Ranking Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 23, Guard Tommy Kraemer
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Notre Dame’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 23, Tommy Kraemer

Over the next month, BlueandGold.com will feature a countdown of the 25 most pivotal figures counted on to help lead Notre Dame 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’s 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)?

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The players and their ranking were determined by vote from five BlueandGold.com writers.

Next in the countdown is right guard Tommy Kraemer, who collected 20 points in our poll. He and safety Isaiah Pryor each had 20 points, but Kraemer wins the tiebreaker because he appeared on more ballots.

Why Kraemer Is Ranked No. 23

Much of the offseason discussion around Notre Dame has focused on its offensive line. Some preseason magazines and musings have called it the best in the country. All five starters plus the top reserve return, and the 114 collective starts they bring back are believed to be the most in school history.

If the offensive line is one reason Notre Dame is seen as a preseason top-10 team that should average at least five touchdowns per game, then it seems pretty reasonable to call it one of the most valuable groups on the team. The line can’t be lauded if its individual players aren’t good. All of them, then, are logical inclusions in the countdown.

Kraemer is one of two returning Notre Dame linemen who will enter his fourth year as a starter (right tackle Robert Hainsey is the other). He’s a fifth-year senior and is viewed as one of the Irish’s better prospects for next spring’s NFL Draft.

Among linemen, though, a right guard is of less importance to a strong offensive line than a tackle. Recent NFL Drafts suggest the same thinking. No more than seven interior linemen have gone in the top 100 picks in each of the last four drafts. The value of taking a guard early in the draft isn’t viewed a strong unless he’s a nearly bust-proof player.

Kraemer’s ranking reflects the same thinking. The presence of reliable and versatile backup Josh Lugg caps his importance, too. Lugg filled in admirably after Kraemer’s injury in October.

Same time, liabilities at guard can tank a line that has good tackles. And top-level ones can make a line better, as Quenton Nelson did during his time at Notre Dame. Kraemer is far from a liability and has the goods to break into the top echelon of college football guards. His power alone gives him a high floor. When he’s at his best, Notre Dame is better because of it.

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Kraemer’s Status Entering The Season

Kraemer is expected to be fully healthy after an MCL sprain suffered Oct. 26 at Michigan. He will step into his right guard spot as one of the more secure starters on the team. He will be more than nine months removed from injury when training camp opens in August.

The injury was expected to sideline Kraemer for most of spring practice. He went through offseason workouts, but was not in pads for Notre Dame’s one spring practice, which was held March 5. The rest were canceled.

The three months out of the weight room at home and no on-field work since October aren’t ideal situations for someone who relies on power as much as he does and who could use more mobility. But an MCL sprain is moderate in terms of knee injuries, and every college football player spent the spring in quarantine instead of in the weight room or on the practice field.

Unless Kraemer is injured again or somehow bombs training camp, Lugg won’t be a threat to his starting job. He’s helpful insurance, but Kraemer won a starting job as a redshirt freshman and has held it since because he’s one of the strongest players on Notre Dame’s roster. His experience also is worth something.

Notre Dame fifth-year senior guard Tommy Kraemer
Kraemer, a former top-50 recruit, is back for his fourth season as a starter. (Blueandgold.com)

What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?

Kraemer is seen as a mid-round pick in next year’s draft. CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso even slotted him at No. 55 on his initial 2021 top 100 prospects list. A season that solidifies those projections would give Notre Dame a boost.

Becoming a day two or early day three pick would presumably mean Kraemer stayed healthy. It would also suggest his power and strength led the way to a dominant season as a run blocker in an offense that likes its power run plays and using pulling guards in a variety of creative ways.

If Kraemer’s lateral quickness improves, his ceiling and Notre Dame’s offensive line outlook both go up. PFF credited him with only four pressures allowed in seven games, a strong number. Maintaining a similar rate would ensure Notre Dame’s offensive line remains one of the country’s best pass-blocking units.

Kraemer has struggled, though, against smaller linemen who shoot gaps before he can close them off. It’s here where a need for more lateral agility shows up. In his three years as a starter, his highest PFF run-blocking grade is a 68.1 that came in 2017. Last year, he posted a 63.2 grade — still above-average on PFF’s scale, but nothing remarkable.

Behind The Ranking

The top 25 was determined in the same manner as the Associated Press top 25. 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: 19

Lou Somogyi: Not ranked

Mike Singer: 23

Todd Burlage: 23

Andrew Mentock: 19

Previous Top 25 Profiles

No. 24: Isaiah Pryor

No. 25: Kurt Hinish

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