10 Questions for Notre Dame Footballers to Answer at NFL Combine This Week

The eyes of the NFL are upon Indianapolis again this week for the annual NFL Combine.  This year Notre Dame is sending nine participants to the NFL’s yearly open-air audition for the NFL Draft, each of whom has some questions to answer for NFL Scouts before the Draft.  The Combine is the most important interview many of them will ever have making this a big week for them.

First off, let’s take a look at who the nine players are from Notre Dame who will be participating in the Combine.

Notre Dame Players at the 2020 NFL Combine

  • Cole Kmet (TE)
  • Chase Claypool (WR)
  • Chris Finke (WR)
  • Tony Jones Jr (RB)
  • Khalid Kareem (DE)
  • Julian Okwara (DE)
  • Jalen Elliot (S)
  • Alohi Gilman (S)
  • Troy Pride JR (CB)

When will they get their chance?

Before diving into what each needs to do this week in Indy, let’s outline when each will get a chance to improve their draft stocks.  The NFL combine is technically a week-long event with players arriving in Indianapolis today for some of the off-the-field events and interviews.  Wednesday is when the real action begins with measurements and the bench press.  Then the real fun starts on Thursday with on the field drills such as the 40-yard dash.  The Combine has players run through all of the drills in groups with NFL Network carrying all of the action live starting Thursday.

  • Thursday, February 27 – Quarterbacks, Wide Receivers, and Tight Ends
    – Chase Claypool, Cole Kment, Chris Finke
  • Friday, February 28 – Special Teams, Running Backs, Offensive Line
    – Tony Jones Jr
  • Saturday, February 29 – Defensive Line, Linebackers
    – Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem
  • Sunday, March 1 – Defensive Backs
    – Jalen Elliot, Alohi Gilman, Troy Pride Jr

Ok, now let’s get into the questions each has to answer this week.

1. Can Cole Kmet Secure 1st Round Status?

Some Draft pundits have Kmet as a 1st round pick – a destination that would more than justify the junior’s decision to leave Notre Dame a year early.  To secure that position, Kmet has to test well this week – specifically in the 40-yard dash.  It’s hard to imagine anyone investing a 1st-round pick on a tight end who doesn’t run at least a 4.7.  Anything slower than that, and Kmet could be more of a 2nd rounder.  Last year, no tight end drafted in the first three rounds of Draft ran slower than 4.75 at the Combine.

2. Will Chase Claypool Rocket Up Draft Boards?

It is still shocking to me that Chase Claypool is not listed in many draft website’s top 100 prospect lists.  I do not expect that to be the case at this time next week.  Claypool is a physical freak who has an opportunity to do what Miles Boykin did last year by blowing up the Combine with a 4.4 40.  If Claypool can replicate what Boykin did – or come close – he won’t make it out of the 2nd round.  With his size, speed, and game tape, there’s no way he’ll last to the third if he has a similar performance to Boykin’s.  Even in a LOADED wide receiver draft class.  Claypool was one of several Notre Dame players to improve their stock at the Senior Bowl in January.

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3. Can Chris Finke Sneak Into the Late Rounds?

It might have been surprising to some to see Chris Finke invited to the NFL Combine since he isn’t the prototypical NFL wide receiver at 5-9.5 and 185 lbs.  Only two wide receivers measured in under 5-10 at last year’s Combine. However, both were off the board by the end of the 2nd round – Anthony Isabella (62nd, Arizona Cardinals) and Marquise “Hollywood” Brown (25th, Baltimore Ravens).  Isabella ran a 4.31, though, and Brown didn’t run at all because everyone knew he was a burner.  Finke won’t run that fast.

For Finke to have a chance to sneak into the late rounds, he is going to have to run in the 4.5 range and have god number in the cone drills that help measure explosiveness.  There is a place in the NFL for smaller, explosive receivers who can get open on short and intermediate routes.   Finke needs to test very well this week, though, to be more than an undrafted free agent.

4. Can Tony Jones Jr Run a 4.6 or Better?

One of the bigger surprises amongst the Notre Dame NFL decisions this year was Tony Jones Jr‘s decision to bypass a 5th year in favor of pursuing the NFL now.  His thought process was that the only thing holding him back was his speed, and he wasn’t going to do much with another year in college at putting that to rest.  For him, the Combine will be all about whether or not he can run a 4.6 or better.  If he runs a 4.7 or slower, he won’t get drafted.  He’ll still probably get a camp invite, but he won’t get drafted.  Friday is a very important day for Jones.

5. Can Julian Okwara Quiet Concerns About His Size?

Julian Okwara is still recovering from the fractured fibula he suffered against Duke in November so that he won’t be participating in every drill this weekend. Still, he will be taking part in the bench press. Despite the limited word, Okwara can do himself a favor by putting up a strong showing in the bench press.  Okwara’s size is the biggest question mark for him heading into the Draft, so an impressive performance in the bench press would help him secure a place in the first two days of the Draft.

6. Will Khalid Kareem Run Fast Enough to Be a Day 2 Pick?

While Okwara needs to answer questions on his strength, his partner in crime at defensive end, Khalid Kareem, has questions about his speed to answer.  Kareem should put up strong numbers in the bench press, but how fast he runs could determine how high he gets picked in the Draft.  If his 40 time isn’t impressive, he could slide down some draft boards.

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7. Will Troy Pride Jr Run a Sub 4.3 40-yard Dash?

When Sunday rolls around, there will be a lot of attention on Troy Pride and whether or not he can run a sub 4.3 40-yard dash.  Some think that Pride could even challenge for the Combine record 40-yard dash.  Should he run a sub 4.3, he will continue the ascent that started in Mobile at the Senior Bowl. Pride’s tape could still raise some questions, but you can’t coach sub 4.3 speed.

8. Can Alohi Gilman Put to Rest Concerns Over His Size/Speed?

To some, Alohi Gilman is still referred to as a “former Navy transfer” instead of a Notre Dame captain and a leader on back to back strong Notre Dame defenses.  Like Jones, in a way, the questions and concerns facing Gilman – size and speed- weren’t going to go away with another year on the collegiate level.  Gilman needs to test well to secure his position at the back end of the Draft.  The 40 and cone drills specifically will be important for Gilman.

9. Will Jalen Elliott Build on His Senior Bowl Momentum?

Of all the Notre Dame football players at the Combine this week, none may have seen their stock drop more during the season than Elliott.  After a strong junior season in which Elliott was always around the ball, his senior season felt like a dropoff.  Elliott, however, had a great week of practice at the Senior Bowl along with Pride and Gilman and has a chance to build on that momentum this week.  He will get drafted; it’s just a matter of where and a strong showing in Indy would undoubtedly help.

10. Why Isn’t Asmar Bilal in Indianapolis This Week?

While Notre Dame has nine players in Indy this week, there is one missing who probably should be there – Asmar Bilal.  After a ho-hum 2018 season as Notre Dame’s ROVER, Bilal moved to BUCK in 2019 and was one of the surprises of the season.  His performance in 2019 should have been more than enough to warrant an invite to the Combine. It’s a real shame for Bilal too because he is a gifted athlete who would have tested well in the drills the Combine features. He’ll have to wait to Notre Dame’s Pro Day to impress NFL scouts.

 

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