Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 7, Defensive End Ade Ogundeji
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Notre Dame’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 7, Ade Ogundeji

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, if the season is held.

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

At No. 7 in the countdown is fifth-year senior defensive end Ade Ogundeji, who earned 75 points in our poll.

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Why Ogundeji Is Ranked No. 7

The least-heralded defensive end of the four Notre Dame signed in 2016 is on his way to making his own name. He is taking over for an NFL Draft pick, replacing Khalid Kareem as Notre Dame’s starting strong-side defensive end.

Ogundeji slid under the radar in a class with Kareem, Julian Okwara and Daelin Hayes. The first two were four-star recruits who became two-year starters and draft picks. Hayes, a five-star recruit and former USC commit, was the class headliner and is now Notre Dame’s expected starter at the vyper end spot. Ogundeji was a former Mid-American Conference commit and low three-star recruit, the kid who’s often labeled a sleeper and a good long-term project.

Four years later, that old trope sure looks accurate. Ogundeji’s snaps increased after Okwara’s season-ending injury last November, and the visions of a dominant 2020 season became more realistic with each game. All of Ogundeji’s 4.5 sacks came in the Irish’s final three games. He ended the season with 23 pressures and Notre Dame’s second-highest defensive grade, per Pro Football Focus.

In the extended November work, Ogundeji showed an array of pass-rush moves and the physical tools that could portend a season that approaches double-digit sacks. He was a starting-caliber player stuck at a deep position behind two NFL players. There was no drop-off with him in the game. Notre Dame lost a third-round pick when Okwara went down and its pass-rush sustained itself.

Ogundeji’s Status Entering The Season

Ogundeji’s long arms mixed with his punch, burst and strong hands are a good NFL starter kit. He’s still a projection-based prospect because he still has to go out and deliver on the expectations, but he has the makings of Notre Dame’s best pass rusher in 2020. Defensive end remains a deep spot, but taking him away means losing someone with the potential to post a 10-sack pace if the season were a normal 13 games.

“He just has a great motor,” head coach Brian Kelly said in November. “He’s long. He’s relentless. He just has all those intangibles that you want, plus physicality, athleticism, length. He’s fun to watch, he's fun to have on the sidelines, he's always animated.”

Justin Ademilola, NaNa Osafo-Mensah and early enrollee freshman Alex Ehrensberger are the primary backups, though Isaiah Foskey — a vyper last year — could also see time at strong-side end if Notre Dame wants to maximize snap counts for him and backup vyper Ovie Oghoufo.

Notre Dame fifth-year senior defensive end Ade Ogundeji in the Camping World Bowl versus Iowa State in December
Ogundeji was a starting-caliber player last year, but played a rotation role due to Notre Dame’s depth. (James Gilbert)

What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?

Everything is set up for a magnum opus after years spent slowly but surely rising. Ogundeji is the best bet to lead Notre Dame in sacks, and anywhere around seven or eight in a 10-game season would be a great number that should help him boost his draft stock.

There’s not a glaring weakness in Ogundeji’s game. He’s a sturdy run defender who displays discipline on the edge. PFF credited him with only two missed tackles. He just finds himself around the ball. He is strong enough to play inside in special pass-rush packages.

Without a full season, Notre Dame will have a hard time topping the 34 sacks it posted each of the last two years. But it has the edge skill and talent to maintain that pace through nine or 10 games, which feels like the best-case season length at this point. Ogundeji playing his way into early-round or day-two draft status would be a good indication Notre Dame had a sack rate and pressure rate similar to its last two seasons’ number.

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.

Patrick Engel: 5

Lou Somogyi: 7

Mike Singer: 12

Andrew Mentock: 4

Todd Burlage: 18

Burlage on his ranking: “One of two Irish fifth-year seniors with big shoes to fill after standout 2019 defensive ends Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem were drafted to the NFL, Ogundeji played as well as any Irish defensive lineman on the team late last season and stands a good chance of eventually becoming Notre Dame’s 2020 Defensive MVP.”

Prior Top 25 Profiles

No. 8: Daelin Hayes

No. 9 Braden Lenzy

No. 10: Drew White

No. 11 : Robert Hainsey

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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