Notre Dame did not have a single offensive lineman selected in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Well, there’s a reason for that, and it is all five starters return in 2020. That means Notre Dame should have one of the nation’s elite lines, and it also means we could hear at least three Irish blockers have their name called at this time a year from now.
Let’s kick off our look at the 2021 Notre Dame draft class by breaking down the offensive linemen.
LIAM EICHENBERG, OFFENSIVE TACKLE
Stats/Starts: 26 starts - 0 sacks allowed in 2019
NFL Comparison: Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans
Round Projection: First Round
Analysis: Whenever I bring up Eichenberg’s name the initial response is often a reference to his false starts, which is obviously something he’ll need to clean up. What is lost in the odd obsession many fans have with his handful of false starts is just how good Eichenberg was last season, especially down the stretch.
According to Pro Football Focus, Eichenberg is one of just four returning Power 5 offensive tackles to rank in the Top 10 in run blocking grade and pass blocking grade. He ranks 8th in pass blocking grade and 6th in run blocking grade, but he ranks 3rd among returning tackles in pass block efficiency.
Eichenberg has all the physical traits you want in a first round offensive tackle. He’s big, in good shape, long, has good functional athleticism and he’ll compete. Eichenberg can get good movement in the run game and can handle both speed and power on the edge in the pass game.
The senior must become more consistent with his focus and force in the run game. He must also do a better job with angles in the run game, especially when working to the outside. If he can do that, build on his 2019 season and clean up the lack of focus he’ll have a chance to be one of the first tackles taken in the 2021 Draft.
ROBERT HAINSEY, OFFENSIVE TACKLE/GUARD
Height: 6-4 1/2
Stats/Starts: 25 career starts - Allowed just one total sack from 2018-19
NFL Comparison: Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys
Round Projection: Round 3-4
Analysis: Hainsey will have over 30 starts at tackle by the time his career is over, but I think it will be the versatility that his frame and game presents that could vault him up draft boards next year. Like former Notre Dame star Zack Martin, I’m not sure Hainsey has the length to stick at tackle in the NFL, but as a guard, or even a center, his traits would fit in much better.
If you want a non-Notre Dame comparison, think Connor Williams, the former Texas tackle that now starts at guard for the Cowboys.
Hainsey has the foot quickness you want in a tackle, which allows him to handle speed rushers and makes him highly effective in the run game. Hainsey would fit in extremely well in an offense that runs a zone oriented scheme or one that likes to get blockers moving in pin-and-pull concepts.
The broken fibula injury that cost Hainsey the final five games of the 2019 season could be a blessing in disguise for the Pittsburgh native. An issue for Hainsey is a lack of lower body girth and power, which at times results in Hainsey getting knocked back or struggling to stay locked on against bigger players in the run game.
If the rehab that Hainsey is going through to build up his legs results in him adding a bit more girth, and more important more lower body strength, then you could see his game take off. Hainsey is strong in the upper body and he’s athletic, so if his lower body strength catches up to his upper body strength I could see him having a similar draft rise to Martin.
TOMMY KRAEMER, GUARD
Height: 6-5 1/2
Stats/Starts: 26 starts - 0 allowed sacks in 2018 and 2019
NFL Comparison: Alex Cappa, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Round Projection: Round 4-5
Analysis: Evaluating Kraemer might be the hardest of all the linemen. He brings size and power to the game, and at times he’s a dominant run blocker, but he’s been way too hit or miss in his career. That lack of consistency has kept him from playing to the five-star player he was projected to be.
Kraemer is a big, physical blocker that had a tough time adjusting to guard in 2018. He was wildly inconsistent for much of that season, but after losing his starting job he returned and played much better football. He got a lot of preseason All-American hype, but that was likely based more off his high school rankings than what he did at Notre Dame.
But in 2019 we started to see more flashes of the top-level player he could be. Kraemer was in better shape, and the result was improved quickness off the snap and an improved ability to handle slants, twists and A-Gap blitzers. When he moved his feet in 2019, the Irish right guard was quite good. The issue is he has a bad habit of stopping his feet when he makes contact, which keeps him from finishing as well as he should.
This needs to be something Kraemer and line coach Jeff Quinn focus a lot of time off this summer and in the fall. If Kraemer can do a better job working his feet through contact I can see his run blocking production taking off in 2020. He has already improved as a pass blocker, and if he maxes out his run game potential I could see him going from a middle to late round player and becoming more of a day two caliber lineman.
Be sure to stay locked into Irish Breakdown all the time!