Chargers select Notre Dame DE Isaac Rochell in NFL Draft's seventh round

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Their final Notre Dame seasons were wildly disparate. Their protracted waits during the NFL Draft were excruciatingly similar.

Mr. Consistent, defensive end Isaac Rochell, and Mr. Fluctuation, defensive tackle Jarron Jones, were kept in limbo until the 2017 NFL Draft’s seventh and final round, on Saturday.

Rochell lasted until pick No. 225 overall and is headed to the Los Angeles Chargers. Jones, also expected to be drafted, ended up in the undrafted free agent pool after three days and 253 total selections.

Jones signed shortly after the draft with the New York Giants, where he’ll be reunited with former teammates Romeo Okwara and Ishaq Williams — undrafted free agents in the last draft cycle who remain with the team.

Okwara, in fact, played quite a bit in 2016, collecting 25 tackles with a sack in his rookie season.

Quarterback DeShone Kizer was the first and only other player Notre Dame player taken in the 2017 Draft. The Cleveland Browns plucked the Toledo, Ohio, product in the second round Friday night with the 52nd pick overall.

He spent the day Saturday in Cleveland answering questions — again — about his readiness to play in 2017, lessons learned from a 4-8 season and Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly’s sideline intensity.

“His blood pressure gets going, and he looks a little bit redder,” Kizer said of Kelly, “but there are actually some good things I was able to take (from it).”

The two-man draft class comes on the heels of Notre Dame having seven players selected a year ago, all in the first five rounds, with two first-rounders — offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley and wide receiver Will Fuller.

In addition to Jones, the ranks of the undrafted comprised linebacker James Onwualu, long snapper Scott Daly, running back Tarean Folston, cornerback Cole Luke, safety Avery Sebastian, and tight end Chase Hounshell — who spent his final season of college eligibility last season at Ohio State.

Onwualu will join Rochell in Los Angeles with the Chargers. Luke signed with the Carolina Panthers. Daly will get a tryout at the Bears' upcoming minicamp.

The good news for that group is that last season 28 percent of the players on the 32 Opening Day rosters were undrafted players. The 481 former undrafted free agents outnumbered former first- and second-rounders by one.

The 6-foot-6, 315-pound Jones collected 45 tackles, including 11 for loss with two sacks, as a part-time starter in 2016. He also had three pass breakups, two fumbles recoveries, a forced fumble and two blocked kicks, giving him a school-record six for his career.

But his play varied widely from one week to the next, and he underwhelmed at both the NFL Scouting Combine and Notre Dame’s Pro Day.

“He’s very much a boom-or-bust kind of prospect,” analyst Scott Wright of draftcountdown.com said. “If you can turn that light on, you’re going to have a steal, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he didn’t play a snap in the league, either.”

The 6-foot-4, 280-pound Rochell, meanwhile, was a three-year starter for the Irish. He collected 55 tackles in 2016, including seven for loss and one sack. He also had a pass breakup and 10 quarterback hurries.

“Isaac has the versatility to play inside and outside,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said, “but as he gets stronger and puts on some weight, we could definitely see him become an inside pass-rush guy. At the same time he can play defensive end.”

Rochell was just happy to be wanted in any role.

“The biggest thing is the opportunity and the blessing,” Rochell said on a conference call. “To play for such a cool franchise like the Chargers is super exciting.

“I was about to leave (my draft party) to get my mind off of things, because it had been super stressful. I was on my way out the door and then (the Chargers) called me. I was so excited.”

Notre Dame's Isaac Rochell (90), here chasing Texas QB Shane Buechele on Sept. 4, is being counted on to help improve the Irish pass rush. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)