Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey ready to tackle NFL future with 49ers

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Is left right for Mike McGlinchey?

It was the conundrum that befuddled the mock draft crowd, trying to wade through the smoke and get inside the heads of NFL decision-makers.

“McGlinchey has gotten a ton of buzz in the past week. He's rising,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. wrote Thursday, hours before the three-day, seven-round NFL Draft kicked off with the 32 first-round selections. “Teams think he can play left tackle.”

Apparently, so do the San Francisco 49ers.

They made the 6-foot-8, 315-pound Notre Dame consensus All-American the ninth pick of the first round, three picks after the Indianapolis Colts snagged Irish teammate and unanimous All-America guard Quenton Nelson.

“God didn’t create of bunch of great offensive tackles,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said of McGlinchey on Thursday night. “They’re limited. We think we found one that has the opportunity to be that.

"He’s got a special presence to him. He’s real. He’s authentic. And he’s a badass.”

Lynch said that the 49ers would have entertained offers to trade down had McGlinchey been taken by the Bears one pick before San Francisco’s turn, a plausible scenario given that former ND offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has been the Bears’ line coach since January.

But a week ago, Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan decided if McGlinchey was available, they wouldn’t consider a trade.

“Were fired up, we really are,” Lynch said. “Every time we watch the film, he just got better. He’s just made of the right stuff on and off the field.”

McGlinchey too was fired up Thursday night, though he had no idea where he was going to end up before he got the call.

“I kind of put my phone on mute pretty much all week this week, because I didn’t want to hear about what was going on,” said the Philadelphia product, who avoided the green room at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas to spend draft night with roughly 150 friends and family members at a restaurant just outside Philly.

“I didn’t want to have any kind of expectations or anything like that. I’m just so excited to be a part of it. Dream come true.”

Joe Staley, whom ND head coach Brian Kelly and current Irish O-Line coach Jeff Quinn moved from tight end to tackle and developed into a first-round draft choice at Central Michigan more than a decade ago, is the 49ers’ incumbent starter at left tackle.

He’ll be 34 when the 2018 season starts and has two years remaining on his contact.

Florida product Trent Brown started most of the season at right tackle for the 49ers in 3017, but ended the season on injured reserve and is coming off shoulder surgery. He’ll be in the final year of his contract in the fall.

Shanahan said McGlinchey would start out at right tackle in training camp.

“But he can play either tackle,” the coach said. “I’m sure he could go in and help us at guard if we need him to. I think he could probably do all of the (offensive line positions), except maybe center. He’s too tall to get that low.”

The Nelson-McGlinchey combo gives Notre Dame eight first-round picks in the past seven drafts, four of whom are offensive linemen coached by Hiestand. By comparison, the Irish produced two first-round draft picks total — center Jeff Faine and quarterback Brady Quinn — in the 12 years that preceded that run.

Nelson and McGlinchey were the first two offensive linemen selected in the 2018 NFL Draft, marking just the third time in the last 60 years that the top two offensive lineman drafted were from the same school.

It’s the third time in the past 50 years that two offensive lineman from the same school were chosen among the top 10 selections of the draft. Notre Dame went 21 years (1995-2015) without producing a top 10 pick. Nelson, McGlinchey and 2016 No. 6 pick Ronnie Stanley, all offensive linemen, give them three in the past three drafts.

The last time Notre Dame had teammates go in the top 10 was the 1993 draft, with quarterback Rick Mirer being selected second by the Seattle Seahawks and running back Jerome Bettis going eight picks later to the L.A. Rams.

McGlinchey started at left tackle in his final two seasons at Notre Dame and was a starter at right tackle in 2015, in former first-rounder Ronnie Stanley’s final season as the Irish starting left tackle. The pro game is faster, though, and even elite college left tackles are at times better fits as either guards or right tackles.

Zack Martin, ND’s starting left tackle before Stanley, was one such player. Dallas took the four-year Irish starter as a guard with the No. 16 pick of the first round in 2014, and he has made the Pro Bowl each of his first four NFL seasons at that position.

“There’s a really big difference between left tackle and right tackle, even though you’re being asked to do the same fundamental things,” said former ND All-American lineman Aaron Taylor, who was converted from left tackle to guard in the NFL after being selected by Green Bay in the first round of the 1994 NFL Draft.

“The game looks different. The angles are different. There’s a comfortability factor. There’s a lot of things that go into it. That’s exactly what Mike experienced when he moved from the right side to the left in 2016.

“He looked a lot more comfortable there this year. But for a confidence standpoint and from a body type standpoint, I think he projects as a right tackle in the NFL.”

Left tackles, though, tend to get paid more and tend to go higher in drafts.

As for McGlinchey’s take?

“I feel like I’ve mastered both sides and ready to go at either one,” he said. “My goals are always to be the best I can be and help my team win. And that’s all I’m going to continue to try to do.

“No matter what block I’m asked to make or what team I was on, that was going to be the goal and that’s what I’m going to bring to the 49ers.”

By the time the draft wraps up early Saturday evening, the Irish are expected to have five players selected. Rounds two and three unfold Friday night, while rounds four through seven will be staged on Saturday.

“I think Equanimeous St. Brown has the best chance to go on Day 2,” Wright said of one of two true juniors, along with running back Josh Adams, to come out early from Notre Dame.

“I think that he’s intriguing. He profiles, at least physically, as a No. 1 wide receiver. It’s just that poor quarterback play really limited him last year. He’s probably the guy who would have benefitted the most from coming back for another year.

“If he got better quarterback play, put up better numbers, had more opportunities to showcase his talent, I think you could make the case that he could have played himself into the first round (in 2019). At least he would have gotten himself into the conversation.”

As it stands, Wright projects St. Brown to go in the third round on Friday, with Adams in the fourth or fifth and tight end Durham Smythe another Day 3 projection.

“Adams’ issue is durability,” Wright said. “If he can stay healthy and get in the right situation, he could outperform his draft slot.”

Expected by Wright to go undrafted from Notre Dame, but end up in training camps as priority free agents, are linebacker Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini, and defensive end Andrew Trumbetti.

Notre Dame offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey (68) blocks Wake Forest's Wendell Dunn (14) during the ND's victory, Nov. 4 at Notre Dame Stadium. McGlinchey is expected be selected in the first round of NFL Draft on Thursday night. 

When: Thursday through Saturday

Where: AT&T Stadium; Arlington, Texas

Times and Format: Rounds 2-3 — Friday at 7 p.m. (EDT); Rounds 4-7 — Saturday at noon. Round 1 was Thursday night.

TV: Rounds 2-3 — NFL Network, FOX, ESPN, ESPN2; Rounds 4-7 — NFL Network, ABC, ESPN.

Notre Dame Draft Hopefuls: (With ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay’s top 300 rankings) OG Quenton Nelson (No. 3 player); OT Mike McGlinchey (13); WR Equanimeous St. Brown (138); TE Durham Smythe (185); RB Josh Adams (195); LB Nyles Morgan (Unranked); LB Greer Martin (Unranked); DE Andrew Trumbetti (Unranked).