Daelin Hayes and Adetokunbo Ogundeji arrived at Notre Dame in 2016 from Michigan hometowns just 33 miles apart, converged often as defensive linemen in opposing backfields, and were closely linked yet again Saturday by virtue of being taken just 11 picks apart in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Hayes went to his favorite team, the Baltimore Ravens, with the 171st overall pick, while Ogundeji was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the 182nd selection.
In all nine former Irish players were selected between Friday and Saturday. Only Alabama and Ohio State at 10 apiece had more players taken.
Offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg (No. 42) to Miami, guard Aaron Banks (No. 48) to San Francisco and LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (No. 52) to Cleveland were all selected in the second round.
Tight end Tommy Tremble (No. 83) to Carolina and offensive tackle Robert Hainsey (No. 95) to Tampa Bay, both went in the third round.
Quarterback Ian Book, a projected late rounder, went in the fourth round (No. 133) to New Orleans.
Both of Notre Dame’s 2020 defensive ends — Hayes (No. 171) to Baltimore and Ogundeji (No. 182) to Atlanta — were fifth-round picks. Wide Receiver Ben Skowronek went in the seventh round (No. 249) to the Los Angeles Rams.
Saturday marked the second straight year that the Irish have had at least two defensive linemen snapped up in the draft — the first time that’s happened since 1979.
“I learned a lot from Julian (Okwara), Khalid (Kareem) … all those guys who were in front of me,” Ogundeji said Saturday, specifically mentioning last year’s two D-line picks out of ND.
“My (situation) in the program when I first got recruited, I was very small, I wasn’t playing right away, so I had to look at the people in front of me and see what they were doing well,” Ogundeji said. “I think that’s what the culture is at Notre Dame in the defensive line. You see the older guys really taking the lead and leading by example, and the younger guys following right after.”
While Ogundeji acknowledged he’s heading to a team he’s still learning about, Hayes sounded delirious about his destination.
“I’m still speechless with the whole situation,” Hayes said Saturday. “I spoke to (Ravens coach John Harbaugh) a couple days ago and I remember telling him Baltimore has been my favorite since I was a kid. That love, that genuine love that I’ve always had for the city of Baltimore, for the team when Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and those guys were locking guys down — that was really the example I had when I started playing defense.”
Hayes repeated his pre-draft mantra.
“I feel like I’m as versatile a defensive player in this draft as anyone,” he said. “For me, it’s just about that consistency in pass rush, right? And that’s going to come. That’s going to come with more reps.”
The Ravens listed the 6-foot-4, 258-pound Hayes as an outside linebacker and edge rusher upon making their selection.
“There’s a lot of opportunity to compete and be able to play at that SAM position in that 3-4 (defense),” said Hayes, who rattled off the names of defenders who have departed the team since last season ended. “So I think it’s just a great fit for me to come in and compete, obviously, just continue to grow, contribute on special teams, do whatever I can do to help this team win.”
Hayes had six tackles for loss among 17 tackles overall with three sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception this past season while helping the Irish earn a College Football Playoff spot and finish 10-2.
The 6-5, 268-pound Ogundeji led Notre Dame with seven sacks from his end spot while starting all 12 games. He also logged 4.5 sacks as a backup in 2019.
Ogundeji said he’s put on about 40 pounds since he first arrived in South Bend.
“I think it was a pretty bad way at first,” Ogundeji confessed of how he added weight. “I was kind of eating whatever I could put my hands on, because obviously I was a little light, so Taco Bell, Mickey D’s, Wendy’s, the typical (fast food), but I learned about what it meant to really put the right food in my system and build that muscle. We had a great strength staff at Notre Dame and also a nutrition staff.”
Ogundeji and Hayes were emphatic in their thankfulness Saturday over being drafted, but also cited the work to get to this point.
“I had to develop and get stronger in the weight room, and I took pride in that,” Ogundeji said. “I took pride in going to the weight room, and I took pride in going to work on my craft. I knew when my opportunity was called, I couldn’t mess that up.”
“While this is a great milestone, the work is far from finished,” Hayes said, “and I believe that my best ball is ahead of me. So I’m excited to learn, I’m excited to be a sponge, and I’m excited to work.”
Skowronek makes nine
Wide receiver Ben Skowronek became the ninth and final Notre Dame player chosen in this year’s draft when he was taken by the Los Angeles Rams in the seventh round with the 249th overall pick.
Those nine picks are the most for Notre Dame since 10 Irish players were taken in 1994.
Since then, eight ND players had been selected on one occasion (2014) and seven on four other occasions.
Skowronek’s five touchdown catches led the Irish in 2020. He finished with 29 receptions for 439 yards, those figures ranking fourth and third, respectively, on the team to go with a 15.1 average while appearing in 10 of the team’s 12 games. He also had a 13-yard rushing TD.
Hamstring issues hindered Skowronek prior to the season and cost him game time early on.
A January foot injury that has been described as a Jones fracture took him out of the Senior Bowl and he did not participate in ND’s Pro Day on March 31 while continuing to rehab.
“I believe my film speaks for itself,” Skowronek said before the draft. “You can see me catching balls, pancaking guys, being physical. Honestly, I wasn’t too worried about missing testing, because I don’t think it’s going to make or break me. I think I have a really good film.”
Skowronek, who played high school ball at Homestead in Fort Wayne, joined Notre Dame before last season as a graduate transfer from Northwestern.
He appeared in just three games during his senior year for the Wildcats before suffering a season-ending high-ankle sprain.
Over his sophomore and junior seasons, however, Skowronek started all 27 Northwestern games, making 90 catches for 1,206 yards and eight TDs.