Draft Roundup: Notre Dame LB Drue Tranquill eager to start new career, new family in L.A.

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

In the days leading up to the 2019 NFL Draft, it was much more than curiosity that drove Drue Tranquill’s quest to figure out where he might end up.

“I’ve got a 35-week pregnant wife banging down my door saying, ‘Where are we going to be? I need to get a doctor. I need to know who’s delivering this baby,’ ” the Notre Dame linebacker related on a recent episode of ND Insider’s Pod of Gold podcast.

As it turned out, he’ll be with family — Notre Dame family — when son Elijah Tranquill comes into the world next month.

The Los Angeles Chargers made the two-time Irish captain the 130th selection overall in the three-day, seven-round draft, plucking Tranquill in the fourth round Saturday.

He’ll join good friend Isaac Rochell, a third-year defensive end and former seventh-round draft pick from ND, and fellow rookie Jerry Tillery, an All-America defensive tackle for the Irish in 2018, on the Chargers roster.

Punter Tyler Newsome later Saturday joined the trio as an undrafted free agent.

Tillery was the first of six Irish drafted in this cycle, coming off the board with the 28th overall pick on Thursday night. Wide receiver Miles Boykin was next, in round 3, going to the Baltimore Ravens.

Then came consensus All-America cornerback Julian Love (New York Giants) and Tranquill both in the fourth round, running back Dexter Williams (Green Bay) in the sixth, and tight end Alizé Mack (New Orleans) in the seventh.

The stunner was that linebacker Te’von Coney, Notre Dame’s leading tackler the past two seasons and a member of a handful of All-America teams, was still without a team when pick No. 254, UCLA tight end Caleb Wilson, earned the title of Mr. Irrelevant as the final selection of the draft.

“Unbelievable….” Coney tweeted moments after the draft’s conclusion.

He had been a third-round projection by The Athletic draft analyst Dane Brugler and a fourth/fifth-round projection by analyst Scott Wright of draftcountdown.com. Fourteen inside linebackers were taken over the draft’s seven rounds.

Later Saturday, Coney caught on with the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent. Former Irish defensive back Nick Coleman is also headed to the Raiders for a rookie minicamp tryout.

Meanwhile, Tranquill’s rise to a mid-round draft pick reinforces his status as a paradigm of Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly’s player development mantra/model. Maybe the paradigm.

He came to the Irish, after decommiting from Purdue, as the nation’s No. 32 safety and three-star prospect per Rivals.com. Tranquill then had his first two college seasons truncated by torn ACLs, one in each knee and the second sustained while celebrating a pass breakup in the end zone against Georgia Tech.

He was moved to rover in 2017 and inside linebacker this past season, two shifts he made seamlessly and that added to an expanding skill set.

“I think that I’m just a complete football player,” Tranquill said via teleconference Saturday. “Being a former safety, I think I bring the athleticism of safety into the box. I’m certainly physical enough to play the spot.

“I’m able to create mismatches with tight ends and running backs. I’m able to run sideline to sideline and make plays. I’m a four-down linebacker and play special teams. I think my versatility is one of the best aspects of my game.”

Versatility was on Williams’ to-do list this past season, and still is as a redemptive senior season gave way to a lifelong dream on Saturday.

The latter would have been impossible without the former.

Williams — not even an NFL Draft afterthought when his senior season started, with 99 largely uneventful career carries and a four-game suspension — landed in the 2019 draft’s sixth round and is headed to the Green Bay Packers after being selected with pick No. 194 overall.

Williams will join former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer and wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, a sixth-round pick in 2018, on the Packers roster.

The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Williams becomes just the fourth Notre Dame running back to be drafted since his former position coach, Autry Denson, was a seventh-rounder in 1999. The others are Julius Jones (2nd round, 2004), Theo Riddick (6th round, 2013) and C.J. Prosise (3rd round, 2016).

