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Leftovers and Links: A look at Notre Dame’s possible 2020 draft class

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Both former Notre Dame offensive lineman Alex Bars and linebacker Te’von Coney were questionable to be drafted heading into the weekend. Few would have been surprised if either or both heard their names called in the NFL draft, but it also should not have been a shock when neither did.

In a rare moment of preparedness, this space had drafts ready to publish in case either was selected. In putting together those few hundred words, a couple Irish trends were included. Those trends continue, for now — having realized them at all, one starts to think about next year’s draft class.

The trend: Notre Dame has not produced two first-round defensive picks in 26 years, dating back to when defensive tackle Bryant Young (No. 7) and safety Jeff Burris (No. 27) both heard their names called in 1994. When former Irish cornerback Julian Love fell from a supposed fringe first-rounder to the fourth round this weekend, this streak held.

The 2020 possibility: Simply enough, the defensive end duo of Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem could put an emphatic end to this drought. Okwara’s 2019 put him on every watch list imaginable, while Kareem may actually present a more complete package due to his greater physicality.

Now, and this should apply throughout these thoughts, a lot can change in a year. For that matter, a lot can change between the college football season and the NFL draft, even with no real football being played, injuries, combine times and off-field rumors all influence a player’s draft stock. Forecasting an NFL draft 51 weeks in advance is a greater waste of time than the internet usually provides.

Though a year away, senior defensive end Julian Okwara is Notre Dame’s most-promising 2020 draft pick. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

But broadly speaking, seven defensive ends or edge rushers went in Thursday’s first round. Suggesting strong 2019s from both Okwara and Kareem could vault them into that mix a year from now is hardly bold.

The trend: Notre Dame has produced just two first-round defensive picks in the last 22 years, defensive tackle Jerry Tillery at No. 28 this week and safety Harrison Smith in 2012.

The 2020 possibility: That 22-year total could be matched next year alone, see above.

The trend: When including defensive lineman Renaldo Wynn’s first-round selection in 1997, the Irish count “jumps” to three first-round defenders in the last 26 years.

The 2020 possibility: That also could be matched, if not exceeded. Cornerback Troy Pride’s speed will push him up draft boards all on its own. How fast is Pride? Per Notre Dame sophomore receiver Braden Lenzy — a noted speedster in his own right — Pride ran a 4.32-second 40-yard dash in some in-house testing recently. (Lenzy ran a 4.40.) Pride has the sprinter’s start well-tuned, but this was not at a point when he was at peak testing shape, one figures. Come the NFL combine, who knows?

That 4.32 would have ranked fifth overall at this year’s combine, just two-hundredths of a second behind Auburn cornerback Jamel Dean, a third-round pick with 73 tackles and two interceptions in his collegiate career. Pride has already logged 81 and three, not to mention 11 pass breakups. He will test well, and a solid 2019 as a shutdown corner could elevate him.

As he becomes Notre Dame’s top cornerback, senior Troy Pride could greatly enhance his draft potential. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Pride is not the only Irish defensive back worth mentioning. Safeties Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman may not logically seem like first-round talents, but they both compare favorably to Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram, the No. 27 overall pick thanks to the Oakland Raiders. At 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, Abram fits the exact same profile of the Notre Dame duo, both of whom play the ball better in the air than Abram does. If the Raiders were willing to reach for him, who is to say no one would reach for Elliott or Gilman in a year? Their testing performances could be critical.

The trend: Only one Irish quarterback has been drafted in the first round in the last 26 years, Brady Quinn in 2007.

The 2020 possibility: Go ahead and insist Ian Book has no chance at getting drafted in the first round, then compare his 2018 stats to No. 6 pick Daniel Jones’.

Book: 2,615 yards and 18 touchdowns with seven interceptions and a 67.8 completion percentage in his nine starts. Averaged 8.41 yards per attempt.
Jones: 2,674 yards and 22 touchdowns with nine interceptions and a 60.5 completion percentage in 11 games. Averaged 6.82 yards per attempt.

The trend: Only three Notre Dame defenders have been drafted in even the second round during Brian Kelly’s tenure: linebacker Manti Te’o in 2013 (No. 38 overall), end Stephon Tuitt in 2014 (No. 46) and linebacker Jaylon Smith in 2016 (No. 34).

The 2020 possibility: Though Love fell through the second round, seven cornerbacks were drafted in its first 22 picks. If Pride does not prove himself first-round worthy, the second would not be a reach. For that matter, four safeties were taken in Friday’s second round.

