Notre Dame's Chase Claypool weighs in at NFL Combine on non-existent position switch

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

INDIANAPOLIS — As much as the unadulterated numbers of the NFL Scouting Combine are designed to bring sanity to the pre-draft process, the invitation-only mass audition ironically also serves as the unofficial start of the weirdness phase as well.

As in general managers throwing out red herrings, agents embellishing and even the media treading down strange — even non-existent — story lines at times.

Former Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet being quizzed Tuesday morning by the media about his feelings on possibly playing football in Mexico and later about the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing stink in Major League Baseball was mild compared to former teammate Chase Claypool’s dip into peculiarity during his first 24 hours in Indianapolis.

On Monday, Claypool found out winning a weigh-in was a thing. And that at 238 pounds on his 6-foot-4 1/4 frame, apparently he was the winner — at least among wide receivers, quarterbacks and tight ends, the first three position groups to start the combine process.

So declared Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, a former longtime NFL scout with legit connections, before Nagy went on to hint on Twitter that the nine-pound gain in roughly six weeks might lead to Claypool converting from wide receiver to tight end.

Turns out that theory didn’t hold water. Literally.

Claypool, still very much a wide receiver (and special teams masher), explained Tuesday that the fluctuating weight was the result of being under-hydrated at the Senior Bowl weigh-in and overly hydrated Monday in Indy, and that reality was somewhere around 233 pounds.

He went on to say that not one NFL team has talked to him about playing tight end instead of wide receiver or even becoming some kind of hybrid.

“I think all buzz is good buzz,” said Claypool, who lived and trained with a tight end (Kmet) this past month in Santa Ana, Calif., in prepping for a week that could vault both of them upward in the draft projections.

“I had to smile at some of the things that were said, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing for people (envisioning) me doing different things at the next level. I take it as a compliment.”

The real compliment Claypool is fishing for this week, though, is about his speed. Kmet too.

And how that turns out, as much as anything else, puts them in position to help themselves as much as anyone among the nine Irish at the event that runs through Sunday.

The actual 2020 NFL Draft is April 23-35 in Las Vegas.

Wide receiver Chris Finke, the first ND combine invitee in the 2000s to start his career as a walk-on, also weighed in on Monday. By Friday, ND’s running back Tony Jones Jr., defensive ends Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara, cornerback Troy Pride Jr., and safeties Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman will have done so as well.

“Troy Pride is going to run under 4.3,” Claypool offered in what would figure to be one of the fastest 40-yard dash times from the 337 participants at the 2020 combine if it indeed comes to pass. “I’ve made dinner bets on it. So I think I’m going to be getting some free dinners these next couple of weeks.”

Pride runs Sunday. Claypool and Kmet do so Thursday, with Claypool confident he’ll break 4.5 seconds in the 40, and the 6-5 3/4 Kmet recently having logged a 4.69 in Santa Ana at 262 pounds.

To put the latter in perspective, the fastest 40 time by a Notre Dame tight end since 2010 in a combine or Pro Day setting is Alizé Mack’s 4.7 last year.

Ben Koyack ran a 4.72 in 2015, Kyle Rudolph a 4.78 in 2011 and Nic Weishar a 5.01 in 2019. Tyler Eifert, the only first-rounder among tight ends in the Kelly Era, Troy Niklas and Durham Smythe all skipped the 40, either because of injury or by choice.

“I want to do the things necessary to show that I’m the top tight end in the draft,” Kmet said.

It’s not a stretch that he could turn out to be in what is considered a below-average tight end crop overall. Claypool, meanwhile, is part of a historically deep draft class for wide receivers.

But there’s no one quite like him in the group from a size standpoint.

“If I show I have speed to go with it, it kind of separates me from most of the guys,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing.”

Claypool said he’ll perform in all position drills and every event in the physical testing portion of the combine. Kmet will too, except bench press.

He said he’s pushing that off to Pro Day, because he just started working on it last month, by design.

Starting the season with a broken collarbone and missing two games because of it was one of the reasons Kmet didn’t do much bench-pressing during the season. The other was that he was still intent on playing baseball for the Irish this spring.

But he changed his mind about coming back for either baseball or football after Notre Dame’s 33-9 rout of Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28. And he closed the door on baseball for good, shortly thereafter, even as a Plan B.

Kmet was a lefty reliever for the Irish his first two springs at Notre Dame, with his fastball topping out at 95 miles per hour. Pro scouts had planned to meet with him before the Irish baseball season started — until Kmet’s change of heart.

“At the end of the day, this is what I want to do,” he said. “Whether that’s short-lived or not. Some people might say there’s longevity in baseball, but you’ve got to do what you love. Life’s short, so you’ve got to do the things you love to do.”

Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool (83) looks to flash his MVP form this week at the Senior Bowl game and workouts.
Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet (84) jumps past a tackle attempt by Stanford’s Kyu Blu Kelly (17) while Liam Eichenberg (74) blocks at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California, Nov. 30, 2019.