SOUTH BEND — With the NFL Draft a week away now, Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly believes nearly a dozen of his now-former players could be part of NFL teams.
The Fighting Irish had nine players attend the NFL Combine in February: tight end Cole Kmet, wide receivers Chase Claypool and Chris Finke, running back Tony Jones, defensive ends Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara, and defensive backs Alohi Gilman, Jalen Elliott and Troy Pride.
In the latest NFL Draft projection by Dane Brugler of The Athletic, he has Claypool being drafted in the second round, Kmet in the third round as the first tight end drafted, Okwara in the third round, Pride and Kareem in the fourth round and Gilman in the sixth.
Along with the nine players invited to the NFL Combine, Kelly believes players like linebacker Asmar Bilal and defensive lineman Jamir Jones could both make NFL rosters, whether it be through undrafted free agent signings or camp invites.
“Part of my day is talking to GMs, assistant GMs, head coaches,” Kelly said. “Everybody talks about the six guys that we probably will get drafted — we have six other guys that started for me that are really good football players that are going to end up in NFL camps. It’s promoting Asmar Bilal and Jamir Jones and Tony Jones Jr. and making sure Chris Finke, all these guys get great opportunities as well.
“We have 12 players that all, I believe, can play in the NFL.”
The cancelation of Notre Dame’s Pro Day due to COVID-19 has led to more phone call discussions from Kelly to NFL representatives. It’s also led to Kelly and his staff provide different types of information to the NFL that they usually didn’t have to give out during the NFL draft process.
Notre Dame uses a GPS tracking system to monitor how much a player plays in a game, how fast their top speed is and how quick their lateral movements are, among other things. Kelly has been providing these GPS numbers to teams as a substitute for cancellations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re sharing some GPS numbers to NFL teams to show their fitness level and their ability to do some things that some other athletes might not be able to do,” Kelly said. “For those that use GPS and understand it, we’re sharing some of those numbers that really enhance their profiles. We’re trying to help and assist all of those players that are eligible to move into the NFL Draft.”
While numerous former Notre Dame players will be heading to the NFL shortly, others saw their careers end against Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl. This left the seniors with one thing to look forward to in the spring semester: graduation.
Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the graduation ceremony at Notre Dame was canceled. The University still has yet to announce any formal plan to honor all the seniors graduating in the class of 2020.
There were 24 seniors on the Irish’s football roster last year. Some players — most notably quarterback Ian Book — are returning to campus for his graduate senior season. All 24 of those players were set to walk across the stage, though, and now won’t get that opportunity.
Kelly said he and the staff at Fighting Irish Media are working on ways to honor those seniors who didn’t get a proper graduation ceremony.
“We’re going to make sure it’s a special moment for all those that were going to walk,” Kelly said. “That’s an empty spot for them right now; a lot of our players that I’ve talked to are feeling that effect that they’re not going to be able to have that special moment.”
Kelly noted the higher academic standards held at Notre Dame as even more incentive to honor the seniors.
“It’s hard at Notre Dame. Those guys have worked so hard in the classroom, on the field, have given up so much and to not have that great moment — that crescendo moment of walking across that stage — it’s a pretty empty feeling,” Kelly said. “Although we can’t do it in person, we’re going to do it in video that really captures their experience and shows their graduation at Notre Dame.”