Countdown to College Football Kickoff: Top NFL prospects at Notre Dame
College football is scheduled to return Saturday, August 29. Each day until then, NFLDraftScout.com will be evaluating the rosters of the best teams in college football, including all 64 within the Power Five conferences.
Head Coach: Brian Kelly (11th season)
2019 Record: 11-2
2020 NFL Draft Picks: Cole Kmet, TE, Chicago Bears – 2nd Round, No. 43 overall
Chase Claypool, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers – 2nd Round, No. 49 overall
Julian Okwara, DE, Detroit Lions – 3rd Round, No. 67 overall
Troy Pride, CB, Carolina Panthers – 4th Round, No. 113 overall
Khalid Kareem, DE, Cincinnati Bengals – 5th Round, No. 147 overall
Alohi Gilman, S, Los Angeles Chargers – 6th Round, No. 186 overall
Just three years removed from a disastrous 4-8 season, Notre Dame finished with double-digit wins for the third consecutive season in 2019, ending the campaign on a high note with a 33-9 thumping of Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl.
The win over the Cyclones may not be the salve passionate Notre Dame wanted, as this a team which entered the season with national title hopes and looked very much like a contender in a back and forth battle with Georgia in Week Three, ultimately losing 23-17 to a team which would finish the year ranked fourth in the AP.
Of course, at Notre Dame the expectations are higher and a 45-14 beatdown in the rain at the Big House October 26 certainly raised the pressure on Brian Kelly.
Give he, his staff and the Irish plenty of credit for their fight following the humbling loss to Michigan, with Notre Dame winning their final six games of the season.
The Irish face plenty of roster turnover with their leading rusher (Tony Jones, Jr.), receivers (Chase Claypool, Chris Finke and TE Cole Kmet), edge rushers (Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem) and defensive backs (Troy Pride, Alohi Gilman, Jalen Elliott) from a year ago all no longer on the roster.
Few programs can reload as quickly as Notre Dame, of course, which will keep the NFL scouts flooding in to see who this year’s breakout candidates will be.
The obvious strength on the roster is up front where several future NFL draft picks return as starters for an offensive line that should contend in 2020 for the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s best unit.
Featured 2021 NFL Draft Prospect: Liam Eichenberg, OT, 6-6, 308, 5.0, rSR
While their skill-position talent gets most of the press, it has been Notre Dame’s vastly improved play along the line of scrimmage which has helped Brian Kelly’s squad return to prominence in recent years.
Eichenberg (pronounced ike-EN-burg) is seeking to follow in the footsteps of recent Irish blockers Ronnie Stanley, Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey as an NFL first round pick. He signed with the Irish as a highly regarded recruit out of powerhouse St. Ignatius in Cleveland but had to wait his turn before seeing the field.
He’s started the past 26 consecutive games for the Irish at left tackle the past two seasons, allowing zero sacks last year and just three in 2018, his first full campaign as a starter. With Notre Dame an independent team without a conference affiliation, Eichenberg and most of the rest of the Fighting Irish did not earn the post-season accolades some prospects generated elsewhere.
No matter, scouts don’t require all-conference merit badges. The NFL will love Eichenberg because there is very little projection to his game. He is a quality athlete with good size and strength which projects quite easily to the next level. It is the pro-ready technique he shows which really stand out.
Eichenberg enters his senior campaign already well established as a prospect with a first round selection possible, if not likely, next spring.
Strengths: Prototypically-built offensive tackle with broad shoulders, long arms, a tapered middle and good overall weight distribution. While not necessarily explosive with his initial quickness, Eichenberg anticipates the snap beautifully, easing out of his stance to protect vs. speed rushers, while staying square and strong, catching and controlling opponents.
Eichenberg takes a quick and controlled kick-step out of his stance to cut off the corner and shows great patience and confidence in waiting for edge rushers to come to him. There is very little panic to his game with Eichenberg calmly sliding left and right to mirror while keeping his knees bent and butt down, ready to handle counters and bull rushes.
Part of the reason for Eichenberg’s calm is his grip strength. While not dependent on grabbing hold of defenders due to his lateral agility, when Eichenberg does decide to latch on rather than punch opponents, he shows terrific hand placement and power to do so, sustaining his blocks for the duration of the play. He possesses the quickness and core flexibility to carry out cuts on defenders to set up quick receiver screens and is as smart as he is athletic, recognizing late twists, stunts and blitzes and passing them off well. Comes off the ball low and hard when drive blocking, showing good pad level and leg drive to move the pile.
Agile enough for blocking at the second level, showing the requisite quickness and balance to pull and locate targets at the second level. Plug and play candidate as a multi-year starter who has faced elite competition… No known injury or off-field issues.
Weaknesses: Eichenberg is a very clean prospect with few glaring holes in his game. He does not possess elite initial quickness and the speediest edge rushers in the NFL may give him some issues.
His good – but not elite – quickness and agility also show up when run blocking on the move, as Eichenberg is occasionally tick late out of his stance when pulling and he can get a bit off-balance adjusting to moving pieces. More professional than passionate in his blocking, lacking the surly, nasty style of play some believe is important. Every start of his career has come at left tackle and would need time to adjust if his NFL team needed him elsewhere.
NFL Player Comparison: Anthony Castonzo, Indianapolis Colts – While perhaps lacking the elite athleticism of some of the blue-chip athletes to earn first round selections as blockers, the 6-foot-7, 310 pound Castonzo nevertheless was selected 22 overall by the Colts in 2011, joining the team as a plug-and-play option after a stellar career at Boston College. Castonzo has never been selected to a Pro Bowl but the steady technician has certainly lived up to his draft standing since, starting 132 out of a possible 144 games at left tackle, showing the same consistency and durability which helped him set a record at BC with 54 consecutive starts.
Current NFL Draft Projection: Late First Round
The Top 10 NFL Prospects at Notre Dame:
1. Liam Eichenberg, OT, 6-6, 308, 5.0, rSR
2. Tommy Kraemer, OG, 6-5, 319, 5.20, rSR
3. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, SS/OLB, 6-1, 215, 4.60, rJR
4. Aaron Banks, OG, 6-5, 325, 5.20, rJR
5. Drew White, ILB, 6-0, 230, 4.80, rJR
6. Adetokunbo Ogundeji, DE, 6-4, 253, 4.75, rSR
7. Daelin Hayes, DE, 6-4, 246, 4.85, rSR
8. Braden Lenzy, WR, 6-0, 180, 4.45, rSoph
9. Ian Book, QB, 6-0, 212, 4.80, rSR
10. Tommy Tremble, TE, 6-3, 235, 4.80, rSoph
*All 40-yard dash times are estimates