Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 31 NaNa Osafo-Mensah, senior defensive end

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 23 USC at Notre Dame
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-3 ⅛, 250 pounds.
2022-23 year, eligibility: A senior, Osafo-Mensah has three seasons of eligibility remaining, courtesy of a typical eligibility-preserving freshman season followed by the universal pandemic eligibility waiver glossing over what would have been an eligibility-costing injury in 2020.
Depth Chart: Notre Dame’s defensive line depth has become an asset so strong that it is difficult to peg exactly where Osafo-Mensah stands on it. Fifth-year Justin Ademilola should be considered the “Big” end starter, but his versatility will allow him to also shine at Vyper end, which could elevate junior Rylie Mills to starter status. Osafo-Mensah will be Mills’ backup, be that as the No. 2 Big end or as the No. 3, with junior Alexander Ehrensberger then behind him.
Recruiting: Osafo-Mensah’s recruitment came down to the Irish and his homestate power Texas. The consensus four-star prospect and All-American fell in recruiting rankings late in the cycle, dropping to being considered the No. 23 weakside defensive end in the class after signing with Notre Dame as the No. 9 just two months earlier. In that regard, an All-American Bowl showing can have its risks, though once signed, those recruiting rankings have no impact whatsoever outside of ego.

CAREER TO DATE
Osafo-Mensah missed 2020 due to a lateral meniscus injury suffered that preseason, costing him a chance to make an impact early in his career. After playing in only two games as a freshman, he was poised to help the Irish line stay afloat amid whatever pandemic protocols would eventually compromise it. Instead, he could only practice ahead of the postseason.

Osafo-Mensah moved into the rotation in 2021, most shining in helping put pressure on North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell.

2019: 2 games, both blowouts, 1 tackle.
2020: Meniscus injury.
2021: 12 games, 1 start, 13 tackles with 2.5 for loss including two sacks.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
If the young Irish defensive linemen are akin to the Ninja Turtles, does that make new defensive line coach Al Washington their version of Splinter?

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“A (Khalid) Kareem comparison can go beyond Osafo-Mensah’s large frame and possible positional versatility. Kareem had to wait to get his chance at a starting role, as well, only coming his junior season. Osafo-Mensah will not get that opportunity this year, but he may finally see a moment to contribute.

“(Mike) Elston insists on rotating vast portions of his defensive line, sometimes swapping out the entire line. Going three-deep at the Big end position will aid that cause, and presuming health, Osafo-Mensah should be up to that task, at the absolute least.

“Recruited partly because of his quickness, an agility that has shown itself in practices the last two years when Osafo-Mensah has able to practice, he could benefit from being third on that depth chart. If offensive linemen are worn down by (Myron) Tagovailoa-Amosa and Ademilola, while the third defensive end is not only similarly potent but also fresh, then Osafo-Mensah may find himself in the opponent’s backfield a few times.

“A few tackles for loss would resonate more than a dozen total tackles would, setting up Osafo-Mensah to further impress in 2022.”

2022 OUTLOOK
This space is making a habit of reminding its readership of veterans’ long-ago recruiting rankings, an irony given this space also refuses to delve into the dredges of recruiting coverage. Osafo-Mensah could become the poster child of both those stances.

Osafo-Mensah’s recruitment was a high-profile affair back in the summer of 2018. He held offers from nine SEC programs, including Alabama, LSU and Georgia. While Texas pursued him, his hometown TCU was also joined by Texas A&M. Clearly, Osafo-Mensah projected as a collegiate talent to be feared.

Yet years needed to pass before more than a third-string role was available for Osafo-Mensah. Recruiting rankings yield only so much.

Regardless of that narrative, Osafo-Mensah’s minimal 2021 provides the best projection for his 2022. He did not actually play that much last season, but still Osafo-Mensah made 13 tackles with that pair of sacks, not to mention hassling quarterbacks a few additional times.

The vague phrasing of “did not actually play that much last season” makes an exact projection more difficult, but if Ademilola spends more than half his time at Vyper end, then Osafo-Mensah could double or triple some of those stats in a true No. 2 role at “Big” end.

His strong spring game — 1.5 tackles for loss with half a sack — furthered that thinking. Osafo-Mensah still has the length and speed that made him a highly-touted prospect. Needing some time to get into collegiate shape is not cause for concern. In the long-term, neither is a meniscus injury. Osafo-Mensah should prove all that this fall.

DOWN THE ROAD
First Osafo-Mensah has to validate the preceding logic. If he does so, then growing roles in 2023 and perhaps even 2024 could await him.

The Kareem parallel can hold up in those regards. It was not until Kareem’s third typical season that he found the groove that led to his eventual NFL status. This is, hard as it is to believe, Osafo-Mensah’s third typical season, what with the pandemic and then the understandable delay between a meniscus tear and full-go.

Kareem then racked up 10 sacks across the next two seasons, part of 20.5 tackles for loss.

Such an ascension would be dramatic for Osafo-Mensah, but something of that trajectory could be ahead of him yet.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 85 Holden Staes, incoming freshman tight end
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit
No. 80 Cane Berrong, sophomore tight end coming off an ACL injury
No. 79 Tosh Baker, one of four young Irish offensive tackles
No. 78 Pat Coogan, sophomore center, recovering from a meniscus injury
No. 77 Ty Chan, incoming offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, sophomore starting left tackle
No. 75 Josh Lugg, sixth-year offensive lineman, likely starting right guard
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard coming off foot surgery
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, senior offensive tackle-turned-guard
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, sophomore offensive tackle, former Auburn pledge
No. 68 Michael Carmody, junior offensive line utility man
No. 65 Michael Vinson, long snapper, ‘Milk’
No. 65 Chris Smith, defensive tackle, Harvard transfer
No. 59 Aamil Wagner, consensus four-star incoming freshman offensive tackle
No. 58 Ashton Craig, incoming freshman center
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, fifth-year defensive tackle, coming off shoulder surgery
No. 56 Joey Tanona, early-enrolled offensive guard coming off a concussion
No. 56 Howard Cross, senior defensive tackle with heavy hands, and that’s a good thing
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, fifth-year offensive lineman, three-year starting center, captain
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, senior defensive tackle, now lighter and a starter
No. 54 Blake Fisher, sophomore starting right tackle, ‘ginormous’
No. 52 Zeke Correll, senior center or perhaps left guard
No. 52 Bo Bauer, fifth-year linebacker, Ironman
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, sophomore offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, sophomore end-turned-linebacker
No. 47 Jason Oyne, sophomore defensive end-turned-tackle
No. 44 Junior Tuihalamaka, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, consensus four-star recruit
No. 44 Alex Peitsch, junior long snapper
No. 42 Nolan Ziegler, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Irish legacy
No. 41 Donovan Hinish, incoming freshman defensive tackle, Kurt’s brother
No. 40 Joshua Burnham, early-enrolled freshman linebacker-turned-end
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, senior Vyper end coming off an Achilles injury
No. 20 Jadarian Price, early-enrolled freshman running back with a ruptured Achilles
No. 9 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL

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