“With Dexter, I’ve got a lot of history, having coached at Notre Dame,” said former Irish QBs coach and current Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur. “His ability to be a one-cut runner was what we were looking for.

“Frankly, I was a little surprised he was still there (in the sixth round).”

Coming into 2018, the Orlando, Fla., product had never logged more than eight carries in a game or 39 in a season. On his first carry after the suspension, he ran through and past the Stanford defense for a 45-yard TD.

He finished the 38-17 rout of the Cardinal on Sept. 29 with then-career highs of 21 carries and 161 yards. Williams almost got to the 1,000-yard mark for the season in just nine games, finishing with 995 on 158 carries and 12 TDs. He added a career-high 16 receptions for 133 yards and a TD.

“He’s an aggressive downhill runner that can press the edge, stick his foot in the ground and get north and south,” Green Bay general manager Brian Gutekunst said.

“He had a lot of explosive plays, and he was a finisher. Once he hit that crease, he seemed to finish. And so, yeah, those are some of the things we like to run. He’s got a nice build to him, and I think his best football should be ahead of him.”

Mack on Saturday became Notre Dame’s eighth successive starting tight end to get drafted at the end of his college career.

But he had a long wait to get there. Fourteen tight ends were taken before Mack got the call back home in Las Vegas, 24 picks from the end of the draft.

“I definitely thought I’d be drafted,” he said. “I didn’t think that it would get down to this point. But at the end of the day, I am just thankful for this opportunity.

“It’s not about where I go, it’s about what I do when I get there. You best believe I am going to take full advantage of this opportunity.”

In 2018, Mack started 12 games of 13 at tight end and recorded 36 catches for 360 yards and three TDs — all career-highs. Like Boykin and Love, he left a year of college eligibility on the table.

Tranquill was tempted to do the same after the 2017 season, but opted to come back, and it skyrocketed his draft appeal.

“To have the instincts and the foot speed, that’s a good combination,” Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said. “He’s another player with just great makeup and intangibles as far as his work ethic, football intelligence, his drive to be great.”

Tranquill played in all 13 games this past season, more than half of which while he recovered from breaking his hand during the Stanford game on Sept. 29. He also suffered a severe ankle sprain against Navy on Oct. 27.

Still, Tranquill finished with 86 tackles, nine tackles for loss, four pass breakups, three QB hurries and a fumble recovery. He also made the players around him better.

“You need leaders in every organization at every level,” he said. “Leaders help take you to championships. I’ve certainly seen that at Notre Dame when we were 4-8 in 2016, then (other guys and I) took over captaincy — the guys voted on that — and we turned this thing around.

“In 2018, we were 12-0 with a chance to play in the national championship game. Leadership is everything. Obviously, there are great leaders there in L.A. I’d certainly help contribute to that. It’s just very important for the success of the organization.”

Besides Newsome and Coney, six other former Notre Dame players were hoping to latch on to teams as undrafted free agents.

Center Sam Mustipher and recovering offensive guard Alex Bars were quickly reunited with former Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, now with the Chicago Bears.

Bars likely would have been a mid-round pick at worst had he not torn the ACL and MCL in his left knee Sept. 29 against Stanford. Mustipher and Bars were starters on ND’s Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line under Hiestand in 2017, his final year with the Irish.

“I’m a Chicago Bear!!!” Bars tweeted then later self-edited. “Bear The (Bleep) Down!!”

Kicker Justin Yoon, tight end Nic Weishar and nose guard Jonathan Bonner are undrafted Irish players still looking for a match.

Among those players who started their careers at ND and finished elsewhere, Georgia defensive end Jay Hayes agreed to terms with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted free agent and North Texas wide receiver Jalen Guyton did the same with the Dallas Cowboys.

Notre Dame’s Drue Tranquill (23) breaks up a pass intended for Clemson’s Garrett Williams (44) in the Cotton Bowl, Dec. 29 at Arlington, Texas.