Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football’s Top 25 Most Important Players: No. 3, Offensive Tackle Liam Eichenberg
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Notre Dame’s Top 25 Most Important Players: No. 3, Liam Eichenberg

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. 3 in the countdown is defensive end Liam Eichenberg, who earned 107 points in our poll.

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Why Eichenberg Is Ranked No. 3

He is the best player on Notre Dame’s offensive line, which has been dapped up this offseason as the nation’s best offensive line. That’ll do.

Notre Dame’s front five weren’t perfect in 2019, and they need to collectively find another gear to make the preseason love look wise in hindsight. But any way you look at it, Eichenberg was the steadiest and best performer. He posted Notre Dame’s highest Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grade (85.6) and run-blocking grade (78.8). He did not allow a sack, and gave up just three quarterback hits. When running off left tackle, Notre Dame averaged 5.9 yards per carry.

PFF gave Notre Dame its second-highest pass-blocking grade among all Football Bowl Subdivision offensive lines. A left tackle who contributes to that makes a quarterback’s life easy. Eichenberg made significant strides as a run blocker and pass protector in 2019 after an up-and-down 2018, his first year as a starter. Brian Kelly could sense it before the season even started.

“What I liked about Liam more than anything else in this camp is he’s been steady and he’s been consistent,” Kelly said last August. “I thought at times in the spring, there were some ups and downs that were noticeable. Very rarely has it been noticeable those days that haven’t been his best.”

Eichenberg is mobile enough to consistently get to second-level defenders and quick enough to be an effective cut blocker. He’s a finisher who sustains blocks well. He’s considered Notre Dame’s best offensive draft prospect for 2021.

Eichenberg’s Status Entering The Season

Barring disastrous injury, Eichenberg is a safe bet to be drafted. The question right now is how high he can go. The Irish’s prior three left tackles since Kelly arrived became first-round picks. That’s higher than most early projections are pegging Eichenberg, but it’s conceivable he could play his way into the discussion.

“Prototypically-built offensive tackle with broad shoulders, long arms, a tapered middle and good overall weight distribution,” NFLDraftScout’s Rob Rang wrote in April. “While not necessarily explosive with his initial quickness, Eichenberg anticipates the snap beautifully, easing out of his stance to protect versus speed rushers, while staying square and strong, catching and controlling opponents.”

Eichenberg bypassed the NFL Draft, though, because he feels there is a ceiling he has yet to reach. It’s the matter of going from good to great. He’s already a 26-game starter who has the frame and physical tools to play in the NFL. He used his 2019 season to prove he could consistently do his job and avoid missed assignments. This season, if it’s played, is his chance to shine at an All-American level and make the flashes of dominance more frequent.

Notre Dame fifth-year senior left tackle Liam Eichenberg
Last year, Eichenberg posted Notre Dame’s highest Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grade (85.6) and run-blocking grade (78.8). (BGI/Bill Panzica)

What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?

Eichenberg becoming Notre Dame’s fourth straight first-round left tackle portends great things for team and player. But even if he reaffirms his status as a day-two pick, it’ll mean he had a productive season once again. The 2019 version of himself would fit in on an elite college football offensive line.

Same time, Eichenberg can help himself and Notre Dame with some progress in two clear areas. The first is reducing his team-high 10 penalties. Many of those were false starts, including three against Georgia alone. The more pressing one is an ability to neutralize the best pass-rush threats on Notre Dame’s schedule. He struggled against them in 2018. The 2019 season didn’t bring as fierce a lineup of rushers, but he fared well on the whole.

Much like Notre Dame itself, the view of Eichenberg’s improvements and draft status may be shaped by his performance against Clemson. The Tigers’ edge players recorded three pressures against him in the 2018 Cotton Bowl. The 2020 version of their defensive line may not have three first-round picks, but it still has plenty of NFL talent.

There will be other prove-it games, too. Pitt’s defensive front has NFL-level playmakers. Another year handling Duke’s edge rush — a PFF favorite — would help. Eichenberg isn’t a top-notch athlete and owns solid-but-not-great quickness, and showing an ability to hold up against NFL talent despite those limitations is an easy way to prove he’s worth a high draft pick.

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: 4

Lou Somogyi: 8

Mike Singer: 4

Andrew Mentock: 5

Todd Burlage: 2

Prior Top 25 Profiles

No. 4: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

No. 5: TaRiq Bracy

No. 6: Tommy Tremble

No. 7: Ade Ogundeji

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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