When producing a second-round pick is a drop from a standard, that is a testament to how lofty the standard was for Notre Dame’s left tackles. For the first time in Irish head coach Brian Kelly‘s 11 years, his stalwart left tackle was not a first-round draft pick. Instead, Liam Eichenberg merely went No. 42 overall in Friday’s second round, selected by the Miami Dolphins.
That now means that in Kelly’s 141 games, a first- or second-round pick started at left tackle in 139 of them. Only injuries and subsequent line reshuffling in 2010 kept that from being 141 of 141, no offense to Matt Romine.
That streak, from Zack Martin to Ronnie Stanley to Mike McGlinchey, would have needed a draft-week rise from Eichenberg in order to continue, long expected to be a day-two pick. But reaching the NFL also needed, per Eichenberg last month, his own buy-in the last few seasons into the offensive line culture at Notre Dame that goes back as far as Martin. Quite literally, photos of Martin are on the walls of the offensive line meeting room, and one of his best friends is the Irish offensive coordinator. The ethos runs deep.
“I would say it’s the culture in the offensive line room, instilled by the former players and coaches that have come through here,” Eichenberg said before rattling off those three aforementioned stars along with Quenton Nelson. “… It’s that standard they held themselves to and then we continue to do. It definitely has to do with that culture.”
Eichenberg did not allow a single sack in the last two seasons, per PFF.com, using his length to his advantage in pass blocking.
Notre Dame OT Liam Eichenberg hasn't allowed a sack since WK 5 of 2018 pic.twitter.com/MWYT6w4p4S
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) December 3, 2020
That kind of stat can reflect many things — quarterback Ian Book’s mobility included — but it inarguably indicates consistency. As he went through the pre-draft process, Eichenberg had confidence that reliability would aid his cause.
“The biggest selling point for me is, I think I’m consistent,” he said. “I’m a guy you can plug in and play right now. I’m not a guy that needs a lot of development. … For me, people who say that (I lack athleticism) don’t understand football very well and definitely did not watch my tape. My tape speaks for itself based on my athleticism and my ability to play at the next level.”
Clearly, the Dolphins do not disagree.
In Kelly’s 11 years at Notre Dame, he has now sent seven offensive linemen to the NFL draft, with four first-round picks, two second-rounders (Nick Martin in 2016) and one third-rounder (Chris Watt in 2014). A few more will follow this weekend, with Aaron Banks, Tommy Kraemer and Robert Hainsey all expected to be drafted.