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Hogs Haven 2020 NFL Draft Coverage: Notre Dame Preview

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An early preview of the Notre Dame players who may be prominent in the 2020 NFL draft

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Notre Dame at Louisville Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As part of Hogs Haven’s pre-draft coverage, I am going to preview one team per week (either Friday or Saturday) throughout the college football season.

One of the biggest college games of the season will be this weekend’s battle between Georgia and Notre Dame. In preparation for this contest, I re-watched Notre Dame’s play-off loss to Clemson, as well as this year’s opener against Louisville and about bits and pieces of the New Mexico game.

2020 NFL Draft: Notre Dame Prospects

Notre Dame has long been one of the most storied football programs in the country, and their 2018 team made it to last season’s college football playoffs and saw six players drafted in 2019.

The Irish have had NINE players drafted in the first round since 2012, which is coincidentally is tied with Georgia for 7th in the nation, behind only Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, FSU, LSU, Florida. Of those nine, four came from the offensive line.

If you watch this Saturday’s showdown, here are a few of the Fighting Irish prospects to keep an eye on.

POTENTIAL FIRST ROUND PROSPECTS

#42 Julian Okwara (Sr.) Edge, 6-4 1/2, 248.

Okwara came to South Bend as a top-300 recruit. Going into the 2019 season, he had appeared in 36 games with 12 starts, and was named one of the team’s seven captains.

According to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, Okwara was one of just eight college seniors who earned first-round draft grades by National Football Scouting — a group that runs the NFL Combine.

While Okwara compiled 38 tackles, including a team-leading 12.5 for loss with eight sacks and 21 QB hurries in 2018, there have been questions about his ability to finish, with some Notre Dame analysts feeling that many of those hurries should have been sacks.

Named one of the team’s seven captains for 2019, Okwara has NFL bloodlines - he is the brother of former Notre Dame DL Romeo Okwara. Julian’s family moved to United States from Nigeria when he was in the third-grade.

This past summer, Okwara was named to Bruce Fledman’s ”Freak List” after he was GPS clocked at 21 MPH. Then The Athletic’s Dane Brugler ranked Okwara his No. 4 edge rusher prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft entering the season. Brugler was impressed with Okwara’s versatility, which he says allows him to be effective pass coverage and the run game as well as being a very good pass rusher.

Off to a somewhat slow start this season, one thing that impressed me was how effortlessly he moves backwards which may make him a better fit as an OLB in a 3-4.

Some feel Okwara could have a Josh Allen type rise as a senior, and could be a Top-10 selection for the 2020 NFL Draft, and I feel that is in his range of possible outcomes.

POSSIBLE DAY TWO (ROUNDS 2-3) PROSPECTS

#53 Khalid Kareem (Sr.) Edge, 6-4, 265.

Kareem came to South Bend as a 4-Star HS recruit. Going into the 2019 season, he had appeared in 30 games with 13 starts. He too was named a team captain in August of 2019.

Kareem started all 13 games for Notre Dame as a junior in 2018, making 42 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, eight quarterback hurries, five pass breakups, and one forced fumble.

Pro Football Focus charted him with 36 total pressures last season, including 28 hurries and four quarterback hits. According to PFF, Kareem graded out as the defensive line’s best run defender on the season, and was second on the defensive line with 21 run stops. Finally PFF charted him with eight missed tackles, and four penalties on the year.

In Notre Dame’s 2018 opener, Kareem finished with 9 tackles, 2.5 for a loss, and 2 sacks against the Michigan.

When both Okwara and Kareem decided to return for their senior seasons, they gave Notre Dame one of the best defensive end duos in the country. In a poll of 13 sports writers who cover Notre Dame, Counting Down the Irish concludes, “Despite being overshadowed by senior defensive end Julian Okwara this preseason, do not be outright shocked if Kareem flips that narrative this season.”

He’s versatile enough to have lined up at every position along the defensive line, but Kareem doesn’t have much experience dropping back into coverage. A good athlete with long arms, but he isn’t particularly explosive as a pass rusher, and lacks the ability to “bend the edge” on his path to the quarterback. Instead, Kareem relies more on converting speed to power.

