Notre Dame still has at least one, hopefully two, very important football games to play in 2018. It’s never too early to start thinking about the 2019 season though. Over the weekend Brian Kelly revealed that they sent in the names of five players who have eligibility to the NFL Advisory Committee for evaluations already. He wouldn’t reveal the names, but it isn’t too hard to figure out who those players most likely are. Here’s a quick look at the five most likely candidates that Kelly was referring to along with a quick evaluation of where their draft stock is currently.
Julian Love (CB)
Of all of the juniors on the Notre Dame roster, the most likely to leave for the NFL is cornerback Julian Love. He has been racking up All-American honors left and right and even though I did just see a list of the top 10 players at every position in the draft from The Athletic where the writer inexplicably didn’t even have Love in the top 10 corners, he is widely considered one of the top corners in the draft. Mel Kiper for instance, has Love going in the first round currently.
If Love were to come back it would be amazing because he would give Notre Dame an All-American in the secondary to pair with Troy Pride and another potential future All-American in Alohi Gilman at safety. The Irish would easily have one of the best secondaries in the country. That said, I wouldn’t expect that to happen. There just seems to be too much in favor of an early departure here. And honestly, a cornerback from Notre Dame being good enough to leave early and be a first round pick is a good thing for the state of the program.
Should Love leave however, Tariq Bracy and Donte Vaughn are the most likely candidates to replace him, but remember, Notre Dame also signed DJ Brown and Noah Boykin in February too. Shaun Crawford will attempt another comeback but he will be battling for the slot CB position. Houston Griffith was also recruited as a cornerback as well before getting some looks at safety. The Irish will not be short on options. Let’s also be honest that Notre Dame won’t be able to just replace Love. He is that good.
Julian Okwara (DE)
Assuming Okwara was one of the five, I would imagine this request is more of an exploratory mission to see what the NFL evaluators think of Okwara position wise heading into his junior year. With his size, he could play OLB in 3-4 defense. Notre Dame drops him into coverage enough that the transition wouldn’t be that tough.
Most likely what Okwara will hear back from the NFL is that he needs to become best friends with Matt Balis this off-season. Last year he dropped down to 230 lbs during the spring before adding back on 10 lbs. Still 240 lbs is not going to hold up in the NFL at either OLB or DE. There are a lot of linebackers in the NFL bigger than 240 lbs.
Okwara finished second on the team with 7.0 sacks in the regular season. If he can pack on a bit more weight and add in some more power moves to his pass rush repertoire that is almost exclusively speed rush moves, he could make himself a lot of money draft stock wise. A 10+ sack season in 2019 is not out of the question.
Khalid Kareem (DE)
This is another potential inquiry that would seem to be more of an exploratory mission. Kareem has only had one season as a starter and while he was pretty solid, he wasn’t so good that it would be worth leaving now. This is also a very, very deep draft for defensive ends. Kareem led the Irish defensive linemen with 39 tackles on the season and was third overall on the team in sacks with 4.5 .
Kareem would benefit greatly from coming back for his senior season and him leaving would be a pretty big shock to me. All of Notre Dame’s senior/5th year senior returnees who spurred the NFL last year had higher draft stocks than Kareem’s currently.
Chase Claypool (WR)
It would make sense for Claypool to have requested an evaluation from the NFL because his game is still very much evolving after getting a late start at football. His production thus far does not scream of someone who would leave early for the NFL. At this point in his career, he is much less accomplished than Equanimeous St. Brown who left early last year only to be selected in the 5th round.
Claypool does have elite athleticism though and is a potential Pro Bowl special teamer in the future. If he were to leave, someone would almost certainly take a late round flyer on him, but that would be like 6th-7th round at best. Assuming he comes back and finally puts it all together, he could move himself up the draft board though. He started to come on strong at the end of the year. If he builds on that, he could be a pretty high pick in 2020.
Miles Boykin (WR)
The case of Miles Boykin actually reminds me a bit of Darius Walker back in 2006. The one knock on Boykin heading to the NFL is the one thing he probably won’t be able to improve upon much, if at all. His speed. Boykin is a massive target and was Notre Dame’s most dependable receiver in 2018. He isn’t running by too many corners on the college level though and they will only get fast on the professional level.
Boykin is an interesting case because when I originally started looking at the roster for potential early NFL departures a couple weeks ago it didn’t even cross my mind that Boykin might not take a 5th year. The more I think about it though, the more Boykin is one of those weird cases of how much will he improve his stock with another year? He won’t drastically improve his 40 time in a year. He can improve his consistency though.
This list does not include Alize Mack because we already know he is headed to the NFL with a year of eligibility left by nature of him accepting a bid for the Senior Bowl already. Mack could have used a 5th year but will instead head to the NFL without ever really maxing out his potential in the Notre Dame offense. It will be interesting to see where he ultimately gets drafted because the production just isn’t there. The potential is clearly there though and he’ll put up some eye popping numbers at the combine.
If I had to guess right now, all but Love will come back in 2019. None of them would be any higher than a late round pick in 2019 and three of them could considerably improve their stock by returning for their senior seasons the way Tevon Coney, Jerry Tillery, and Drue Tranquill did in 2018.