NFL Draft Proves Kelly, Hiestand Have Rebuilt the Irish Line

Ronnie Stanley - NFL Draft
Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

From 2004-2013, Notre Dame football produced just one offensive lineman drafted high than the 6th round in the NFL Draft. That’s 10 NFL Drafts and just one lineman selected higher than the 6th round for the Fighting Irish – a program once known for its linemen.  In the last three years, however, Notre Dame, under the guidance of offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has produced four such players including two first rounders.  The pipeline, ladies and gentlemen, is once again open.

After Jeff Faine became a first round selection for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the line Notre Dame offensive lineman to hear his name called before the 6th round over the course of 10 drafts was Ryan Harris in 2007 when the Denver Broncos took him in the third round with the 70th overall pick. Since the 2014 NFL Draft, the following Golden Domers have heard there names called before the end of the 2nd day.

  • 2016: Ronnie Stanley – Round 1, #6 overall
  • 2016: Nick Martin – 2nd Round, #50 overall
  • 2014: Zack Martin – 1st Round, #21 overall
  • 2014: Chris Watt – 3rd Round, #89 overall

Thats two first rounders, a second rounder, and a third all from the offensive line in just three drafts.  The only reason the Irish didn’t have a lineman selected in 2015 was because they lost just a single starter from the 2014 line – Christian Lombard.  Injuries derailed Lombard’s career ruining any chance he had of being selected.

Notre Dame came back strong this year though with Stanley going #6 overall – thanks in part to Laramey Tunsil’s gas mask video leak – and Nick Martin going in the 2nd round to the Texans after Houston traded up a second time this year to nab a Notre Dame player.  They did so in the first round for wide receiver Will Fuller as well.

Also note, Stanley would not have fallen much farther than 6th even if the Tunsil video hadn’t leaked.  The Titans took Jack Conklin at #8 and the Giants were looking for a tackle as well and would almost certainly have selected Stanley if he were on the board at #10 over their reach of a pick for Eli Apple.

All of these high picks, however, are proof that Brian Kelly and his staff have completely restocked what was a bare cupboard at offensive line when they took over and Harry Hiestand has elevated the Notre Dame offensive line into one of the nation’s best.

It doesn’t appear as things will slow sown any time soon either.  Mike McGlinchey has two years of eligibility remaining, but he is already being considered a potential first round pick in next year’s draft if he handles the move to LT as well as he is expected to.  Quenton Nelson will be entering his second season as a starter as well and could have a decision similar to the one Stanley had on his hands following this season.  Whenever he leaves though, he looks like he’ll be another high draft pick for the Irish offensive line as well.

It’s probably too early to tell if Sam Mustipher or Alex Bars could continue the tradition as well since neither has much/any starting experience yet but Bars was once called the best young offensive lineman Brian Kelly has ever coached so assuming he stays healthy it might be a safe bet that he will as well.

All of this success has also carried over to the recruiting trail where Notre Dame landed an elite trio of linemen in Tommy Kraemer, Liam Eichenberg, and Parker Boudreaux.  The Irish already have commitments from 4-star prospects Dillan Gibbons and Joshua Lugg.   The pipeline of NFL talent along the offensive line that Notre Dame is producing should only contineu that trend as well.

With all of this new found success producing elite, NFL ready offensive linemen, it shouldn’t be any surprise that the Notre Dame offense seemingly continued to put up points in bunches even after losing its opening day starter at quarterback, running back, and tight end.  In 2015 Notre Dame plugged in a true freshman running back who came to the Irish as a 3-star prospect coming off a knee injury – Josh Adams – and all he did was rush for a Notre Dame freshman rushing record.

This success bodes very well for the future – especially in 2016 when Notre Dame will be replacing all three of its starting wide receivers from a year ago along with three offensive linemen after Steve Elmer decided to end his career early to pursue other interests.

Even with three new starters on the offensive line in 2016, no one is even pointing to the line as a potential area of weakness for the Irish this fall.  McGlinchey is expected to slide over and take the torch from Stanley at LT, Sam Mustipher turned some heads in spring practice and turned what looked to be an open competition into seemingly a runway, and prior to his injury in the fall Alex Bars was already working with the first team.

Add all of this up and the 2016 Notre Dame offense could very well pick up where it left off in 2015 even with all of the attrition and the reason for that starts up front.  Not bad for a unit that for years produced a slew of 6th and 7th round picks and paved the way for just a single Notre Dame running back (Theo Riddick) to be selected in the draft during that same span.

 

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