Leftovers & Links: Six Notre Dame players ready for NFL draft, half dozen wait nervously

Alohi Gilman combine
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In what has the makings of being the most absurd NFL draft in history, held entirely online and dependent upon 32 front offices and the League Commissioner’s office all not botching the video chat aspect of it, Brian Kelly may have already removed much of the potential Notre Dame drama.

Various mock drafts might include safety Jalen Elliott or defensive end Jamir Jones as a seventh-round flyer, but the Irish head coach has drawn a clear delineation among Notre Dame’s NFL hopefuls. Six will be drafted; six likely will not be.

“Everyone talks about the six guys we will probably have drafted, but we have six other players that started for me that are really good football players that are going to end up in NFL camps,” Kelly said earlier this month. “It’s promoting (linebacker) Asmar Bilal and Jamir Jones and (running back) Tony Jones Jr., making sure that (receiver) Chris Finke and all these guys get really good opportunities, as well.

“We have 12 players who all I believe can play in the NFL.”

That quote came in a Zoom Q&A with Irish beat writers; a day later Kelly doubled-down while on Mike Tirico’s “Lunch Talk Live” on NBCSN. Delivering the six-and-six thinking once could have been construed as a generalizing verbal slip, but doing so twice indicates Kelly was on message.

“We probably have six guys, right now based on conversations I’ve had with coaches and GMs, that are probably going to be drafted,” he said. “And then we have another  six guys that played prominent roles for us.”

While Kelly would have an idea of these chances in a normal year, his intel this time through the draft process is more thorough, as the NFL has needed to lean on college coaches more than ever, given the lack of in-person evaluations under stay-at-home orders. In what may become a standard moving forward, Notre Dame shared GPS data from practice sessions to illustrate players’ fitness, speed, etc.

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“Some of the things are a little bit more in-depth than we’ve had in the past,” Kelly said. “We’re getting more information out to the scouts than we ever have in the past. We’re getting information to them like GPS numbers, what’s their work volume like.

“Things they could get when they were normally able to work them out and giving them a hard 20- to 30-minute workout. They’re asking for different information, a lot more science-based information they’re looking for.”

Maybe that thought simply had not occurred to either party in the past, but it is hard to envision a reason not to share it in the future. The data is more football-applicable than a generic 40-yard dash time, and the sample size of it is vastly greater, adding to its pertinence.

Aside from the vague possibility of Elliott hearing his name late — and note that many argue it is better to be an undrafted free agent than a seventh-round pick, the former including some choice in a destination — the greatest drama will come from who the first Irish player picked is, and when.

This space is not one inclined to delve into draft projections. That stems partly from preserving sanity and partly from acknowledging the drawbacks of being so Notre Dame-focused throughout the year; projecting draft chances is as much about the other players in the draft as it is about the Irish players, if not more so.

That said, it is within the realm of feasibility that either defensive end Julian Okwara or tight end Cole Kmet hears his name late in the first round on Thursday. However, it is more likely each goes Friday night in either the second or third rounds, along with receiver Chase Claypool and perhaps defensive end Khalid Kareem.

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Cornerback Troy Pride and safety Alohi Gilman (pictured at top) will presumably have to wait until Saturday’s final four rounds.

And then the question will be where Elliott, Jones, Jones Jr., Finke, Bilal and cornerback Donte Vaughn sign as free agents.

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