Pros and cons: Taking stock of Notre Dame's football talent from an NFL viewpoint

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Left tackle Mike McGlinchey owned the moment, even apologized to quarterback Brandon Wimbush for the blindside thud that effectively ended Notre Dame’s comeback hopes last Saturday against Georgia.

NFL scouts will be watching closely, moving forward, as to whether Georgia outside linebacker Davin Bellamy’s ball-jarring sack at McGlinchey’s expense late in the 20-19 Irish loss is an isolated hiccup or part of a pattern for a player still on a first-round NFL Draft trajectory.

“When you’re Mike McGlinchey, other prospects are trying to make a name for themselves against you,” said draft analyst Scott Wright of draftcounttown.com. “I think both of those Georgia pass rushers (Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter) did that this past weekend.

“They understood that this was their time in the spotlight, going up against a highly rated player. And he’s going to face that every single week.”

Saturday at Chestnut Hill, Mass., it’s welcome to Harold Landry’s world.

The 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive end already has a name and is the 2016 FBS statistical leader in sacks with 16.5.

From a pro scouting standpoint, he’s by far the best draft-eligible defensive player Notre Dame will face this season and the highest-rated on either side of the ball, save USC redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold, the consensus No. 1 prospect overall.

Wright hasn’t finalized his early 2018 rankings yet, but ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has Landry the No. 7 prospect regardless of position in the 2018 draft. Fellow ESPN analyst Todd McShay, who will serve as the network’s sideline reporter for the BC-ND clash (3:30 p.m. EDT), has Landry No. 4 overall.

Kiper has McGlinchey rated as the No. 1 offensive tackle in the draft, McShay No. 2 behind Texas’ Connor Williams.

“The thing you don’t know about Landry in this game is if he’ll line up against McGlinchey,” Wright said, “line up against Tommy Kraemer on the right side, or a little bit of both.”

McGlinchey anticipates option three, BC moving Landry around. He also said it felt great to practice on Tuesday and finally be able to focus on the future.

“I think you get back out to practice, and you can kind of wash the stink off of you,” McGlinchey said Wednesday. “I mean, you sit there all weekend and just watch that one play over and over and over again, and you kind of drive yourself insane.

“But it's one play. I guess I've got to work on the timing of my misses, because it was a pretty brutal one. But no, you can't really get fully back into it until there's a game plan in front of you and there's a next opponent.

“Just go back to work on what you can control, and the team that we're going to face this week in Boston College.”

Scouts won’t so easily forget.

“He admits it’s a bad play,” Wright said, “but the thing is it’s not in a vacuum. It’s kind of a continuation of the concern with him — the mental lapses, the penalties, so it kind of continues that narrative.

“It reminds me of a Notre Dame game a few years ago. A Stanford lineman by the name of Andrus Peat had a player where (ND defensive end) Isaac Rochell just pushed him backwards. It sticks in your mind, and here we are years later, and I remember that play.

“I guarantee you evaluators are going to remember that play for McGlinchey. Now, Peat still wound up going in the top 15 overall (13th to the Saints in 2015), so I don’t think it’s going to crater Mike McGlinchey’s stock or anything like that.

“But it’s definitely going to be a concern, and I definitely think it’s becoming more and more clear that he’s maybe not this franchise left tackle prospect. He might be more of a right tackle, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s a really good right tackle.

“It’s something everyone’s going to be watching as the season goes, and there’s a lot of season left.”

If McGlinchey and offensive guard Quenton Nelson do go in the first round in 2018 as currently projected, that would give ND four first-rounders in five drafts when it comes to offensive linemen under line coach Harry Hiestand.

In the 24 drafts that preceded Zack Martin going to Dallas in round one of the 2014 draft, the Irish had three offensive linemen taken in the first round (Jeff Faine 2003, Luke Petitgout 1999 and Aaron Taylor 1994).

The big-picture takeaway Wright gleaned from watching Notre Dame-Georgia, is that from a pro potential standpoint, he deemed the teams fairly even, and actually gave the Irish a slight edge.

“I think their talent is on a par with everyone on their schedule, if not superior,” Wright said. “I don’t think a lack of talent should be an issue for Notre Dame at this point. They’re doing a good job of producing pro talent, and they’re doing as good as they’ve done since maybe the early 90s.”

Notre Dame has just seven players with expiring eligibility on its roster — McGlinchey, wide receiver Cam Smith, linebacker Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini, tight end Durham Smythe, defensive end Andrew Trumbetti and offensive lineman Hunter Bivin.

Nelson, a projected first-rounder, is an almost certainty to dive into the draft pool. A handful of others with remaining eligibility could join him.

Here’s Wright’s take on a number of draft-eligible Irish players:

• Offensive guard Quenton Nelson (senior with a fifth-year option): “He’s a special player at that position, and I think he would have been the top guard in last year’s draft.

“He’s certainly tracking to be the top guard in this class. With guards, it’s a little tricky. Positional value, they tend to slide a little bit in the draft. There have been exceptions.

“A few years ago, there were two of them in the top 10 — Chance Warmack (No. 10 to the Titans) and Jonathan Cooper (No. 7 to the Cardinals). Both of those were busts for their teams, but I think Nelson is a legitimate first-round prospect. It’s just a matter of how early you’re willing to take a guard, because he is going to be the top guard in the draft.”

• Nose guard Jerry Tillery, junior: Kiper has him rated as the No. 5 interior defensive lineman. McShay rates him the seventh-best.

“I haven’t taken an in-depth look at him yet,” Wright said, “but it kind of looks like he’s taking a step up this season. He’s playing a little bit better, a little more consistently. I don‘t think talent has ever been an issue. It’s just getting him to play up to it consistently.

“I think there are some similar correlations to be made there between him and a guy like Jarron Jones. Injuries also hurt Jarron Jones, but Jones could and still can be as good as he wants to be. It’s a matter of whether he’s wired right to maximize that talent and potential.

“I think Jerry Tillery falls under that category, but from what I’ve noticed from just casually glancing, I think the light might be coming on a little bit there.”

• Linebacker Nyles Morgan, senior: “He’s going to be an inside linebacker in the NFL, and right there they get downgraded a little bit, because of positional value.

“I think he’s going to end up being more of a day three type (rounds 4-7). Maybe he sneaks into the back end of day 2 and the back end of the top 100 overall. Maybe. People are going to want to see, from a scouting perspective, how well he runs and how much range he has. But he’s certainly on the radar.”

• Running back Josh Adams, junior: Maybe day 2, second- or third-rounder wouldn’t shock me, but certainly a draftable talent and guy who’s going to play in the NFL.”

• Wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, junior: “He has a chance to be in the top handful of receivers. I don’t know if he’s going to be in the top tier, but I think he has a chance to be in that top 50 overall regardless of position. Similar situation to Will Fuller draft-stock wise. He could easily go in the 20s, could go in the 30, or the 40s.”

• Tight end Durham Smythe, grad student: “I’m not sure he’s the prospect that Ben Koyack was, and Koyack ended up being a seventh-round pick. I think he’ll get a shot in a camp, but I would be surprised if he gets drafted.

“And I’m kind of waiting on Alizé Mack. I’m kind of waiting for him to emerge. I think he might be as talented as any tight end in the country and there’s some opportunity at that positon, but so far not much the first couple of weeks.”

Notre Dame offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey (68) remains on a trajectory to be a first-round NFL Draft choice next spring. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)