Alex's Analysis: Irish defensive ends, secondary could go fast in 2020 NFL Draft
The 2019 NFL Draft is now in the books, as six former Irish players were picked by NFL teams. That had us thinking, which of today's Notre Dame standouts could we see hearing their names called a year from now, in the 2020 draft?
We highlighted four offensive players that have significant pro potential, and now let's look at the defense.
It all starts up front with the defensive line, particularly the defensive ends. They call themselves the tip of the spear, and all three have the skills to play in the NFL.
Both Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem could've left school early after this past season, and both would've been drafted. Instead, each decided to return for their senior seasons, a mutually beneficial decision for them and the team.
Okwara tallied 8 sacks and 11 tackles for loss last season, and he could've had a whole lot more than that. In fact, during spring ball he said his goal for this upcoming season is 20 sacks. That may be a bit ambitious, but his numbers should rise provided he stays healthy.
The same can be said for Khalid Kareem.
In his first year as a full-time player in the Irish defense, he racked up 4.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss, and showed versatility rushing the passer as well as stopping the run.
Several early mock drafts for next year already have Kareem going in the first round, and with another full season under his belt this fall, his stock could rise even further.
Finally, don't forget about Daelin Hayes.
He's kind of been pushed out a little bit with the emergence of Okwara and Kareem, but he still has the ability and athleticism to make it to the next level.
What he needs is production. He had 31 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and two sacks last season, and every year he's increased his total tackles.
He hasn't quite had the breakout year many people were expecting from him, but at 6'4" and 265 lbs. he's definitely got the size, and another year playing in Clark Lea's defense could help him improve his draft stock.
The NFL is a pass-happy league, and the best way to counter that is to pressure the quarterback. Seven pass rushers were taken in the first round alone last week, and teams looking to upgrade their defense would do well to take a long look at these three guys.
The other way to slow down opposing offenses' aerial attacks is with a good secondary, and the Irish have a couple intriguing prospects who could be playing on Sunday sooner rather than later.
Let's start with Troy Pride Jr.
He was overshadowed a bit last year playing opposite eventual fourth-round pick Julian Love, but now he's the top-dog at cornerback - and could be an even better prospect.
Love had far more production than Pride does, but Pride has the speed that Love never had. In Notre Dame's internal testing after spring ball, Pride reportedly ran a 4.32 40-yd dash time. Love's best 40-time was a 4.45 at his Pro Day.
Pride's 4.32 would have been the second-best time out of all the corners at the NFL Combine this year.
Yes, NFL teams want to see production, but they also love potential, and with that speed, Pride has a whole lot of it. By the time the 2020 draft comes around, don't be surprised if he gets picked earlier than Love did.
Finally, I think safety Alohi Gilman is an interesting prospect. After sitting out a year because of transfer rules, Gilman came in this past season and became the instant leader of the Irish secondary.
He is very well-respected in the locker room, a lock to be named a captain this fall, and a force in the back end of the Notre Dame defense. He racked up 95 tackles last year, and was a big reason the secondary took a major step forward last season.
Gilman also picked off two passes in the win over Syracuse.
It's worth mentioning: this is all just speculation. Just as many players improve their draft stock their senior year, many others also tank it. The pro futures and draft positioning for any of these players will be largely determined by their play on the field this fall.