Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football Tight End Cole Kmet Is Rising Up The Board In Recent 2020 NFL Mock Drafts
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Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet Rising Up Boards In Recent Mock Drafts

The NFL Draft is happening, Roger Goodell says.

It will take place April 23-25 as scheduled, Goodell wrote in a memo sent to all 32 teams last week. It has already been moved from Las Vegas to a virtual, at-home event.

The mock draft churn rolls on, though, amid all the consternation around its date. Now three-plus weeks away, Notre Dame is still projected to have a few names called. One analyst remains firm on a bullish projection initially made in February, while another joins him.

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Former Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet at Georgia in September
Kmet has appeared as a first-round pick in a couple recent mock drafts. (USA TODAY)

NFL.com’s Chad Reuter slotted former Irish tight end Cole Kmet as a first-round pick nearly two months ago. In his four-round mock released March 26, Reuter once again had the Jacksonville Jaguars selecting him in the opening round. This time, it was at No. 28 overall after projecting a trade back.

“Jacksonville is lacking in their tight end depth chart, even after signing oft-injured veteran [and former Notre Dame tight end] Tyler Eifert,” Reuter wrote. “Moving down the board a bit to pick the top prospect at the position makes sense.”

Later, Reuter tabbed Notre Dame 2019 MVP Chase Claypool to the Baltimore Ravens at No. 60 overall. In the third round, he mocked defensive end Julian Okwara to the New Orleans Saints at No. 69 overall and cornerback Troy Pride Jr. to the Las Vegas Raiders at No. 81. Defensive end Khalid Kareem was a fourth-round pick, going No. 118 to the Atlanta Falcons.

CBS Sports’ Josh Edwards also had Kmet as a first-rounder, going No. 30 to the Green Bay Packers in his seven-round mock draft, released Friday.

“Green Bay lost Jimmy Graham then went all in on Austin Hooper, but could not get a deal done. In the first round, they add a young tight end that can grow and be a part of the organization for a long time.”

Meanwhile, Edwards has Okwara going at No. 48 (New York Jets), Pride at No. 86 (Buffalo Bills) and Kareem at No. 99 (New York Giants) on day two. Claypool fell to day three in his mock, going No. 107 to the Cincinnati Bengals. Notre Dame’s starting safeties last season both appeared in round seven: Jalen Elliott (No. 234, Los Angeles Rams) and Alohi Gilman (No. 254, Denver Broncos).

Draftwire’s Luke Easterling, in his three-round mock released Sunday, had two Notre Dame players as second-rounders: Kmet to the Chicago Bears at No. 43 and Okwara to the Bills at No. 54. The Bears have been frequently connected to Kmet given their lack of production at tight end in 2019. Kmet is also a Chicago-area native.

Easterling’s third-round projections had Claypool going to the Dallas Cowboys at No. 82 and Pride to the Bills at No. 86. Kareem was a fourth-rounder, going No. 132 overall to the Minnesota Vikings.

Updated big boards and position rankings largely reflect the same views. Sports Illustrated’s top 100 big board had Okwara at No. 42, Kmet at No. 46, Pride No. 74 and Claypool No. 75. Rotoworld’s Thor Nystrom is one exception, because he is lower on Kmet than most. He ranks Kmet third among tight ends, behind Florida Atlantic’s Harrison Bryant and Dayton’s Adam Trautman. Blocking and a lack of deep production were his concerns.

“At this point, he’s predominantly a receiver,” Nystrom wrote. “Kmet is a wall-off blocker, a guy who gets in front of his guy and tries to white-wash him while hand grappling. He doesn’t get much push, surprising for a prospect this big and this athletic who plays this hard. PFF’s grading backs up the tape, panning Kmet with a below-average 56.9 run-blocking grade last year.”

As a receiver, Nystrom remains high on Kmet.

Kmet is a natural receiver with an enticing package of movement and size,” Nystrom wrote. “He fires off the line and smoothly glides wherever he wants to go. His length and athleticism allow him to save off-target throws from hitting the turf, boasting one of the class’ largest catch radiuses.”

Elsewhere, Nystrom ranks Claypool as his No. 12 receiver, intrigued by the athletic traits that were on display at the NFL Combine.

“He’d be a nightmare up the seam,” Nystrom wrote. “He’s so hard to deal with downfield because of his size/speed combination — he ranked No. 11 in the country in PFF’s receiving grades 20-plus yards downfield last year. But he was scarcely used in the intermediate area.”

Claypool’s seven drops in 2019 and straight line-athleticism with “breaks that lack snap” are Nystrom’s concerns, but overall his view remains positive.

“He’s a vicious blocker. He’s an ace special teamer,” Nystrom wrote. “And you have the potential to bulk him up for a shift to move-TE if the whole wide receiver thing doesn’t work out. He can already block — let’s just do this thing. All of that raises the ceiling and makes Claypool, in my mind, a safe day two pick.”

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