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NFL Draft Matchup: Notre Dame Offensive Line vs. Stanford's Thomas Booker

Breaking down the NFL Draft implications between the Notre Dame interior linemen and Stanford DL Thomas Booker

It is no secret that the Notre Dame offensive line has had their fair share of struggles during the season - especially during the early portion of the season.

The left tackle position was struck early by injury when true freshman Blake Fisher was lost during the first game with a knee injury. That created a revolving door of replacements, eventually settling in on true freshman Joe Alt to right the ship unexpectedly. With Alt and right tackle Josh Lugg, the Notre Dame offensive tackle unit has improved to steady but unspectacular.

On the interior of the offensive line, it has been even more of a mixed bag for the Irish. Jarrett Patterson, at center, is one of the premier interior offensive lineman in all of college football.

The offensive guards on the other hand, not so much.

Former Marshall Thundering Herd All-American Cain Madden came to Notre Dame with a nice resume but has been underwhelming so far for the most part. Junior Andrew Kristofic has settled in as a starter at left guard, taking over for Zeke Correll after he began the season there.

Kristofic has battled but it is apparent that he is still a work in progress inside. Still, Kristofic has settled inside and the interior has improved tremendously since the beginning of the season. There are still obvious technical flaws but the effort and physicality has been a welcomed sight to the offense.

Offensive line coach Jeff Quinn’s group will be facing an ultra versatile defensive lineman this weekend that could cause the entire interior, and even their offensive tackles, headaches.

BRIGHT SPOT OF A BAD UNIT

Stanford senior defensive lineman Thomas Booker came to Stanford as a highly coveted strong-side defensive end recruit who boasted more than 30 scholarship offers coming out of Gilman High School in Maryland, including Notre Dame.

As Booker has grown into his body, he has developed into a player who can create havoc working in both even and odd man fronts.

Most frequently, the Cardinal has employed a heavy dose of odd man fronts, seeing Booker work from a variety of alignments - including everything from a 2i all the way out to a 5. That type of alignment versatility is beyond exciting. The more you can do on the next level, the more possibilities it unlocks for defensive coordinators, while also giving increased job security to players indirectly.

HOW BOOKER WINS

From a physical perspective, Booker boasts a long and well proportioned frame. His lower body is very powerful, with definition throughout. Booker can use that length when working at 5 technique to fight pressure on down blocks from tight ends and is a good enough athlete to navigate space when working to the up field shoulder.

Booker has shown the talent to hold the point of attack working from a variety of alignments, even two gapping heads up from a 4. His best reps, and more appropriate projection, may be at 3 technique.

From there, Booker’s athletic gifts are best highlighted. He has more than enough twitch to split gaps - making his fit into a more traditional even front arguably the most appealing for the 6’4” 310 pounder.

CAN THE IRISH MATCHUP?

In this particular matchup with the Irish, Stanford will be better served taking advantage of the weak points. Booker has reps working from a 2i (inside shade of the guard) but in this matchup in particular, that would not be as advantageous for his matchup.

Everyone knows that Patterson is the team’s best offensive lineman. Keeping Booker away from him should be a point of emphasis in efforts to take advantage of their strengths.

Whether that be from a 3 (outside shade of the guard), 4 (head up on the offensive tackle), 4i (inside shade of the tackle) or 5 (outside shade of the tackle), Booker could have an opportunity to create some difficult situations for the Irish.

How Notre Dame attacks Booker will be a huge indicator for how dominant they look on Saturday. Full transparency, this shouldn’t be much of a contest. The Stanford defense, in general, is bad. Booker is one of the lone bright spots of the unit. Even if he has some impact plays, the game still might not be close. The talent gap is that wide.

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Still, Booker does have the impact to make implementing a balanced attack difficult.

NFL DRAFT IMPLICATIONS

From an NFL Draft perspective, Kristofic is just a player for the future. Madden had some hype with his resume at Marshall but he honestly isn’t much of a prospect either.

If Booker does have some matchups against Patterson then that could be an exciting matchup but don’t expect that much.

This is, instead, a barometer of how much better the offensive line is playing down the stretch for the Irish. For Booker, I am admittedly a bit higher on him than most. With a late second round grade from me this summer, it sounds like the NFL is more in the early-mid day three range.

His biggest challenge will be to avoid a mediocre end of a disappointing season, and blend in with the underwhelming performances around him. There is still an opportunity to impress evaluators down the stretch. It’s Kristofic, Madden and company’s obligation to make sure that doesn’t happen.

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