The 2020 Outlook For All 44 Former Notre Dame Players In The NFL
More than a quarter of the Notre Dame representation when NFL training camps open this week will be rookie players.
Twelve former Fighting Irish players will get their first taste of professional football after all offseason activities were canceled. It will be eye-opening, challenging and for some, a fight for jobs and a future in the league. Meanwhile, 32 veteran players who came from Notre Dame will begin camp either entrenched in roles or vying for a spot. Twenty NFL teams have at least one former Irish player.
Pro Football Focus predicted the starting lineup for all 32 NFL teams and highlighted some position battles to watch. The outlet has 15 former Irish players as projected starters. Here is a look at each team with Notre Dame football alums and an outlook for some of them.
New York Jets
Former Notre Dame players: RB Josh Adams, CB Bennett Jackson and S Matthias Farley
PFF did not predict any of the three to start, and none had a notable role for the team last year. Adams spent the first half of last year on the Jets’ practice squad, but ran for 511 yards as a rookie in 2018 with the Eagles. Perhaps there is a spot for him as the third or fourth running back.
Former Notre Dame players: TE Durham Smythe
Smythe, a fourth-round pick in 2018, has 13 catches over two years and will try and keep his job as Mike Gesicki’s backup.
Former Notre Dame players: G Zack Martin and LB Jaylon Smith
Anyone could have predicted these two as starters, Martin at right guard and Smith at inside linebacker. The Cowboys have each of them signed to long-term deals, and the investment is paying off. Smith had 139 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception in 2019, while Martin earned his sixth straight All-Pro selection.
New York Giants
Former Notre Dame players: WR Golden Tate and CB Julian Love
Both are starters in PFF’s projection, and Love can claim an even bigger role than his expected nickel job if DeAndre Baker — the team’s first-round pick a year ago — misses games after an off-the-field incident. The 2019 fourth-round pick had 32 tackles, three passes broken up and one interception in 15 games last year.
Tate, meanwhile, enters his 11th NFL season. He had 49 catches for 676 yards and six touchdowns in the first year of a four-year, $37 million contract.
Former Notre Dame players: WR Will Fuller, C Nick Martin and DL Jamir Jones
The Texans took Fuller and Martin with their first two picks in the 2016 draft, and they’re established starters heading into their fifth seasons. Fuller is in the last year of his rookie contract and had a career-high 670 yards. He has yet to play a full season and was limited to 11 games in 2019. Jones signed a rookie free agent deal with the Texans in April.
Former Notre Dame players: G Quenton Nelson and DT Sheldon Day
PFF has not tried to hide its effusive praise of Nelson, the Colts’ left guard. Why should it? He has established himself as one of the NFL’s best offensive linemen — arguably the best guard — and was PFF’s No. 4 player in the PFF50. The outlet thinks he may be a year away from being the best player in the NFL.
Day signed a one-year deal with his hometown team after starting the Super Bowl for the San Francisco 49ers. PFF did not project him in the starting lineup, though he is a likely rotation player.
Former Notre Dame players: TE Tyler Eifert
Eifert signed a two-year, $9.5 million deal this offseason after seven years with the Cincinnati Bengals. He is PFF’s projected starter at tight end. Eifert played double-digit games for the first time since 2015 and caught 43 passes for 436 yards.
New Orleans Saints
Former Notre Dame players: RB Tony Jones Jr.
Jones signed with the Saints as an undrafted free agent this spring. He led Notre Dame in rushing yards (857) in 2019.
Former Notre Dame players: CB Cole Luke, LS JJ Jansen and CB Troy Pride Jr.
Pride was a fourth-round pick, but PFF included him as a starter at cornerback after the Panthers turned over the position this offseason. Luke has been a practice squad or deep reserve his first three years, but could have a chance at a more stable roster spot given the attrition at corner.
Kansas City Chiefs
Former Notre Dame players: P Tyler Newsome
PFF didn’t include special teams, but Newsome is vying for the primary punter spot after the Chiefs released 15-year veteran Dustin Colquitt in the spring. He spent his first NFL season with the Chargers, though he did not record any stats. He was considered the early training camp favorite for the Chargers’ punter job, but did not win it.
Las Vegas Raiders
Former Notre Dame players: T Sam Young
Young is on his sixth NFL team in 11 years and has carved out a niche as a backup. He is not projected to start.
