Mel Kiper Not Ruling Out Liam Eichenberg As A First-Round Draft Pick
ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. isn’t giving up on the idea Notre Dame’s first-round left tackle streak could extend, even if most mocks don’t have the Irish’s latest standout blindside protector, Liam Eichenberg, in the 2021 NFL Draft’s initial 32 picks.
Kiper’s own most recent mock doesn’t include Eichenberg, Notre Dame’s three-year starter at left tackle and a 2020 consensus All-American. Kiper has Eichenberg ranked No. 7 among offensive tackles in the NFL Draft.
The guru of mock drafts, though, always anticipates first-round surprises. And he could see how Eichenberg becomes one of them. If so, Eichenberg would become the fourth straight Notre Dame left tackle to be a first-round pick, a streak that extends all the way back to 2010, Brian Kelly’s first season as Irish head coach.
“Late first is a possibility,” Kiper said. “When you enter the late first, there’s always a name or two that you have a second-round grade on who goes in the late first. There are always five or six guys who go in the late first who you thought would be solid twos. Eichenberg would be one of those guys who could fall into that late one area.”
The reason? Eichenberg is considered a safe pick with a higher floor compared to most players and most linemen available at that point. His three seasons as a starter contained few vacillations. He has not allowed a sack since Week 5 of the 2018 season, per Pro Football Focus. His defender hit the quarterback just four times since the start of 2019. Per PFF, he earned the highest grade of Notre Dame’s 22 starters in the 2020 College Football Playoff loss to Alabama.
It’s hard to question the production. Eichenberg was voted a first-team All-American by four of the five NCAA recognized outlets. The one exception, the Associated Press, named him a second-teamer. He was a first-team All-ACC selection and won the ACC’s Jacobs Trophy, which goes to the conference’s top blocker.
“He’s a natural left tackle,” Kiper said. “He was great from game to game – that’s what you look at. Do you see any drop-off? You didn’t. It was always a consistency with his game, where he didn’t have ups and downs or even an off game.”
Eichenberg could work his way up draft boards because he brings no concerns with experience, competition level or a limited 2020 season due to injury or various COVID-19 situations. Notre Dame played 12 games and played a strong schedule. Those simple factors could sway a team in his direction, Kiper thinks.
Kiper had the No. 31 slot in his latest mock draft as the landing spot for Stanford left tackle Walker Little, who has played one game since the start of 2019. If one team is comfortable drafting a player who was seen on the field once in the past two seasons at that spot, it’s certainly plausible there’s another who would choose the safety of Eichenberg in same situation.
“Dillon Radunz from North Dakota State, he only played one game [in 2020],” Kiper said. “Would you give the edge to Eichenberg, who had the [full] season? James Hudson, position change to offensive tackle, formerly at Michigan and now Cincinnati. Do you give the edge to Eichenberg over him?
“Spencer Brown, Northern Iowa, level of competition issue – you give the edge there to Eichenberg. You can make a strong case for Little, who didn’t play this year at Stanford and was injured in 2019 and only played one game.”
Those names surround Eichenberg on Kiper’s ranking of the top 10 tackles. Radunz is No. 3, while Little is No. 8, Hudson No. 9 and Brown 10th. The top two tackles in his rankings, Oregon’s Penei Sewell and Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, are viewed as likely top-20 picks. Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins (No. 4) is popping up in the first round of most mock drafts, including a landing spot of No. 30 in Kiper’s latest.
“If you want to say the highest Eichenberg can be on the board, probably your fourth offensive tackle,” Kiper said. “If he is the fourth tackle taken, that’d put him in the late first. If you have him as the sixth, seventh, eight tackle, you’re talking second round or at worst early third round. The range is late one to mid-to-late two.”
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