Offensive Line U?
Notre Dame’s revered tight end identity continued to hold up during the 2021 NFL Draft, but its offensive line rep is flourishing as well after three members of its starting unit heard their names called during rounds 2 and 3 Friday night in Cleveland.
All-America linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and tight end Tommy Tremble also were selected on day 2, with at least three more of their teammates — and maybe more — expected to be drafted Saturday, as the three-day/seven-round draft wraps up.
After a quiet first round for the Irish Thursday, left tackle Liam Eichenberg was the first ND player selected. He went to Miami with pick No. 42 overall, 10 selections into the second round. Left guard Aaron Banks went six picks later to San Francisco. Hainsey, ND’s starting right tackle, was plucked by the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third round with the 95th overall selection.
That marked just the third time in the past four decades that a school produced three O-line draft picks all taken in the first three rounds. Michigan last did so in 2001, and before that Penn State in 1982. (Hat tip to Jason Starrett of The Athletic.)
It also gives Notre Dame nine offensive line draft picks in the last eight cycles, all nine being selected in the third round or higher.
"I think it's just the culture,” said Banks, who joins former first-round ND O-line draft pick Mike McGlinchey with the 49ers. “It's just the way we go about our business. We do a lot of extra work. We put in a lot of extra hours.
“We're a very tight group, which I'm not saying every school doesn't have a tight group of offensive linemen, but we're exceptionally tight. We do a ton of work outside of what's required of us.
“This group isn't necessarily made for everybody. A lot of guys are weaned out and the guys who are meant to be there and can withstand what we do, those are the guys who play. Those are the guys who succeed. Those are the guys who make it to this level."
A fourth 2021 offensive line starter, right guard Tommy Kraemer, will almost certainly end up in a training camp as a free agent if he’s not selected by a team on Saturday.
“I was so happy to see Liam go and then Banks go, and I can't wait to see Tommy go,” Hainsey said. “We've done so much together and we've been through a ton. I know how hard all those guys worked to get to this point.
“It's been an absolute thrill working with them, and I cannot wait to see where those guys' careers go as well. It's a very exciting time."
For a guy whose pre-draft process was pocked with setbacks and surprises, Eichenberg’s Friday night went extremely smoothly, with the Dolphins trading up to get him.
“When we made the trade, we knew there was going to be a run of offensive linemen,” Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said. “As you saw in that second round, there was a big run of offensive linemen. And so for us, it was important to get up.
“We spent a lot of time getting to know Liam. We liked his toughness, his character. He competes. He’s a durable player who’s played a lot of football.
“He’s very smart. So for us, he was a guy that we had talked about and targeted and felt all the stuff that (head coach) Brian (Flores), myself, the coaching staff and scouts were looking for.”
The consensus All-American and Outland Trophy finalist skipped the Senior Bowl, in large part over concerns of contracting COVID-19 there. Then he actually did contract COVID, per a report by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, around ND’s Pro Day on March 31.
In Miami, he’ll join former Irish tight end Durham Smythe and wide receiver Will Fuller.
“I’ll play anywhere they need me,” Eichenberg said via Zoom. “For me, it’s about helping the team win, so I look forward to getting down there. They could put me at center. They could me wherever. It’s kind of wherever they want me. I’m just very fortunate to be part of the team.”
Banks feels fortunate to be going back home to the San Francisco Bay area. The consensus All-American is from Alameda, Calif.
“It's funny, because all of my high school coaches are here (watching the draft with him) and every single one of them are 49ers fans through and through, wearing their 49ers gear,” Banks said.
“I got the call and I was able to point at the TV and say, 'Hey.' The place just erupted. It was insane. It was the best moment of my life by far."
Banks, in part, can thank McGlinchey who campaigned 49ers GM John Lynch to draft his former teammate.
“Incessantly,” Lynch said of the frequency of McGlinchey’s draft advice.
Between Banks and Hainsey getting selected, Owusu-Koramoah went to the Cleveland Browns in the second round with pick No. 52, and Tremble went to the Carolina Panthers in round 3 with selection No. 83.
Owusu-Koramoah was a consensus No. 20 prospect, pushed down by a lack of apparent fit in some teams’ defensive schemes.
“I am not in the other 31 draft rooms or I have no idea how any of the other teams had Jeremiah stacked on the board,” Browns GM Andrew Berry said. “I do think Jeremiah is a little unique in the manner in which he produces, so he is not going to necessarily be everybody’s flavor or fit.
“You are talking about a player who is a little bit undersized for a classic linebacker. You are talking about a guy who was used in a variety of roles at Notre Dame, and that is not necessarily going to be the right fit or maybe quite as highly valued of a skill set depending on the defensive system.
“All I can say is for us in (defensive coordinator) Joe’s (Woods’) scheme, everything he does well marries with what we want our linebackers to do in this defense. We are optimistic that he can come in and produce as long as he is a Cleveland Brown and really play comfortably in a manner that allowed him to be so effective at Notre Dame.”
Meanwhile, Tremble, only the second redshirt sophomore ever from ND to enter the draft, becomes the 10th straight ND starting tight end to eventually be drafted since 2004. (The last one not to was 2003 starter Billy Palmer.)
“It’s close to home — it’s got everything I want,” Tremble said of the Panthers. “And it’s a team on the rise. I can’t wait.”