And let’s not overlook Irish senior defensive end Daelin Hayes. Calling him a backup is reductive, considering his rotation with Okwara and Kareem may yield the “backup” as many snaps as some of Notre Dame’s starting linebackers manage this fall. There are few things the NFL loves more than talented defensive ends, and that could be to Hayes’ benefit.

The trend: Since Young and Burris led the way in 1994, two of an eventual eight defensive picks, the Irish have never managed more than four defensive picks in one draft (2007, 2013, 2014).

The 2020 possibility: Eight will not happen, but six have already been mentioned.

The trend: Since that heralded 1994 class, the Irish have never managed more than eight total picks in a draft, a mark set by the 2014 class. (This excludes three expansion draft picks in 1995.)

Senior receiver Chase Claypool has every tool the NFL wants except, to this point, consistency. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

The 2020 possibility: Seven have already been mentioned. Receiver Chase Claypool should make eight worth considering. He already has a profile similar to the one that just got tight end Alizé Mack drafted, one ripe with potential. The difference is Claypool has already produced and is at a more-valued position. A highlight-heavy 2019 will only aid that cause.

The trend: That 1994 class produced 10 total draft picks.

The 2020 possibility: Given the wear-and-tear nature of the position, junior running back Jafar Armstrong might opt to parlay an impressive 2019 into a professional chance, a la C.J. Prosise leaving a year of eligibility unused after 2015. Given the NFL’s increasing desire for shifty receivers able to get open in tight spaces, perhaps fifth-year receiver Chris Finke goes from walk-on to draftee. Stranger things have happened, just like stranger things have happened than an offensive lineman jumping to the NFL a year earlier than anticipated, something right tackle Robert Hainsey, right guard Tommy Kraemer and left tackle Liam Eichenberg might all ponder.

For the sake of thoroughness, a season of health and success for fifth-year defensive back Shaun Crawford could understandably spur him to skip a possible sixth year of eligibility in hopes someone in the NFL takes a chance on him.

THIS CLASS’S UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS
— Bars to the Chicago Bears, where he will reunite with former Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and …
— Center Sam Mustipher will also head to the Bears for the time being.
— Coney to the Oakland Raiders, joined by defensive back Nick Coleman.
— Punter Tyler Newsome to the Los Angeles Chargers, perhaps hereby known as Notre Dame West.

ON CONEY GOING UNDRAFTED
Per mockdraftable.com, the average linebacker the last 20 years has run a 40-yard dash in 4.72 seconds, exactly what Coney ran at the Irish pro day. In that dash, the average linebacker runs the first 10 yards in 1.62 seconds; Coney needed 1.75.

The 20-yard shuttle average time is 4.29 seconds; Coney’s was 4.45.

Keep in mind: Those averages trace back to 1999. The league is getting only faster.

DRAFT COVERAGE
The Chargers make DT Jerry Tillery a rare Notre Dame first-rounder
Second name taken in NFL draft as Miles Boykin heads to Ravens
First-team All-American and former Notre Dame CB Julian Love falls into the draft’s third day
Chargers pick former Notre Dame two-time captain Drue Tranquill
Dexter Williams and his burst drafted by the Green Bay Packers
Mack continues Notre Dame’s streak of drafted tight ends
A look at Notre Dame’s defensive draft hopefuls
A look at Notre Dame’s offensive draft hopefuls

INSIDE THE IRISH READING
Where Notre Dame was & is: Running backs
Where Notre Dame was & is: Receivers
Where Notre Dame was & is: Tight ends
Where Notre Dame was & is: Offensive line
Former consensus four-star cornerback Noah Boykin to transfer
Four-star Hawaiian DE bolsters Notre Dame’s future pass rush
Notre Dame’s sideline Skycam that almost wasn’t, but may be again
Long snapper commitment continues Notre Dame’s preference
Notre Dame announces complete 2021 schedule

OUTSIDE READING
Notre Dame has produced more NFL players than any college football program
The College Football Playoff’s 4-team format isn’t going anywhere
Leaving Notre Dame to coach Charleston Southern all part of a divine plan for Autry Denson
Notre Dame grad transfer Micah Dew-Treadway granted another year of eligibility at Minnesota
State of the Program: Louisville looks forward and looks forward to each other, too ($)
New Mexico has shown Bob Davie tons of patience. It probably won’t pay off
State of the Program: Opportunity awaits Duke, in more ways than one ($)
Indiana sports betting is very close, as legislature sends bill to governor