#5 Troy Pride Jr. (Sr.) CB, 5-11, 194.

Pride’s recruiting rankings were all over the place - ranked anywhere from the 16th to the 91st high school corner in the country.

Going into the 2019 season, Pride had appeared in 32 games with 19 starts. He had 45 tackles, a pair of interceptions and nine pass break-ups in 2018. Despite facing some of the nation’s best receivers, Pride only gave up one touchdown in 2018 (to USC’s Tyler Vaughns).

Per PFF, Pride was the nation’s #1 cornerback against the “Go route” in 2018. Overall, Pride was their ninth highest-graded cornerback at 84.5 and allowed a stingy 51.1% catch rate and 54.9 passer rating last season. Still his specialty is defending the deep pass (20+ yards downfield) with Pride having allowed just four receptions on 24 targets since arriving on campus.

As a two-time member of Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks List”, this is no surprise. Pride doubles as a track star for the Irish. His 100-meter times of 10.47 and 10.5 are two of the six fastest all-time at Notre Dame. His best 40-yard-dash time, reportedly 4.32, would’ve been the third-fastest time among all prospects at the 2019 NFL Combine.

While Julian Love was Notre Dame’s best corner the past couple of years, his athletic limitations caused him to fall into Rd4. Pride has no such limitations. An elite athlete. Should run one of the NFL Combine’s fastest 40 times. Smooth in his backpedal and quick in his transitions, he is better in press-man vs off-man or zone (the opposite of Love).

#74 Liam Eichenberg (rJr.) LT, 6-6 1/8, 305.

Eigchenberg came to South Bend as a Top-100 overall prospect, ranked 6th or 7th in the nation for offensive tackles. Entering the 2019 season, Eichenberg had appeared in 18 games with 13 starts. He redshirted as a freshman in 2016 and only saw action in five games in 2017 while playing behind Mike McGlinchey. He started all 13 games in 2018.

Over the summer, Dane Brugler of The Athletic ranked Eichenberg as the fourth-best offensive tackle prospect.

Here he is, primarily working against former Clemson DE Clelin Ferrell. While most of the game was a stalemate, the 4:12, and 5:36 mark are particularly concerning. Less of a concern to me was him giving up a sack in the final minutes down by 27.

Unlike Brugler, I have him ranked as just my 9th ranked offensive tackle and a potential day two pick. However, if Eichenberg were to be selected in the first round, he would continue a Notre Dame streak of having a first-round pick starting at left tackle every year since 2010, with Zack Martin (2010-13), Ronnie Stanley (2014-15) and Mike McGlinchey (2016-17) manning the position before Eichenberg (2018-?).

#72 Robert Hainsey (Jr.) RT, 6-4 5/8, 298.

Hainsey came to South Bend out of the IMG Academy ranked as the #3 guard prospect in the class of 2017. Entering the 2019 season, he has appeared in 26 games with 14 starts. Hainsey is the first offensive lineman at Notre Dame to be selected a captain in his true junior season since 1943.

As a sophomore, Hainsey spent much of September working through a hamstring issue. Despite that, he graded out by Pro Football Focus as Notre Dame’s top lineman in 2018. His 76.1 run blocking grade ranks sixth nationally among returning Power Five offensive tackles with at least 450 snaps in 2018. His 80.7 pass block grade ranked just 17th, but his overall pass blocking efficiency was 4th (including just one sack and two hits allowed). Finally, in UND’s 30-3 College Football Playoff loss to Clemson, Hainsey was one of the Irish few bright spots, as PFF graded him as Notre Dame’s top performer on offense with a 70.9 mark.

Somewhat undersized, Hainsey isn’t a good enough athlete to compensate for his lack of strength and power. He has solid technique, but lacks the lateral agility and overall movement skills to shutdown top speed rushers.

Coach Kelly has done a good job at convincing underclassmen offensive tackles to stay for their senior seasons by “promoting” them from RT to LT. That could happen again, if Eichenberg declares for the NFL after this season.

#11 Alohi Gilman (rJr.) SS, 5-10 1/2, 202.

