Every starting left tackle of the Brian Kelly tenure at Notre Dame has gone on to be a first round NFL Draft pick. Up next is Liam Eichenberg, who finished his Irish career with 38 career starts.
Eichenberg will look to keep the streak alive, but right now the mock draft world isn’t giving him as much first round love as his predecessors (Zach Martin, Ronnie Stanley, Mike McGlinchey) received.
The occasional mock draft will have Eichenberg in the first round, but right now most mock drafts have Eichenberg going in the second round. I must admit that I’ve been surprised at his current draft projection, and the question must be asked, is Eichenberg worthy of a first round pick?
Let’s look at Eichenberg’s profile, his strengths as a player and areas for improvement as we look to answer this question.
Career Starts: 38
- Consensus All-American (1st Team - Walter Camp, AFCA, Sporting News, FWAA, The Athletic, CBS Sports)
- Outland Trophy Finalist
- Jacobs Blocking Trophy (Best blocker in the ACC)
- First Team All-ACC
Consistency — Eichenberg got better and better every year in the lineup, and as a third-year starter he was the epitome of consistency. Eichenberg brought it week after week, and he was dominant as a fifth-year senior despite playing against a loaded schedule of edge rushers. When I read draft profiles they’ll point out a snap here and a snap there in an attempt to pick apart his game, but breaking Eichenberg down this season the reality is he was about as steady and effective as you could hope an offensive tackle to be, especially considering the level of competition he faced.
Eichenberg did not allow a single sack in the 2020 and 2019 seasons. In fact, the last sack he allowed was on Sept. 29, 2018. That was Eichenberg’s fifth career start, and over his final 33 career starts with the Fighting Irish he did not allow a sack.
Length, Powerful Hands — I’m curious to see what Eichenberg’s wingspan and arm length is at the Notre Dame Pro Day, but on film and in person he looks to have well above average length. I can’t think of a single instance the last two seasons where an edge player was able to get into Eichenberg’s pads due to him not being long enough to keep them off his body.
Eichenberg has extremely powerful hands, and it has been especially evident in the pass game the last two seasons. He delivers quite a punch, and his hand power has been his best asset for much of his career. Eichenberg can shock edge rushers, and it’s especially effective against speed rushers. His length and powerful hands are arguably his best weapon in pass protection.
He doesn’t always use his hands as effectively in the run game as he does the pass game, but when he does shoot his hands in the run game he can knock people back.
Smart, Efficient Player — Eichenberg has the ideal combination of football intelligence, instincts and vision. By the time he was a third-year starter his decision making was outstanding, he made great reads and his ability to pick up line games and pressures was elite. His intelligence, instincts and vision play a huge role in the consistency we’ve seen from Eichenberg over the last year and a half of his career. Many of his best blocks this season were second level blocks where Eichenberg saw a linebacker or stunting lineman working towards the ball, and he was able to see it, quickly react to it and then make a strong block.
Eichenberg also shows a great feel for the game, especially when it comes to playing proper angles. This has become his greatest asset in the run game in many instances, and the Notre Dame blocker consistently wins in the run game with leverage and playing with good angles.
Competitive, But Plays Under Control — Eichenberg has some feistiness to his game, and he plays with an edge. He’ll battle all game long, but early in his career Eichenberg got too aggressive at times and he had trouble playing under control. As he gained more experience he worked that out of his game, and his poise and ability to play under control factored into his brilliance in 2020. Defenders simply could not get Eichenberg off his game, and his play was incredibly steady.
Battle Tested — I read analyst after analyst picking apart Eichenberg’s game, but the reality is over the last two seasons he’s played against a lot of the nation’s better pass rushers. The 2020 season was especially challenging, and Eichenberg thrived week after week. His performance against Pitt ends Patrick Jones III and Rashad Weaver was especially good, and he dominated Chris Rumph from Duke.
Some might fall in love with tools, but Eichenberg has proven he can shut down the pass rush of even the best edge rushers in the game.
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
Lower Body Strength — Eichenberg has a powerful upper body, but his lower body doesn’t grade out as well. He improved this part of his game in 2020, but in the few instances where he gets in trouble in pass game this can be a reason. At times Eichenberg can get knocked back and isn’t able to anchor as well as I’d like to see, and it keeps him from being an elite finisher in the run game.
Technique Still Needs Some Work — Eichenberg will still get himself into trouble at times with his pass set footwork. At times he’ll get too high out of his stance, which causes him to lose his base and forces him to catch defenders. Combine that with his lack of elite lower body strength and it can result in him getting knocked back. When he loses his base Eichenberg’s powerful hands are neutralized, and that is often what happens in the limited instances he gets beat, or loses a defender late. He’ll need to work this out of his game in the NFL as he goes against bigger and more powerful edge players.
Eichenberg will also lunge more than he should, even in 2020, and when he does better defenders can beat him.
Lateral Quickness — Eichenberg is by no means slow or stiff, but he’s not quite the athlete that Martin and Stanley were. His change of direction doesn’t grade out as well as other parts of his game. He makes up for it in college with all his other traits, but it could be an issue at times when he gets to the next level.
It seems to me that Eichenberg’s game is getting picked apart more than other tackles who were more late bloomers. I see Eichenberg getting ripped for things that others aren’t, even though it shows up on their film as well.
I graded Eichenberg’s 2020 season out as better than Mike McGlinchey in 2017 and Ronnie Stanley in 2015. He was steady, dominant and incredibly effective. Eichenberg also has a lot of impressive tools. He’s developed into one of the premier pass blockers in the college game, and he has the tools that translate to the next level.
Eichenberg was a far more effective pass blocker as a fifth-year senior than McGlinchey was in his final season. According to Pro Football Focus, in his final season Eichenberg gave up zero sacks and just one hit on the quarterback on 455 pass blocks. In 2017, McGlinchey gave up three sacks and two hits on 430 pass blocks, and Stanley gave up three sacks and four hits on 458 pass blocks in 2015.
What made Eichenberg so good in 2020 was that his performance in the run game took a jump. Eichenberg wasn’t a mover his first two seasons, but as a fifth-year senior he was far more dominant in the run game. We saw him become more forceful off the ball and he started working his feet through contact more effectively. Eichenberg also got much, much better working the edge and the second level.
His game became far more complete in 2020, and in my view his game projects better to the NFL than did McGlinchey’s. Like McGlinchey, Eichenberg could also be a right tackle, but Eichenberg projects to be a legit left tackle at the next level.
To me, Eichenberg is a first round talent, and a team looking for a plug and play left tackle in the second half of the first round needs to think very long and hard about making him their pick.
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