Los Angeles Chargers
Former Notre Dame players: DT Jerry Tillery, DL Isaac Rochell, LB Drue Tranquill, LB Asmar Bilal, CB Donté Vaughn and S Alohi Gilman
Notre Dame du Lac is alive and well, and PFF expects Tillery and Tranquill to start. The former endured a poor rookie season and should get another chance because of his first-round pedigree, but Rochell and others will push him if his struggles continue.
“Not only did [Tillery] play below expectations, but his 35.5 overall grade ranked dead last among all qualifying interior defenders during the 2019 season,” PFF’s Ben Linsey wrote. “The guy who put up an FBS-high 19.6 percent pass-rush win rate in 2018 at Notre Dame didn’t just disappear, though. If Tillery can get back towards that player in year two, he has a decent chance of winning the starting job over Justin Jones [overall grades of 51.9 and 59.2 in 2018 and 2019].”
Tranquill, though, began the year as a special teamer and ended it as a starter. He notched 75 tackles. It’s a trajectory Gilman, a sixth-round pick, hopes to follow. He is likely destined for special teams at first. Vaughn and Bilal will try to make the team as undrafted rookies.
San Francisco 49ers
Former Notre Dame players: T Mike McGlinchey and WR Chris Finke
McGlinchey is locked in as the 49ers right tackle, while Finke earned $95,000 guaranteed as an undrafted free agent. That’s a high number for an undrafted rookie, suggesting Finke may have a better chance at making the team than most rookie free agents.
Former Notre Dame players: T Ronnie Stanley and WR Miles Boykin
Stanley was PFF’s Blocker of the Year in 2019 and No. 48 in the PFF50. The first-team All-Pro allowed only six pressures in 16 starts at left tackle.
Boykin, a 2019 third-rounder who ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, caught 13 passes for 198 yards as a rookie. He is not a projected starter, and the Ravens have a crowded room of young receivers, but he is one of the team’s more physically imposing targets.
“The Ravens were the run-heaviest team in the NFL last season, so there isn’t going to be a surplus of targets to go around,” Linsey wrote. “Even with that being true, Boykin had a quiet rookie season after being selected in the third round, bringing in just 13 passes on 192 routes over the course of the regular season.
“He clearly has the physical ability to perform … and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him begin to supplant Willie Snead as WR2 on that Ravens’ offense next season.”
Former Notre Dame players: DE Stephon Tuitt, WR Chase Claypool and OT Jarron Jones
Only Aaron Donald had a higher pass-rush win rate among interior players than Tuitt, who is locked in as a starter again. Claypool was the Steelers’ top draft pick, but he is joining a skilled receiver room that has three players age 24 or younger that had at least 500 yards in 2019. PFF did not project him as a starter. The Steelers signed Jones, a college defensive lineman, in April after an XFL stint.
Former Notre Dame players: DE Khalid Kareem
Kareem was a fifth-round pick in April and will likely have a backup role at first.
Green Bay Packers
Former Notre Dame players: WR Equanimeous St. Brown and RB Dexter Williams
Both players were sixth-round picks and were not included in PFF’s projected starting lineup. Each is still on his rookie contract and will compete for a backup role.
Former Notre Dame players: S Harrison Smith and TE Kyle Rudolph
Not surprisingly, both are projected starters. Smith remains one of the game’s best and was 35th in the PFF50. Rudolph and second-year pro Irv Smith Jr. (a Notre Dame legacy) are the top tight ends, and PFF listed both as likely starters.
Former Notre Dame players: TE Cole Kmet, OL Alex Bars and OL Sam Mustipher
PFF listed Jimmy Graham as a starter, but the expectation is for Kmet to contribute and even play at the same time as Graham, who is also a newcomer and not established in his job.
“The Bears have haphazardly added tight ends to this roster,” Linsey wrote. “Graham carries more name value than his play on the field has warranted recently, however. He has failed to reach the 60.0 overall grade threshold in either of the last two seasons.
“Kmet may not be the best tight end prospect in recent memory [98th on the PFF Big Board entering the draft], but the door is open for him to take the starting job considering Graham’s declining play. Chicago clearly placed a premium on bringing him in early in the second round.”
Mustipher and Bars were primarily practice squad players in 2019.
Former Notre Dame players: EDGE Julian Okwara, DL Romeo Okwara and S Jalen Elliott
Third-round pick Julian Okwara is a projected starter and was brought in to jump-start a pass rush that ranked 30th in sacks. His older brother and now roommate, Romeo, is not in PFF’s starting lineup but is due for another year as a rotational player. Elliott signed as an undrafted free agent.
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