Friday Five: Big And Small Takeaways From Notre Dame’s Pro Day
Pro days are, in a way, the ultimate hindsight evaluation.
It’s reasonable to look at 40-yard dash times, vertical jumps and physical measurements for a player and review his four years in the context of those numbers. Sometimes, they’ll surprise you, clash with your recollection of the tape or make you wonder why someone didn’t have the impact his raw testing numbers suggest he could have provided.
In the case of cornerback Nick McCloud’s 4.37 40-yard dash, it’s easy to say, “where was that all year?” It was certainly unexpected. At no point did I think he looked slow, but I never considered he could run a 40 that would’ve tied for fourth at last year’s NFL Combine regardless of position.
I don’t think it changes how McCloud’s season should be viewed, though. McCloud had a successful year until he ran into DeVonta Smith in the College Football Playoff. He gave the Irish a physical presence at corner, could handle big receivers and located the ball well enough.
Given that 40 time, maybe it’s a little odd the McCloud memories of that final game (well, ones that don’t involve Najee Harris) are him trailing Smith on crossing routes. Smith, of course, had a way of embarrassing every corner he played.
Running that fast ought to make NFL scouts re-watch the tape and re-evaluate their projection of him. Same time, his 40 time is not going to erase concerns with other areas of his game that had him pegged as an undrafted free agent before pro day and differentiated him from All-Americans in 2020.
Tight end Brock Wright was another eye-catching performer. He ran a 4.6, which should be a surprise in the sense that he didn’t have many chances to show his speed, but not a shocker when considering his athletic skill. He’s a former top-50 recruit who was in a talented and crowded room all four years.
I don’t blame anyone for wondering if there was more to unlock as a receiver than his seven career catches. I think I’d stop short, though, of spinning that 40 time into regret over his usage. To me, Notre Dame was no worse off with the career he had because of who played in front of him.
Perhaps Wright has a 30- or 40-catch season to his name if one or two of Cole Kmet, Michael Mayer or Tommy Tremble were never around. But that’s another universe. Wright was the No. 3 tight end his final two years. In his 493 snaps from 2019-20, Notre Dame ran the ball on 323 of them (65.5 percent). He ran a route on just 140. When he was in the game – in 12 or 13 personnel on early downs or short-yardage spots – Notre Dame usually ran the ball.
Throwing to him more would mean using him in 12 personnel over Mayer/Kmet or Tremble more often, throw to him in those 12 and 13 personnel sets over Mayer/Kmet or Tremble, or taking carries away from Kyren Williams last year. I’m not sure any of those are helping Notre Dame’s offense.
On a smooth-operating major college football team like Notre Dame, there are a lot of good athletes. Sometimes they get stuck on the depth chart. It’s fair to say Notre Dame didn’t get the most out of Wright’s traits as it could have in light of his pro day, but the tight end track record says those instances are the exception and not the rule.
2. Tommy Tremble's Day
We know tight end Tommy Tremble can block. Tony Dungy made sure to point it out on every NBC telecast last year. When he’s drafted, perhaps on Day 2, the blocking ability will be the first set of highlights shown on the TV broadcast.
His NFL draft declaration after three college seasons, though, was a bet that he would flourish as a receiver with more opportunity in the pros than he had at Notre Dame. A 4.59 40 at pro day highlighted the upside in that area. That’s .11 seconds faster than Kmet ran a year ago, and Kmet was 2020's top-drafted tight end mainly because of his receiving skills.
Tremble’s 35 career catches are a largely product of his usage and opportunity. As odd as it sounds for him to leave after a 19-catch, touchdown-less 2020 season where he was targeted seven times in the final five games, it made sense.
The blocking film was second to none in the draft class. He would test well now or a year from now. Mayer isn’t going away, leaving only 12 and 13 personnel as Tremble’s opportunity. Is Notre Dame really going to use multiple tight ends on half its plays this year like it did in 2020?
Slot receiver Avery Davis – who came out in 12 and 13 personnel plays – is the most proven wideout. Notre Dame’s receiver room is light on experience, but if a couple of Kevin Austin Jr., Braden Lenzy, Jordan Johnson or Joe Wilkins Jr. emerge, they’ll be frequently deployed.
3. Ben Skowronek
I’m bummed a foot injury kept receiver Ben Skowronek from running the 40, because I think he would’ve surprised with his time.
He didn’t want to put a number on it when asked in his Monday media session, but he said he has seen other times from receivers in this class and has run faster himself. As much as I wish he gave us a number, that line and his 15 minutes at a dais over Zoom was the embodiment of why he was one of my favorite players to cover on last year’s team (and perhaps of all players I’ve covered).
He’s not arrogant, but there’s a self-confidence that’s detectable. The way I can best describe it is he knows he’s good enough to belong in every football setting he has been in, even if you initially question his qualifications (skepticism which he hears). Providing tangible evidence of his straight-line speed would’ve quieted some of those.
He will no doubt have the same mindset when he goes to an NFL rookie minicamp and training camp, whether that’s as a draft pick or rookie free agent. It will serve him well there.
4. Other Pro Day Items
Ian Book’s throwing session was up and down. His accuracy seemed to come and go. A few times, the receivers paused to catch passes instead of grabbing them in stride. He missed a few throws. I don’t think it’ll crush his draft stock, because there’s so much more to go off when evaluating him. But in a setting where it’s just him and a receiver, you expect him to be crisper than he was.
Liam Eichenberg clocked a 4.57 20-yard shuttle, which would’ve ranked second among the 26 offensive linemen who did it at the 2020 combine. Some good ammunition to back up his downplaying of athleticism questions surrounding him.
Ade Ogundeji has a 7-foot wingspan and 35.5-inch arms. Pure length. At 260 pounds, he ran a 4.71 40 and had a 10-foot broad jump. Athletic upside.
Shaun Crawford, with two surgically-repaired knees, ran a 4.47 and had a 35-inch vertical at 5-9. All he does is persevere.
Book ran a 4.59 40, a 4.13 20-yard shuttle and had a 32.5 inch vertical. He’s athletic. There need not be a modifier like deceptive, sneaky or underrated before calling him that.
5. Aggressive In The 2023 Rivals100
When the initial 2023 Rivals100 dropped on Tuesday, 47 of the recruits in it had Notre Dame offers. Going off this story from a year ago, Notre Dame had offered 22 players in the initial Rivals100 when it was released last spring.
That sure seems like a deliberate effort. The number is now 49 after two more offers went out later in the week.
Some of those players in the first top 100 will drop in the rankings. Some won’t have serious interest. Some won’t turn out to be fits. Notre Dame’s staff still has to put in time and effort to relate to teenagers and make them believe a pitch.
All of that is what comes next. Had to lay out the groundwork first, though.
Brian Kelly declaring before the 2019 Camping World Bowl he wants to see Notre Dame nudge closer to top-five recruiting classes felt like floating a goal without the ability in the moment to lay out the path to getting there.
Taking early shots with more top prospects, generating some buzz with the #PotOfGold March 17 recruiting day and getting Kelly involved earlier (he was busy talking to recruits on St. Patrick's Day) are actionable items that only help efforts to get closer to that desire.
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