Isaac Rochell has quietly established himself as perhaps Notre Dame’s best front-seven defender. The goal of this final season? Make sure that impact isn’t all that quiet.
For Notre Dame’s defense to improve this season, Rochell needs to take over where Sheldon Day left off. That’s not just as a rock-solid block of granite against the run, but wreaking havoc in the opponents’ backfield. With the versatility to slide inside if needed, Rochell will earn his living based on this season.
6’3.5″, 290 lbs.
Senior, No. 90, DE
He wasn’t Stephon Tuitt, but was a first-team All-State player, turning down Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and several others to head to South Bend. Not too shabby.
A Top 150 player by every service, Rochell played in the Offense-Defense Bowl before heading to South Bend.
Freshman Season (2013): Saw action in 11 games, making 10 total tackles and five solo stops. Played season-best game against Air Force, making four tackles.
Sophomore Season (2014): Started all 13 games at defensive end, one of just three Irish defenders to start every game. His 39 tackles was third-best on the defensive line, he was second on the team with 7.5 TFLs and tallied 2.5 sacks.
Junior Season (2015): Started all 13 games, the leading tackler on the defensive line with 60 stops. His 7.5 TFLs was fourth-best while he also broke up two passes. PFF College ranked him as the team’s third-highest graded defender, behind only Sheldon Day and Jaylon Smith.
Rochell is an NFL defender, capable of ascending up draft boards if he can find a pass rush move. At 290 pounds, he’s more than capable of sliding inside and disrupting things at the point of attack, while still serving as a perfect anchor at strong-side defensive end.
A workhorse these past two seasons, Rochell likely qualifies as a “championship-caliber” lineman, someone who the staff believes can dominate at the highest levels. If he’s able to add a half-dozen sacks—admittedly a big ask—he’s going to be a candidate for the team’s lineman of the year.
I expect Rochell to lead the defensive line in tackles, TFLs and sacks, even if the last stat is something that’s more a reach than established trait. But as the most tenured front-seven defender on the roster, that’s the next step in his evolution.
Rochell will certainly anchor an Irish defense that’ll be harder to run against than the 2015 edition. It’s essentially lining up four defensive tackles across the front if Jay Hayes starts opposite Rochell.
But to play up to my lofty expectation, he’ll need to sack the quarterback and get to a dozen TFLs. That’s a high bar, but certainly not something he should shy away from.
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