Four Notre Dame OL Named Top 30 Returners For 2020
Pro Football Focus released its Top 30 returning offensive linemen for 2020, and there were two immediate observations. One is how much the organization loves centers and two is how many Notre Dame players made the list.
The Fighting Irish have five returning starting offensive linemen in 2020, and four of them were named by PFF as Top 30 returning blockers. Notre Dame led all teams, with Kentucky coming in next with three selections. Only two other teams (Air Force, BYU) had more than one.
Senior right tackle Robert Hainsey topped the list at No. 23. The Irish captain was Notre Dame’s top returning blocker in 2019 and graded out as the second best player on the line last season despite missing four games with a knee injury. Hainsey has made 26 career starts for the Irish.
"The fourth member of the Fighting Irish's stout offensive line cracks the top-30 list, and he has been an integral piece to their line for the past three years. Hainsey has logged over 1,800 snaps at right tackle in that time span and has been a wall in pass-protection over the last two, particularly. Since the start of 2018, Hainsey has allowed the third-lowest pressure rate at right tackle among returners."
Up next is left guard Aaron Banks, who checked in at No. 24. This was interesting considering Banks was Notre Dame’s fourth lowest graded starting offensive lineman last season. But it seems PFF thinks the talented guard is ready to make a jump. Banks has made 19 straight starts for Notre Dame and is ranked as the 5th-best guard.
"Left guard Aaron Banks started the final six games of 2018 and maintained that role in 2019, allowing minuscule pressure along the way. His 2.1% pressure rate allowed over the last two seasons at left guard is tied for the seventh lowest in the FBS."
Left tackle Liam Eichenberg checked in at No. 28 on the list despite being Notre Dame’s highest graded blocker last season. Eichenberg had the second best grade on the entire offense, behind only wide receiver Chase Claypool, but PFF projects him to be the third best blocker next season. Eichenberg did not allow a sack last season and has started 26 straight games.
"Eichenberg didn’t allow a single sack at left tackle this year and was solid across the board, generating an 85.5 pass-blocking grade and a 78.8 run-blocking grade. Similar to Leatherwood, penalties were a massive issue for him in 2019 — he had 11 on the year, the third most for his position."
Rounding out the list is rising junior center Jarrett Patterson, who at No. 30 is one of nine centers on this list. Patterson had some struggles last season, but his potential and raw talent was obvious. With another year in the weight room under his belt, and a year of experience now behind him, it’s not surprising to see Patterson projected to make a jump next fall.
"Patterson did not disappoint in his first year starting at center for the Fighting Irish. There wasn’t a single game this year where he allowed multiple pressures, and he ended up surrendering the seventh-lowest pressure rate among centers returning in 2020."
Veteran guard Tommy Kraemer was a midseason All-American before going down with a season-ending injury against Michigan. PFF wasn’t impressed with Kraemer’s performance last season, grading him out as average on the season.