. I make the comparison not only because of the size but because they are athletic.
They can make plays with their feet and buy time if they need to.”Wright pointed to former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel as the next test case for shorter quarterbacks.
Manziel was a first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns.
“If a guy like Manziel continues that trend, well, that’s going to help a guy like Golson in the draft,” Wright said.
Another player returning from an academic misstep is senior wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, a senior who could return in 2015. Daniels, who missed spring practice this year but has been reinstated, is considered to have tremendous potential.
“He seems like he would be a candidate to go pro early,” Wright said. “I think DaVaris Daniels has a big opportunity ahead of him and I think he has the ability to be an early-round pick, but then again, I wouldn’t be shocked if he was a second-or third-round pick. I wouldn’t be shocked if he went undrafted either. It’s kind of a crossroads for DaVaris Daniels in terms of a pro career.”
Wright believes the change from Bob Diaco to Brian VanGorder as defensive coordinator could be a boon for defensive lineman Sheldon Day. With Notre Dame expected to play more 4-3 than it has in the past, Day’s likely move inside could help him, whenever the pro talk begins.
“I think he’s going to be so much better-suited to be playing on the interior. He was a good player when he was playing defensive end in the 3-4 scheme. It’s not that he wasn’t a good player, but it was that square-peg, round-hole effect to a certain degree,” Wright said.
“I think he’s that prototypical three-technique where he’s going to be able to use that quickness and athleticism and it’s going to be much more apparent on the interior than it was on the outside. I think Sheldon Day is a top-50, top-75 type of talent when he comes out, whether it be this year or next year.”
Looking further ahead Sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith won’t become eligible for the NFL Draft until after the 2015 season, but already Wright sees a lot of good stuff.
“You watch and it becomes clear pretty quickly that he looks like a future first-round pick,” Wright said. “It might just be a matter of how high of a first-round pick he is. Is he in the 20s? Is he in the mid-first round? Is he a top-five pick? I think he does have that top-10 overall type of talent.’’
Top of the board
If Wright were forced to pick a guy as the top pick in the 2015 draft, he pointed to a pair of quarterbacks — reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston of Florida State and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, giving the edge to Winston.
“To me, it’s Winston, and the only question mark with Winston is maturity,” Wright said. “Having two or three off-the-field things, and it’s a concern. He has to grow up real quick.
“But boy, at the end of the day, he’s a pretty special, talented player.’’