Stayin Sharp with Evan Sharpley. As NFL draft approaches, Irish players attempt to improve their stock

As NFL draft approaches, Irish players attempt to improve their stock

Several former Irish football players closed out their respective collegiate careers recently. Nick McCloud and Shawn Crawford played in the Hula Bowl, while Ian Book, Daelin Hayes, Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Robert Hainsey, and Aaron Banks played in the Senior Bowl. Ben Skowronek injured his right foot in practices for the Senior Bowl last week. Liam Eichenberg backed out of his accepted invitation to the Senior Bowl for undisclosed reasons.

McCloud made the most of his trip out to Hawaii to play in Sunday’s Hula Bowl.

The former Notre Dame cornerback intercepted a pair of passes and took home defensive MVP honors for Team Kai in a 15-13 win over Team ‘Aina. McCloud intercepted one more pass in the Hula Bowl than he did in his one season at Notre Dame. The grad transfer from N.C. State tallied 33 tackles, two tackles for a loss, one interception, eight pass breakups and two fumble recoveries in 12 games with the Irish. McCloud intercepted a pass thrown by former Northwestern quarterback Peyton Ramsey in the second quarter of the Hula Bowl. He later picked off Tulsa’s Zach Smith with less than five minutes remaining in the game to slow Team ‘Aina’s rally attempt.

Hainsey had a solid showing in the Senior Bowl.

Hainsey may have pushed himself up NFL Draft boards with the performances he put together all week long at the annual senior showcase in Mobile, Ala. The 6-foot-4, 302-pound Hainsey, who started 34 games at right tackle for the Irish in four seasons, showed he could potentially move inside at the NFL level by taking reps at guard and center throughout the week. He started Saturday’s game at right guard and played center at times too. Before Saturday’s game, NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah named Hainsey as one of his top 10 winners of the Senior Bowl week.

“Hainsey was one of the most consistent prospects this week,” Jeremiah wrote for NFL.com. “He played with good hands and a firm base, taking snaps at guard and tackle. The team that picks him will be getting a very polished player. It didn’t go unnoticed that the Notre Dame guys worked after practice every single day, and I was told Hainsey’s interviews with teams were outstanding.”

Pro Football Focus graded Hainsey’s practice reps with a win rate of 62 percent — better than all the other interior offensive lineman competing all week.

Hainsey played alongside Banks, who started at left guard, on Saturday and snapped to Book early in the third quarter. They were joined on the National Team by former Notre Dame defensive ends Hayes and Ogundeji. Hayes recorded three tackles in the first half including a shared sack with UCLA’s Osa Odighizuwa. They took down former Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman for a five-yard loss in the second quarter.

“Daelin Hayes actually did a good job rushing inside and outside,” Jeremiah said during the game telecast on NFL Network. “On that one he got around Carson Green from Texas A&M. Nice job showing you that quickness and a little bit of bendability once he gets to the top of his rush by Daelin Hayes.”

Ogundeji started for the National Team

Ogundeji started for the National Team and tallied a pair of tackles including a split sack of Newman with Ohio State’s Jonathan Cooper. Ogundeji drew praise from ESPN’s Mike Tannenbaum, a former general manager for the New York Jets, during a practice broadcast on ESPNU earlier in the week.

“He’s a guy that’s really flashed a lot of athleticism so far in the drills,” Tannenbaum said. “I like his fundamentals. Great knee bend. Great pad level. He’s played with really strong and violent hands. He’s a guy, to me, that could be in that conversation for the bottom of the first round.”

Book finished 5-of-11 passing for 48 yards and one interception.

Book was sacked once and scrambled four times for 18 yards. Book’s interception came on a Hail Mary attempt on the final play of the third quarter. The end of each quarter in the Senior Bowl was treated like the end of a half in a typical game.

“He’s smart,” Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores said of Book on ESPNU following Thursday’s practice. “He loves the game. He’s tough. He has leadership qualities. You saw that how he has command of the huddle, command of the offense at the line of scrimmage. He worked hard. It’s important to him. He did well for himself this week.”

Top 50 prospect rankings

In his first top-50 prospect rankings for the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft, Jeremiah from NFL Network listed two members of the Notre Dame football program as top prospects. The names were no shock, as linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah came in at No. 21 overall, the second linebacker named, and Eichenberg barely made it, coming in at No. 49.

We have seen both players mocked in the first round in recent weeks, but Owusu-Koramoah is a guy who is widely considered a first-round pick. Eichenberg has the resume to be a first-rounder, but many like him at the beginning of the second round, especially in a very deep offensive tackle draft class.

At least a few of Notre Dame’s 14 draft-eligible players likely won’t be selected in this year’s NFL Draft, which is scheduled to be held April 29-May 1 in Cleveland. The Irish could flirt with breaking the Brian Kelly Era high of eight picks in the 2014 draft. Notre Dame’s 10-man draft class of 1994 stands as the program record since the NFL Draft moved to its seven-round format that same year.

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