Cornerback after cornerback heard their named called, but Julian Love was left waiting.
Notre Dame’s consensus All-American had to watch the first round Thursday night, the second and third rounds Friday night and until the sixth pick of the fourth round of the NFL Draft on Saturday to be selected by the New York Giants.
Love’s production, record-setting play and accolades weren’t enough to get him drafted ahead of the 11 cornerbacks selected before him. Even the Giants grabbed a cornerback before Love — Georgia’s Deandre Baker — with the 30th pick in the first round.
Baker won the Jim Thorpe Award, given to college football’s top defensive back. Love was also one of three finalists for the award. Now the Giants can find a way to get both of them on the field at the same time. That could include Love playing as a nickelback to cover slot receivers.
“I can play outside or inside,” Love said in a teleconference Saturday after being drafted. “Wherever they need me, I am going to compete to the best of my abilities. I feel pretty good about playing inside.”
If NFL personnel projected Love as a nickelback, that could help explain his unexpected drop in the draft. Even though extra defensive backs are used frequently in the NFL, a nickelback doesn’t have as much value as an outside cornerback.
Love excelled on the outside at Notre Dame, and he should still get a chance to prove his ability there eventually. Because he decided to forgo his final year of eligibility and depart Notre Dame following his junior season, Love will have to answer those questions at the NFL level.
Love, who set the Irish single-season (20) and career (39) records for pass breakups, wants to prove what he does best.
“I’m a pretty physical player,” Love said. “I don’t shy away from contact at all. If anything, I show a lot of effort, I’m a smart player and I make plays. That’s what I’ve done my whole life, and I’m excited to do that going forward. I’m just going to continue to be a playmaker.”
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Love played in all 38 games of his Irish career. In that time, Love tallied 176 tackles, six tackles for a loss, five interceptions, four fumble recoveries, three touchdowns, one forced fumble and one defensive two-point conversion return.
But Love’s size and speed — 4.54 seconds in the 40-yard dash — didn’t allow him to stand out athletically at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Love became only the fifth Notre Dame cornerback selected in the last 13 drafts. He’s the first to be drafted since the Cincinnati Bengals picked KeiVarae Russell in the third round in 2016.
Six former Irish players were picked in this year’s NFL Draft, with Love following defensive tackle Jerry Tillery (1st round, Los Angeles Chargers) and wide receiver Miles Boykin (3rd, Baltimore Ravens). Linebacker Drue Tranquill (4th, Chargers), running back Dexter Williams (6th, Green Bay Packers) and tight end Alizé Mack (7th, New Orleans Saints) were also selected Saturday after Love.
Even as a fourth-round pick, Love outperformed his recruiting rankings coming out of La Grange Park (Ill.) Nazareth Academy. Rivals pegged Love as a four-star recruit and the No. 21 cornerback in the 2016 class. 247Sports slated him as a three-star recruit and the No. 51 cornerback.
A stellar Irish career ended on a sour note for Love. When he was temporarily sidelined with an injury in the first half of Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Clemson on Dec. 29, the Tigers turned a 3-3 tie into a 23-3 lead by halftime.
Love still hasn’t been able to shake that 30-3 loss.
“I did want to end this perfect season the right way. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do that, and I’m carrying that with me,” Love said. “You can’t take anything for granted. You have to finish the job no matter what. That’s definitely on my mind, in the back of my head.”
Even though Love didn’t have a lot of contact with the Giants before the draft, he’s ready for a New York state of mind.
“This process was a lot,” Love said. “I talked to a lot of teams, but I’m happy to be in New York. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”