Originally from Hawaii, Gilman played in 2016 for the Naval Academy, starting 12 of 14 games as a true freshman. He finished the season #2 on the team in tackles (76) and second in pass breakups (5).

Forced to sit out the 2017 season due to NCAA transfer rules, Gilman started in all 13 games in 2018 (eight at free safety and five at strong safety) totaling 95 tackles, three tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, two interceptions, five pass breakups, and two quarterback hurries. Named a team captain for 2019.

Per PFF’s charting, Gilman earned a 90.5 run defense grade on 380 snaps, a 91.0 tackling grade with four missed tackles, a 62.8 pass rush grade on 31 snaps, and a 90.8 coverage grade on 514 snaps, with two penalties during the 2018 season.

Gilman entered the 2019 season with some pre-season All-American buzz after his impressive debut with the Irish, and going into the Georgia game, he leads the team in total tackles with 13 this season.

Gilman is an efficient tackler, an effective blitzer, and shows range and awareness in coverage. In some ways, he reminds me of Taylor Rapp (Pk#61, 2019).

While I am not certain he is an elite athlete, Gilman is a very good football player, who has a good shot at being a Top-100 selection.

#78 Tommy Kraemer (rJr.) RG/RT, 6-5 5/8, 319.

Kraemer came to South Bend rated as high as the 27th ranked player in the nation and #3-ranked offensive tackle according 247Sports. After red-shirting in 2016, Kraemer started at RT for Notre Dame’s offensive line that won the 2017 Joe Moore Award, given to the best offensive line in the country. Then, he moved to, and started 10 games at RG in 2018.

Going into 2018 spring practice, many expected Kraemer to take over the LT position for the departed Mike McGlinchey. Only once Eichenberg proved ready, did Kraemer slide to his more natural fit at guard. The best part of Kraemer’s game is his power run blocking, and he is probably a better fit inside.

He briefly lost his job in 2018, partially due to an injured ankle, but has supposedly worked hard with ND trainers to remake his body and improve his foot quickness, and conditioning.

Given his early role in 2017, there are some that still consider Kraemer to be the team’s best offensive lineman, but most who cover the team feel both Eichenberg, Hainsey (and perhaps RS-Soph. Aaron Banks ??) have eclipsed him.

From what I have witnessed, I think the entire Notre Dame offensive line will be challenged by the Georgia defense. Thus far, Notre Dame has allowed four sacks and 13 negative plays through two games. In each of the games I have watched, there have been times where the individual pieces on the offensive line have struggled with speed rushers.

LIKELY DAY THREE (ROUNDS 4-7) PROSPECTS

#9 Daelin Hayes (Sr.) Edge, 6-3 3/4, 266.

Going into the 2019 season, Hayes has appeared in 37 games with 13 starts. He managed 31 tackles with five for loss including two sacks last season — pretty impressive stats for Notre Dame’s third defensive end.

After two games this season, Hayes has been getting a ton of reps, and, going into the Georgia game, actually has more tackles for loss (3) than Okwara (0) and Kareem (1) put together.

Hayes actually started 12 games in 2017, and when I watched him that season, I thought he would become their best edge defender going forward. While that did not happen, it is fair to wonder how good Hayes could have been if either Okwara or Kareem had left early for the NFL.

With Hayes, my evaluation (what I think of him) is actually much higher than my valuation (where I rank him) due to him being a back-up/rotational piece. With OLB/DE versatility, he could be a hidden gem.

#83 Chase Claypool (Sr.) WR 6-4 3/8 229.

A consensus top-300 recruit, Claypool nearly made it inside Rivals’ top-100 list - quite a feat for a Canadian.

For those of you who subscribe to The Athletic, draft analyst Dane Brugler’s Meet the Prospect piece on his background (he was a 47 points per game scorer in basketball) is worth a look.

Entering the 2019 season, Claypool had appeared in 37 games with 20 starts, 84 catches, and 1,122 yards receiving. He has also been an asset on special teams, with 20 career tackles, including 11 as a freshman.

