As a voter for various preseason, midseason and postseason All-America teams for the Associated Press, I find the biggest challenge is evaluating and choosing offensive linemen.
Apparently, the rest of the AP panel and people who cobble together All-America teams for other organizations are confronted with the same undertaking — picking the elite at a position group in which there are no stats, or at least standardized ones.
Pancakes are a breakfast food, not something the NCAA charts when determining blocking excellence.
The other factor that might explain how a player who is Notre Dame’s third-best offensive lineman at best through 2 1/2 weeks of ND’s training camp, senior offensive guard Tommy Kraemer, keeps popping up as one of the five or 10 best linemen nationally is, well, too much echo-chamber thinking in sports media in the Twitter/Facebook/Aggregation Age.
Senior safety Alohi Gilman and senior defensive end Julian Okwara joined Kraemer on the AP second team, released Tuesday. They’re both more logical choices, based on their 2018 production and what we’ve seen from them so far in media-open practices.
As for the 6-foot-6, 319-pound Kraemer, he is more athletic, more mobile and more savvy as he enters his second season as a starting guard than the player who got benched at one point last season. Kraemer was a starting right tackle in 2017 prior to making the move inside.
But returning starter right tackle Robert Hainsey was ND’s best lineman at the end of last season, and left tackle Liam Eichenberg is currently its top pro prospect among the four draft-eligible Irish O-line starters.
Left guard Aaron Banks is the freakiest athletically and perhaps the lineman with the highest ceiling. And first-time starter Jarrett Patterson, a sophomore center, is a prodigy. The collective potential is enticing, and all five can return to ND in 2020 if they so choose.
Individually, Kraemer will need to play at a significantly higher level to earn midseason and/or postseason All-America honors, but he certainly has the pedigree, the work ethic, the physicality and the desire to grow his game.
The piece of methodology that I find most helpful in selecting offensive linemen for the preseason team is to find out what the pro scouts think of them. Not every standout college O-lineman will wow the pros for various reasons, but it’s a good starting point for a position group that deserves and requires extensive research.
Clemson, the team that eliminated the Irish from their first College Football Playoff appearance last Dec. 29, landed quarterback Trevor Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne and linebacker Isaiah Simmons on the AP first team. Runner-up Alabama tied Clemson for the most first-teamers with three of its own.
The Athletic also revealed its All-America teams Tuesday. Okwara is the lone Irish representative, having been named to the second team.
Quarterback: Trevor Lawrence, sophomore, Clemson.
Running back: Jonathan Taylor, junior, Wisconsin; Travis Etienne, junior, Clemson.
Tackles: Andrew Thomas, junior, Georgia; Walker Little, junior, Stanford.
Guards: Shane Lemieux, senior, Oregon; Ben Bredeson, senior, Michigan.
Center: Tyler Biadasz, junior, Wisconsin.
Tight end: Albert Okwuegbunam, junior, Missouri.
Wide receivers: Jerry Jeudy, junior, Alabama; Tylan Wallace, junior, Oklahoma State.
All-purpose player: Rondale Moore, sophomore, Purdue.
Kicker: Andre Szmyt, sophomore, Syracuse.
Ends: Chase Young, junior, Ohio State; A.J. Epenesa, junior, Iowa.
Tackles: Derrick Brown, senior, Auburn; Raekwon Davis, senior, Alabama.
Linebackers: Dylan Moses, junior, Alabama; Isaiah Simmons, junior, Clemson; Joe Bachie, senior, Michigan State.
Cornerbacks: Bryce Hall, senior, Virginia; Paulson Adebo, junior, Stanford.
Safeties: Grant Delpit, junior, LSU; Andre Cisco, sophomore, Syracuse.
Punter: Braden Mann, senior, Texas A&M.
Quarterback: Tua Tagovailoa, junior, Alabama.
Running backs: D’Andre Swift, junior, Georgia; Eno Benjamin, junior, Arizona State.
Tackles: Trey Adams, senior, Washington; Calvin Throckmorton, senior, Oregon.
Guards: Tommy Kraemer, senior, Notre Dame; John Simpson, senior, Clemson.
Center: Nick Harris, senior, Washington.
Tight end: Jared Pinkney, senior, Vanderbilt.
Wide receivers: Laviska Shenault Jr., junior, Colorado; Justyn Ross, sophomore, Clemson.
All-purpose player: CeeDee Lamb, junior, Oklahoma.
Kicker: Rodrigo Blankenship, senior, Georgia.
Ends: Kenny Willekes, senior, Michigan State; Julian Okwara, senior, Notre Dame.
Tackles: Leki Fotu, senior, Utah; Marvin Wilson, junior, Florida State.
Linebackers: Paddy Fisher, junior, Northwestern; Evan Weaver, senior, California; Shaquille Quarterman, senior, Miami.
Cornerbacks: Kristian Fulton, senior, LSU; CJ Henderson, junior, Florida.
Safeties: Alohi Gilman, senior, Notre Dame; Jordan Fuller, senior, Ohio State.
Punter: James Smith, junior, Cincinnati.