Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 11, Right Tackle Robert Hainsey
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Notre Dame’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 11, Robert Hainsey

Throughout July, BlueandGold.com is counting down the 25 most pivotal figures whom Notre Dame will rely on to get back to the College Football Playoff in 2020.

This is not necessarily about who is the best player or the top pro prospect. It’s more along the lines of individuals that need to either emerge, remain a centerpiece or significantly elevate their production to facilitate the Fighting Irish goal of climbing toward championship timber.

Much is based on talent and impact, but a premium is also placed on these questions: 1) If you subtracted this individual from the roster, how much of a setback would it be? 2) If this less proven player emerges and makes an impact, how much does that raise the ceiling (or lower it, if a breakout does not happen as expected)? The players and their ranking were determined by vote from five BlueandGold.com writers.

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At No. 11 in the countdown is right tackle Robert Hainsey, who earned 69 points in our poll.

Why Hainsey Is Ranked No. 11

The logic sounds redundant and applies to the other three linemen ranked before Hainsey in our countdown, guard Tommy Kraemer (No. 23), guard Aaron Banks (No. 21) and center Jarrett Patterson (No. 13). But it is true for them all.

Notre Dame’s line has been showered with praise and high expectations this offseason. Some preseason magazines and musings think it will the best in the country. If that’s true — and it’s a reasonable take — the offensive line will play an important role in making Notre Dame’s offense potent. Remove any of the five starters, though, and some of the allure is gone.

Hainsey, a senior who has manned a critical position since the Citrus Bowl in 2017, deserves his share of the praise. He allowed zero sacks and two quarterback hits in 252 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus, before an injury Nov. 2 against Virginia Tech cost him the rest of the season. He was Notre Dame’s Offensive Lineman of the Year.

Though he is light for his position (6-4, 295 pounds), Hainsey is a superior athlete to left tackle Liam Eichenberg and has impressive fluidity. He also is a respected leader and likely captain for the second straight year. Taking all of that away, even if replaced with a reliable backup in Josh Lugg, Hainsey would be a loss at an important position if he were to get hurt again this fall.

Hainsey’s Status Entering The Season

Hainsey was a limited participant in Notre Dame’s one spring practice while still recovering from knee surgery, but is expected to be full-go for training camp. Lugg was his replacement for the final five games of the season and will go back to a utility role.

Once again, Hainsey enters the season with a tight grasp on the starting job. He has been a contributor since the beginning of his freshman season. Since the start of 2018, Hainsey’s opponent has notched one sack and four quarterback hits. He’s a top-tier pass protector and ended 2019 with a 79.0 PFF pass-blocking grade.

Hainsey’s injury occurred in Notre Dame’s eighth game of the year, so he did not qualify for a redshirt. This year will be his last in college unless an injury earns him a redshirt opportunity and the chance to play a fifth year.

Notre Dame senior offensive tackle Robert Hainsey
Hainsey’s pass protection has been an asset for Notre Dame the last two years. (Photo by Angela Driskell)

What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?

Hainsey enters the season with some NFL discussion and can solidify his draftable status with another stellar year in pass protection. He can boost his stock and help Notre Dame’s line deliver on the high expectations with continued growth as a run blocker.

Notre Dame averaged 4.4 yards per rush when running off right tackle, per PFF. That includes Lugg’s time at right tackle. It’s a respectable figure, but ideally it goes more than 5.0 (Notre Dame averaged 5.9 yards per rush when running off left tackle, for context).

The standard for Hainsey as a three-year starter is another season where he averages fewer than one allowed quarterback pressure per game. He has allowed 20 pressures in 22 starts, with only five of those turning into a sack or a hit. He allowed eight pressures in eight games last year.

There is power in Hainsey’s 295-pound frame, but adding size while keeping his agility would help his draft stock and allow him to do his part in improving Notre Dame’s rushing operation.

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Behind The Ranking

The top 25 was determined in the same manner as the Associated Press poll. Five BlueandGold.com writers submitted their ballots, and each position on the ballot was given a point value. The top ranking was worth 25 points, No. 2 was worth 24, No. 3 worth 23 and so on down until No. 25, which was worth one point. The players with the 25 highest point totals made the list.

Individual rankings:

Patrick Engel: 8

Lou Somogyi: not ranked

Mike Singer: 6

Todd Burlage: 8

Andrew Mentock: 13

Lou Somogyi on why he didn't rank Hainsey: “Upon further review, I acknowledge this is an egregious oversight on my part. I guess a part of it was I looked too much at the ‘if this player were taken away, how would it affect the team?’ Last year Hainsey was lost for the season during the opening series against Virginia Tech. Josh Lugg stepped in — and the Fighting Irish finished 6-0 without Hainsey.

“Regardless, that is a short-sighted view of a team captain and now fourth-year starter [he was a co-starter as a 2017 freshman]. He has been so quietly efficient that he's almost taken for granted, which is a form of a compliment. I still think Lugg is capable of filling in ably for anyone up front, but I would reclassify Hainsey more so around top 20 or even top 15.”

Prior Top 25 Profiles

No. 12: Kevin Austin

No. 13: Jarrett Patterson

No. 14: Jafar Armstrong

No. 15: Nick McCloud

No. 16: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa

No. 17: Shaun Crawford

No. 18: Houston Griffith

No. 19: Lawrence Keys III

No. 20: Chris Tyree

No. 21: Aaron Banks

No. 22: Bennett Skowronek

No. 23: Tommy Kraemer

No. 24: Isaiah Pryor

No. 25: Kurt Hinish

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