While Claypool flashes here or there, he often has disappeared in Notre Dames’ biggest games. Against Georgia, in last year’s semi-final, he only had 2 catches for 8 yards. Similarly he caught only 3 passes for 47 yards vs Michigan, 1 for 12 vs FSU, 3 for 23 vs Stanford.

Back in 2017, there were those that felt Claypool had emerged as Notre Dame’s most dangerous receiver, even over Mile Boykin and Equanimeous St. Brown. Now that each are in the NFL, there’s no question who is the top wideout for the Irish.

That being said, UHND points out that “in the Kelly era, only three receivers have broken the threshold of 60 receptions in a season” while asking Is Chase Claypool Ready to be the Star Notre Dame Fans Have Been Waiting For?

At roughly 6-foot-4 and nearly 230 pounds, Claypool brings physicality to the position and at times can be a devastating blocker.

After two weeks, Claypool’s nine catches and 190 receiving yards both lead the team by a significant margin, but Georgia’s corners will be a tough test for him.

At this point, he is not a refined route runner, but is most effective on slant routes and downfield routes. He isn’t really explosive out of his breaks and has difficulty gaining separation against smaller, quicker defensive backs. A long strider, he can run fast once he gets a full head of steam but lacks start stop start quickness.

There’s a lot to lke about Claypool. His physical tools are very good, with the size to win jump balls, and he’s been an effective deep ball target, as well as an special-teams gunner. At this point, I rank him as a Day-3 pick, but I am hopeful he can become more clutch this season, then impress at both the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine. In which case, he could break into Day-2 consideration.

#12 Ian Book (rJr.) QB 6-0 1/8 212.

Book came to South Bend ranked as high as the #14-ranked pro-style quarterback by Rivals. He entered the 2018 season as a back-up behind Brandon Wimbush with just one career start. After replacing Wimbush in the 4th game of the season, Book threw for 2,628 yards, with 19 touchdowns against seven interceptions in ten starts last season. His 68.15 completion rate last season broke the Irish record.

According to Pro Football Focus’ charting, Book ranked in the bottom fourth of their rankings against pressure. Per PFF in 2018 “Book bailed on the pocket far too often and had the most pressures allocated to himself among all college football quarterbacks (29). Out of those pressures, 18 ended as a sack which was seven more than any other college quarterback.”

As an example, against Clemson, Book completed 17-of-34 passes, for just 160 yards, with 1 interception and took six sacks.

Firmly entrenched as the starter, Ian Book was named one of the team’s seven captain for 2019.

Heading into the season, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah had Book ranked as his 11th ranked quarterback prospect for the 2020 draft. Jeremiah explains “When I peeked at Book last year, he reminded me of Trace McSorley....Book lacks ideal size, but he just finds a way to get the job done with both his arm and legs. He sees the field well and will take the free yards when the defense gives him room. Can he really drive the football? I’m looking forward to getting that question answered this fall.”

In Notre Dame’s opener against Louisville, Book was pretty shaky. He was 14-of-23 passing for 193 yards, with one touchdown and zero interceptions, while adding 81 yards and another score on the ground. He also gave up a fumbled twice, losing one, and hit a Cardinals’ cheerleader in the face (breaking her nose) on a pass he was throwing away.

Some Notre Dame fans are already wondering if they should be worried about the quarterback position. According to Tyler James of The South Bend Tribune, Book threw further than 10 yards downfield only three times (not counting throwaways that hit cheerleaders) in the Louisville game.

#21 Jalen Elliott (Sr.) FS 6-0 1/2 210.

A Rivals 4-star recruit, Elliott saw action in all 12 games his freshman season, before starting all 13 games the past two seasons. Considered a weak link in 2017, Elliott’s production jumped to 67 tackles, four interceptions, seven pass breakups and a forced fumble in 2018, and he was named a team captain for the 2019 season.

Per Pro Football Focus, Elliott comes into 2019 as the 14th-highest-graded returning safety with a coverage grade of 87.6 in 2018. Per their charting, Elliott 22.2% forced incompletion rate (tied for eighth), nine pass breakups plus interceptions (tied for seventh) and 48.3 passer rating allowed in coverage (eighth).

