Combine Preview: Khalid Kareem, Defensive End
Notre Dame has nine former players set to attend the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, which begins next week. It is an opportunity for each player to improve his draft stock. Before it begins, Irish Breakdown will profile each former Irish player and discuss what’s at stake for him at the combine.
KHALID KAREEM, DEFENSIVE END
Hometown/High School: Detroit, Mich. / Harrison
2019 Stats: 46 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
Career Stats: 109 tackles, 25.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 8 break ups, 96 quarterback pressures
Overview: Kareem played very little as a true freshman in 2016, but in 2017 he became a key part of the defensive line rotation. There were stretches that season where you could see Kareem was going to become a difference maker for the Irish defense.
After registering 21 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks as a sophomore, Kareem stepped into the starting lineup as a junior in 2018. He made an immediate splash, racking up eight tackles and making a key fourth quarter sack in the 24-17 victory over Michigan. We saw then what Kareem would show his final two seasons, when the games mattered the most he would be at his best.
As a senior, Kareem finished with 46 tackles, racked up 10 tackles for loss and tied for the team lead with 5.5 sacks. Kareem forced three fumbles in his final season and he had a team-leading 44 quarterback pressures.
Kareem was a stout run defender throughout his career, using his long arms and extremely powerful hands to shock blockers and keep them off his body. His block destruction improved each season, and he was clearly Notre Dame’s best run defender as a senior.
What made Kareem such an impactful player was that he made clutch plays. Kareem didn’t make a ton of sacks and didn’t rack up elite numbers, but when he did make plays they often came in clutch moments.
Whether it was shutting down Michigan with a key fourth-quarter sack, doing the same thing against Pittsburgh, coming up with the game-changing strip sack against Virginia Tech that you see in the video, or the crucial forced fumbles against Navy that were also in that video, Kareem seemed to be the guy that more often than not stepped up and made a play when the defense needed it most.
If you look at how he performed in big games it only adds to that. The third highest run-defense grade of his career came in the Cotton Bowl against Clemson. Kareem racked up 13 career pressures, three sacks and six run stops in three games against USC, and he had six pressures, a sack and seven run stops in two games against Michigan.
Kareem was a team captain as a senior, and clutch play is something you expect from a captain that leads by example.
What’s At Stake: Kareem has snuck into the second and third round of a few recent mock drafts. Teammate Julian Okwara has gotten much of the draft hype, but as more analysts start diving into the film they are realizing that Kareem was actually the better all-around player.
Here is what The Athletic NFL Draft analyst Dane Brugler recently wrote about Kareem:
“He might not have the athletic gifts of his Irish teammate Julian Okwara, but he is the better football player right now, and the 2019 tape and stat sheet back that up.”
This short statement from Brugler shows what’s at stake for Kareem at the NFL Scouting Combine. Kareem has excellent film, and scouts are going to love his power, his motor, his block destruction and his clutch play. They are going to love his character and leadership, and they are going to absolutely love his frame and length.
What they are going to question is his athleticism and explosiveness. I would argue players with great film but questionable athleticism have the most to gain at the combine. As we get closer to the NFL Draft I’ll have more content breaking down his game, but the combine is the best chance Kareem has to rise up on draft boards.
With a strong combine performance I could see Kareem jump way up on boards and all but lock down a second round draft grade. Brugler projects Kareem to be around a 4.84 in the 40-yard dash. If Kareem can blow past that and show good explosive numbers (vertical jump, broad jump) it will give him a major boost. Even a time in the 4.7s will improve his stock, but if Kareem can get into the 4.6 range it will cause him to be a major riser.
Performing well in the agility drills is also something that could improve Kareem’s draft stock. He shows a good vertical burst but his lateral speed and change of direction have been questioned by some. A good time in the pro shuttle and the 3-cone drill will help raise his draft stock as well.
A strong case could be made that no Notre Dame defender has a great opportunity to make more money at the combine than does Kareem.
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