For the first time in three years, no former Notre Dame receiver wowed NFL scouts and college football fans alike with his combine performance. Instead, it was an Irish cornerback who dazzled in a 40-yard dash. Nick McCloud ran an unofficial 4.37-second 40, which would have been good enough to tie for fourth among all players at the 2020 NFL combine.
For further reference, former Notre Dame receiver Chase Claypool earned rave reviews a year ago when he logged a 4.42-second 40-yard dash. McCloud’s time on Wednesday may not earn that same praise, given the laser timing used at the usual NFL event (not held this year for all the obvious reasons) was not used in the indoor Irish practice facility, but even if McCloud’s time was a few beats off that 4.37 mark, it was fast enough to earn notice and fast enough to back up McCloud’s Monday warning.
“A lot of people were definitely questioning my speed, so I feel like those questions are definitely going to be answered in a couple days here,” he said, effectively calling his shot. “I feel like if I get on the board and talk with those teams, I’m one of the most knowledgeable people, in terms of football IQ, in this draft.”
McCloud’s stellar 2020 may have been lost amid Ian Book’s consistent wins, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s breakout and all the bandwidth the coronavirus pandemic took up, but it was deserving of more recognition than it received. He finished with 33 tackles and eight pass breakups, the latter number leading the Irish. As Notre Dame rotated junior Tariq Bracy and freshman Clarence Lewis on the other side of the field, McCloud was a boundary mainstay.
“I can make plays whenever called upon,” he said Monday. “I feel like a lot of times this year, I played within the defense and within the scheme, but whenever I want to be able to be a playmaker and try to make plays on the edge, I can definitely do that.”
There is an argument to be made that 40-yard dash times are more a spectacle than an accurate barometer of football success, but if there are any two position groups the endeavor may apply to, they would be receivers and defensive backs. Furthermore, in McCloud’s case, if a sub-4.4 40-yard dash earns him some undue notice, it can serve as recompense for the lack of hype entering his 2020 season.
So often in this sport, hype precedes earned headlines. It is how these things go — and how spaces like this thrive. But with the 2020 season uncertain, coming off a 2019 year at North Carolina State which McCloud lost to a knee injury, the graduate transfer largely flew beneath the radar, even at Notre Dame. The expectations for him were muted, if not yet also a key to the Irish defense.
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) March 31, 2021
That 40-yard dash on Wednesday, though, should earn McCloud some closer inspection from NFL front offices.
Of course, he was not the only one to go through those paces. Defensive back Shaun Crawford ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash, notable given his two torn ACLs and one ruptured Achilles in his career. There is still some speed in his legs. Quarterback Ian Book ran a 4.59-second 40-yard dash, not surprising to anyone who watched him in his career but perhaps defying some of the storylines around him all the same.
Ian Book clocked in a 4.59u in his 40-yard dash attempt. pic.twitter.com/MGW4jyKOng
— Notre Dame on NBC (@NDonNBC) March 31, 2021
The sprint gets the most notice, maybe because it is the easiest to grasp for the common fan, but a lineman’s bench press performance also fits that thinking. Liam Eichenberg led the way with 33 reps of 225 pounds, with Robert Hainsey only a beat behind him.
Eichenberg’s arms measured only 32 ⅜ inches, though, which may limit his appeal as an NFL tackle, particularly given Irish head coach Brian Kelly said on the NBCSN broadcast he could understand some front offices thinking Eichenberg is not athletic enough to play left tackle, although Kelly did advocate for him as a reliable right tackle for years to come.
Liam Eichenberg 33 reps💪☘️
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 31, 2021
Also of note, current Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams and receiver Avery Davis both ran routes as Book worked through his showcase. Doing so counts as one of the 15 spring practices allowed for Williams and Davis, but as established veterans, they may not particularly need that practice, while giving them a chance to work in front of scouts should garner Kelly and his staff some goodwill.
Similarly, receiver Chris Finke and defensive end Jamir Jones joined the workouts in attempts to further their NFL careers, a moment of doing right by former players.
The numbers from 2021 Pro Day ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/VBzMQIqzgz
— Notre Dame Football PR Team (@NDFootballPR) March 31, 2021