Robert Hainsey knew what to do as former North Carolina running back Michael Carter fought for more yardage in Saturday’s Senior Bowl.
The former Notre Dame offensive tackle started pushing the scrum that appeared to come to a standstill near the two-yard line. With the help of Irish teammates Aaron Banks and Ian Book, Hainsey helped power Carter into the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown run to put the National Team ahead late in the third quarter of a 27-24 victory over the American Team.
Hainsey may have pushed himself up NFL Draft boards with the performances he put together all week long at the annual senior showcase in Mobile, Ala.
The 6-foot-4, 302-pound Hainsey, who started 34 games at right tackle for the Irish in four seasons, showed he could potentially move inside at the NFL level by taking reps at guard and center throughout the week. He started Saturday’s game at right guard and played center at times too.
Before Saturday’s game, NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah named Hainsey as one of his top 10 winners of the Senior Bowl week.
“Hainsey was one of the most consistent prospects this week,” Jeremiah wrote for NFL.com. “He played with good hands and a firm base, taking snaps at guard and tackle. The team that picks him will be getting a very polished player. It didn’t go unnoticed that the Notre Dame guys worked after practice every single day, and I was told Hainsey’s interviews with teams were outstanding.”
Pro Football Focus graded Hainsey’s practice reps with a win rate of 62 percent — better than all the other interior offensive lineman competing all week.
Hainsey played alongside Banks, who started at left guard, on Saturday and snapped to Book early in the third quarter. They were joined on the National Team by former Notre Dame defensive ends Daelin Hayes and Adetokunbo Ogundeji.
Former Irish wide receiver Ben Skowronek didn’t play in Saturday’s game after suffering an apparent foot injury during the week. He attended Thursday’s practice on crutches with a protective boot on his right foot. Former Notre Dame left tackle Liam Eichenberg, who previously accepted an invitation to the game, opted to not make the trip to Mobile.
The week culminated with all five former Irish players creating moments that could help their draft stock. Banks and Hainsey did their work inside and were on the field for the majority of the scoring drives for the National Team.
Hayes and Ogundeji showed their pass-rush ability throughout the week and on Saturday.
Hayes recorded three tackles in the first half including a shared sack with UCLA’s Osa Odighizuwa. They took down former Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman for a five-yard loss in the second quarter.
“Daelin Hayes actually did a good job rushing inside and outside,” Jeremiah said during the game telecast on NFL Network. “On that one he got around Carson Green from Texas A&M. Nice job showing you that quickness and a little bit of bendability once he gets to the top of his rush by Daelin Hayes.”
Ogundeji started for the National Team and tallied a pair of tackles including a split sack of Newman with Ohio State’s Jonathan Cooper. Ogundeji drew praise from ESPN’s Mike Tannenbaum, a former general manager for the New York Jets, during a practice broadcast on ESPNU earlier in the week.
“He’s a guy that’s really flashed a lot of athleticism so far in the drills,” Tannenbaum said. “I like his fundamentals. Great knee bend. Great pad level. He’s played with really strong and violent hands. He’s a guy, to me, that could be in that conversation for the bottom of the first round.”
That would be higher than Tannebaum’s ESPN colleagues Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have projected Ogundeji. Neither analyst included Ogundeji as a first-round pick in their latest mock drafts before the Senior Bowl. Kiper ranked Ogundeji as the No. 5 defensive end. McShay slated Ogundeji as the No. 9 defensive end and No. 77 overall.
Book’s best moments came during the week of practice rather than Saturday’s game. The National Team defensive backs voted Book as the team’s top quarterback after practicing against him throughout the week. He beat out Sam Ehlinger of Texas and Feleipe Franks of Arkansas.
The National Team coaching staff, which consisted of coaches from the Miami Dolphins, may have disagreed. Ehlinger started the game and played the entire first quarter. Then Franks played the entire second quarter before making way for Book in the third quarter. Franks played most of the fourth quarter.
Each National Team quarterback led his team on a touchdown drive, but Book was the only one to not throw for a touchdown. Book finished 5-of-11 passing for 48 yards and one interception. He was sacked once and scrambled four times for 18 yards. Book’s interception came on a Hail Mary attempt on the final play of the third quarter. The end of each quarter in the Senior Bowl was treated like the end of a half in a typical game.
Franks finished 9-of-16 for 122 yards and one touchdown. Ehlinger completed four of his 10 passes for 42 yards and one touchdown.
Jeremiah compared Book to Colt McCoy, a former third-round pick from Texas who just finished his 11th season in the NFL and who has spent most of his career as a backup. Dane Brugler, draft analyst for The Athletic, said earlier in the week that Book could be picked anywhere between rounds 3-7 in the draft, which remains scheduled to take place in Cleveland on April 29-May 1.
“He’s smart,” Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores said of Book on ESPNU following Thursday’s practice. “He loves the game. He’s tough. He has leadership qualities. You saw that how he has command of the huddle, command of the offense at the line of scrimmage. He worked hard. It’s important to him. He did well for himself this week.”