As the calendar has flipped to July, preseason All American lists are starting to come out and plenty of Notre Dame players are getting mentioned on various lists. Julian Okwara, Alohi Gilman, and even Tommy Kraemer have made a few lists. One player who isn’t getting mentioned much – at least yet – who should be though is Khalid Kareem. Notre Dame’s starting strongside end has so far been getting overlooked by the preseason publications. He shouldn’t be.
In 2018 Khalid Kareem was tied for second on the Notre Dame roster in tackles for loss with 10.5 – tied with Jerry Tillery and just two behind Julian Okwara who has been getting a lot of the preseason buzz. Rightfully so for Okwara too as he could easily surpass 10 sacks this fall and play his way to a first round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The thing is, so can Kareem. Last year he limped through parts of the season with numerous bumps and bruises. Nothing too serious to cause him to miss any sort of substantial game time or even to miss a start for that matter. At almost every turn throughout the season though it seemed like Kareem was on the turf limping off only to slog through the rest of the game.
When Kareem was at 100%, he looked unstoppable. Remember how he looked against Michigan? Jim Harbaugh sure does. Kareem was a major reason why Notre Dame “upset” the favored Wolverines to start the season on their way to a 12-0 regular season and berth in the playoffs. That effort earned Kareem Defensive Player of the Week from the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
The problem for Kareem in 2018 was that the instances of him being 100% were few and far between. Aside from the obvious ways in which that impacted his effectiveness last fall, the other area where it hurt was in his week to week preparation. When you’re constantly dealing with minor injuries and juggling a full course load like you do at Notre Dame, it makes recovery difficult.
That shouldn’t be a problem for Kareem in 2019 given how Notre Dame structures their players course loads to allow for a lighter load in their senior seasons. Jerry Tillery and Drue Tranquill benefited from the same setup immensely last fall. Tranquill specifically. The stories of Tranquill’s in week recovery grew to be almost legendary last year if you listened to the popular Notre Dame pods from the subscription sites. Kareem should experience that this year.
Kareem is also going to benefit from there being more depth behind him this year allowing him to stay fresh later in games and later in the season. Senior Ade Ogundeji and sophomore Justin Ademilola will both give Notre Dame more than viable options for depth at strongside defensive end behind Kareem this fall. Another player who could provide some depth is senior Jamir Jones although there’s a school of thought that the staff wants to try to redshirt him if they can.
Khalid Kareem’s final stats for 2018 included 42 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 5 pass breakups, and 1 forced fumble. It’s not unrealistic to think that Kareem could double both those TFL and sack totals. If he does, he won’t be overlooked for too many post season awards and accolades.
Kareem’s efforts last year were almost enough to get him to leave early for the NFL Draft. He was one of the five Notre Dame players to request an evaluation from the NFL advisory committee. Luckily for Notre Dame, he and Julian Okwara decided to return for their senior seasons to give Notre Dame one of the best defensive end duos in the country.
Kareem knows the opportunity in front of him right now. He’s been putting in some serious work this off-season to prepare for the upcoming season.
While Okwara is rightfully getting a lot of the buzz on the Notre Dame defense this summer, it’s Kareem who ultimately could end up being the highest player to be drafted from Notre Dame next spring. He might not be high in too many of those way too early NFL Draft rankings now, but he’s got the kind of profile and skill-set that NFL evaluators love. If he stays fresh all year and plays to his potential, the sky is really the limit.
I might be bullish on Kareem at this point, but for my money, he is the player on the Notre Dame roster that can really skyrocket up draft boards this year. Not that Okwara won’t. If he plays to his potential, he’s going to be good for 10+ sacks easily this fall and in the 1st round discussion. Kareem could easily be right behind him though. He has potential 1st round NFL Draft pick written all over himself.