2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 144 of 163

IRISH IN THE NFL IRISH IN THE NFL BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ✦ 143 FORMER IRISH PLAYERS ON THE RISE • CB Julian Love, New York Giants — In the first nine games of 2019, the for- mer consensus All-American played three defensive snaps. But as the season began to wind down, Love's role increased and he thrived. In the final seven games, Love played at least 50 percent of the defensive snaps and started the last six. He produced 35 tackles, three passes defended and one interception. With defensive back Deandre Baker likely off the roster, Love should be even more important to the Giants in 2020 and going forward. • LB Drue Tranquill, Los Angeles Chargers — Tranquill also struggled to find meaningful defensive minutes early in the season, but the rookie linebacker still found a way to make his mark on special teams. He recorded 11 special teams tackles and blocked two punts. As the season progressed, Tranquill earned exponentially more minutes and ended up starting three games. He finished the year with 75 tackles (61 solo), four tackles for loss and one pass defended, and was included on the Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie Team. • OL Mike McGlinchey, San Francisco 49ers — By the end of the 2019 season and playoffs, right tackle McGlinchey showed why he was the No. 9 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. In week 13, he was even named to the Pro Football Focus Team of the Week for his performance against the Ravens, where he earned an 88.4 run-blocking grade and did not allow a quarterback pressure. TOP FIVE PLAYERS 1. LT Ronnie Stanley, Baltimore Ravens Given the other All-Pro offensive linemen Notre Dame has produced in recent years, having Stanley as the No. 1 Fighting Irish player in the NFL may seem high or even controversial, but the importance of the left tackle position in today's game pushed him to the top spot. On the Ravens, Stanley is often the main line of defense between top NFL pass rushers and 2019 MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson. It's imperative to protect him, and no one in the NFL is better at accomplish - ing this than Stanley, who allowed only six pressures all year — none of which resulted in a sack. 2. LG Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts In 2019, Nelson became the seventh player since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970 to be named a first- team All-Pro in each of his first two seasons. According to Colts.com, he was the first offensive line- man to accomplish this feat since 1947. Over the course of a 16-game season, Nelson graded out as that week's best left guard five times, which exemplifies his high — yet consistent — level of play (no other Fighting Irish player accom - plished this feat more than twice). Nelson thrives as both a run blocker and in pass protection, producing PFF grades of 90.1 (sec- ond among guards) and 82.8 (sixth among guards), respectively. He often levies bone-crushing blocks in either situation. 3. RG Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys It seems preposterous that Martin is the third-best former Notre Dame offensive lineman currently in the NFL. In 2019, the Cowboys' right guard was invited to the Pro Bowl for a sixth straight season and named a first-team All-Pro for the fourth time and second consecutive year. Advanced analytics back this up. According to PFF, Nelson has graded out as a top-five of - fensive guard in all six of his NFL seasons. 4. S Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings Still one of the best safeties in the NFL at the age of 30, Smith's overall production in 2019 held steady compared to previous seasons. He finished with 85 total tackles, 11 passes defended, three forced fumbles and three interceptions. Yet, for the first time since 2016, Smith did not earn first- or second-team All-Pro honors. He was still named to his fifth straight Pro Bowl and started in the game. While this decline in recognition could be a result of Smith's age, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer also admitted at the NFL Combine that he and his staff underutilized Smith in 2019. 5. LB Jaylon Smith, Dallas Cowboys Smith is an incredibly intelligent player with top-end athleticism and never-ending determination. In 2019, he finished fifth in the NFL with 142 total tackles, with nine resulting in lost yardage. He also had nine passes defended, plus his first and lone career interception. This was good enough for him to make his first Pro Bowl as an alternate. Preventing Smith from finishing higher on this list is a few too many missed tackles. Former Irish guard Quenton Nelson was named first-team All-Pro for a second year in a row. PHOTO COURTESY INDIANAPOLIS COLTS BY THE NUMBERS 3 Former Irish offensive linemen made the 2020 All-Pro Team in left tackle Ronnie Stanley, left guard Quenton Nelson and right guard Zack Martin. This is an un- precedented level of success for offensive linemen from one program. Additionally, first-team All-Pro center Jason Kelce played for head coach Brian Kelly at Cincinnati. 6 Former Fighting Irish players were selected in the 2020 NFL Draft for the second season in a row. This is the fifth time in the Kelly era that at least six players were drafted. The high is when eight Fighting Irish players were selected in 2014. 511 All-time draft picks out of the University of Notre Dame, which DraftHistory.com states is tied for the most with USC. Ohio State is the only other program with more than 400 ac- cording to The Los Angeles Times. Notre Dame 2018 consensus All-American Julian Love earned playing time down the stretch of his rookie season. PHOTO COURTESY NEW YORK GIANTS

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