This year, Notre Dame has an outstanding freshman safety (#14, Kyle Hamilton) who has already been receiving a bunch of playing time, especially in three safety sets. While Elliott and Gilman are clearly the starters, I think if Hamilton’s role continues to grow, it is more likely to affect the former’s playing time.

Elliott still has a realistic chance to break into the Top-100. The Irish coaching staff has long been high on Elliott’s physical gifts. He’s fast, agile and rangy, and he will likely test better than Gilman at the NFL Combine.

#84 Cole Kmet (Jr.) TE 6-6 250.

Kmet came to South Bend as the #83-ranked overall player and No. 3 tight end by ESPN’s recruiting rankings. He has a great build for the position.

Going into the 2019 season, Kmet has appeared in 24 games with 7 starts. As a sophomore in 2018, Kmet hauled in 15 passes for 162 yards, playing in a rotation with Alize Mack who has since left for the NFL (Rd7, 2019).

He is also a pitcher on the Fighting Irish baseball team.

Kmet suffered a broken collarbone in August and has not yet played this season, but is expected to be “a full go” for the Georgia game. He also battled an injured ankle in 2018 and elbow soreness (from pitching) last spring.

Kmet may not be as athletic as teams now want when looking to create mismatches, but he will hold more value for teams that want a traditional inline “Y” tight end. Athletically, he appears similar to Kaden Smith (Rd6, 2019) but needs to test better. It is also fair to ask if his future might be on the diamond instead of the gridiron.

LIKELY UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS

#20 Shaun Crawford (rSr.) CB 5-9 1/8 180.

Going into the 2019, Crawford had appeared in 15 games with just 3 starts but has won the job to replace Julian Love this season. He has experience at both the outside corner and in the slot, and can also play safety, but size may limit him to the slot in the NFL.

Crawford is a good athlete, and a good player when healthy, but has suffered three season ending injuries, including a torn right ACL in 2015, a ruptured left Achilles in 2016, and a torn left ACL in 2018. He is a guy you want to root for, but likely has too many medical red flags to be drafted.

#10 Chris Finke (rSr.) WR/PR 5-9 1/2 184.

Entering the 2019 season, Finke had appeared in 36 games with 8 starts. A former walk on, he was named a team captain for 2019. Finke finished with 49 catches for 571 yards and two touchdowns last year.

For every Wes Welker and Hunter Renfrow, there are 100 guys like Finke, who are incredible long shots to make it in the NFL. Finke does not appear nearly as explosive as Braxton Berrios (Rd6, 2018), or as reliable as Renfrow (Rd5, 2019).

#6 Tony Jones Jr. (rJr.) RB 5-11 224.

Ranked as high as the #187-ranked player nationally and #10-ranked running back by Scout.com, Jones played both baseball and football at the prep school powerhouse IMG Academy. Entering the 2019 season, he had appeared in 25 games with just 3 starts.

While Jafar Armstrong got the start in Notre Dame’s 2019 opener against Louisville, he was injured and replaced by Jones, who looked good against the Cardinals with 15 carries for 110 yards, including a 35-yard run and an 11-yard touchdown. Jones only received six carries in Notre Dame’s 2nd game, a blow-out win over New Mexico.

The Irish Illustrated explains why Jones was never viewed as a lead back.

Good in pass-pro and good between the tackles, Jones is just a solid back. He just isn’t an explosive athlete. He does not appear as talented as recent UND runners Dexter Williams (Rd6), or Josh Adams (undrafted). He’s an in between the tackles runner without breakaway ability.

#22 Asmar Bilal (rSr.) MLB 6-2 227.

Bilal has appeared in 37 games with 10 starts. Going into the Georgia game, Bilal is second on the team in total tackles (12) and leads the team in solo stops (10).

Versatile, with experience at Rover, OLB and MLB. Probably not as good as last year’s starters Drue Tranquill and Te’Von Coney.

Robin, from One Football Down and Big Blue View does an excellent job breaking down the Fighting Irish’s 2020 draft prospects in unbelievable detail. For an even more in depth look, READ THIS.