Kirk Herbstreit dishes on his top Irish draft pick and revised thoughts on college season

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

The effort and enterprise went a long way toward impressing NFL executives and draft decision-makers.

The actual results and content from the makeshift/virtual pro days some Notre Dame players and other college football players staged over the past few weeks apparently wasn’t quite as impactful, at least not universally.

“I’ve spoken with some of the NFL people, and they’ve probably gotten the most value out of communicating with these players, with their one-on-one interviews with them,” said Kirk Herbstreit, part of the ABC crew that will be covering this week’s NFL Draft through more of a college football lens.

“I don’t think they’re using Zoom, but whatever they’re using to communicate.”

Herbstreit made his comments during a teleconference with media from around the country on Monday.

“And a lot of times it’s a head coach and a (general manager) doing a one-on-one interview,” he continued, “where they get to know the guy and get to ask them some football questions and kind of find out about his football IQ and find out if this is a guy who maybe fits inside our locker room.

“Based on some of those interviews, they’ve either scratched guys off the list or moved them up even higher. In these unusual circumstances, I think they’re using a lot of game film and whatever (info) they were able to get at the (NFL) combine.”

The most unusual run-up to the three-day, seven-round, 255-player NFL Draft will be followed by the most unusual draft itself, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commissioner Roger Goodell will announce first-round picks from his basement. Fifty-eight players — including Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool, Julian Okwara and Cole Kmet — are on standby to participate virtually.

ABC, ESPN and NFL Network will combine resources and simulcast parts of the draft, though ABC will offer alternative commentary and broadcast personnel in rounds 1-3. The draft kicks off Thursday night at 8 EDT with the first round and will finish up at approximately 11:30.

Rounds 2-3 will take place Friday night (7-11:30 p.m.). The draft concludes Saturday (noon-7 p.m.) with rounds 4-7. Seven of Notre Dame’s 12 draft hopefuls are expected to get selected.

For the first time since perhaps the 2008 draft, when tight end John Carlson and defensive tackle Trevor Laws came off the board nine picks apart in the second round, there’s no clear consensus top pick among the Irish players in this draft.

The Athletic compiled an aggregate list of the top 300 NFL Draft prospects from various sources. Three ND players were within eight spots of each other — tight end Kmet (60), defensive end Okwara (61) and wide receiver Claypool 69) — as the Irish prospects ranked the highest.

Las Vegas lists Okwara — one of those players who resorted to the virtual pro day — as the most likely Irish player to come off the board first (according to Okwara missed all of the testing at the NFL Combine except the bench press, as he was recovering from a broken fibula, suffered Nov. 9.

Herbstreit’s first pick among the Irish prospects, if he had a pick, would be Claypool, he said Monday.

“That kid has a chance to be a big-time pro,” Herbstreit said. “I really enjoyed covering him, and I know he was somewhat on the back burner until the 2019 season. And I think (coach) Brian (Kelly) and what they did offensively, they tried to find different ways to create matchups to get him the football. And I think that trend will just continue in the NFL.

“I’ve seen some people label him as a receiver, some people label him as a tight end. I mean, 6-4, 238 (pounds) and runs a 4.42 (40-yard dash) and has a 40-inch vertical, I think we’ve got a place for him on the roster. I don’t care what you call him

“There aren’t a lot of cornerbacks who are going to be able to hold up against him with that size and with that speed. … He’d be high on my board in a very deep year of wide receivers.”

Upon further review

Herbstreit’s widely circulated, pessimistic view in late March that there probably wouldn’t be a 2020 college football season lacked proper context, he said Monday.

“It was kind of misconstrued, misrepresented based on what I said in a radio interview and how it was taken by a lot of people,” he said. “I had just gotten back from spring break, and I was talking to a friend who works at ESPN radio, Ian Fitzsimmons.

“And I was almost thinking out loud. It was the day baseball was supposed to start, Opening Day, and we were just kind of reminiscing how sad we were that we weren’t having any baseball. And I was like, ‘Hey man, this thing’s scary. We might not even have football until there’s a (vaccine).’

“Obviously, there’s been a lot of data, a lot of information. And I even said during the interview that this thing is changing by the day, by the week, even the hour. So a lot will change in the coming weeks.

“And since then I’ve talked to a ton of people who are actual decision-makers in the college game. And I think what they’ve done is they’ve built three to four contingency plans, based on what happens with this virus, what Dr. (Anthony) Fauci and others recommend and the President and these governors.

“If everything’s OK, status quo, show up back on campus in July. Two-a-days, regular season. Here we go. That’s the first contingency. And then they drilled it all the way back … to the willingness to start it late February or March and turning it into a spring sport and playing in March and April and May and playing the postseason in June.

“I think it’s a last-ditch effort, which just proves how willing I think the administrators are, with the NCAA and the conference commissioners and ADs and presidents to have a college football season. They’re going to do everything they can if it comes to that extreme to potentially have a 2020 season.

“So I think a lot of this is still kind of a feeling-out process. We’re going to wait and see what the data shows. We’re learning. I’m going to turn the TV on as soon as we’re off, and I’m sure something new has happened.

“What makes the most sense in taking care of the athletes and making sure we don’t send them back just because we’ve got to make our bottom line. … “I’m not making any predictions. I really wasn’t that night. I was just trying to explain how real this pandemic is and how we all need to listen to the guidelines they’re recommending.”

If the contingency becomes a March-June regular season, Herbstreit said it would be interesting to see whether junior stars, such as Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State QB Justin Fields, sit out the season over injury concerns relative to the 2021 NFL Draft.

“I have no idea about any of that,” Herbstreit said, “but it does make me wonder what many of the players, at that level anyway, would do.”

Clemson connection

Herbstreit is getting a bit of an inside look at how national runner-up Clemson is operating during a time of social distancing and virtual workouts.

His twin sons, wide receiver Tye and defensive back Jake, are sophomores-to-be for the Tigers. Both players are walk-ons and living at home right now in Nashville, Tenn.

“I know occasionally my boys will let me in on, ‘Hey I just had a meeting with (coach) Dabo (Swinney),” Herbstreit said. “They don’t really get into what they talk about.

“I know he’s trying to encourage them to stay in shape, probably like every coach, try to get their workouts in, try to make sure they’re eating, doing what they need to do, because you just never know with this pandemic.

“As it is right now, they’ve been away from campus for 4-5 weeks. So I think they’re just trying to encourage all these players — how important it is to try and stay in shape as opposed to trying to get back into shape once they get back on campus.

“(Swinney is) very encouraging, very positive, very uplifting — which, as you know, you’d kind of expect him to be.”

The best call of all

Odds are Notre Dame defensive end Jamir Jones won’t get a call from an NFL team during the three-day draft this week, though he is an intriguing rookie free-agent prospect.

Monday, though, he and his family got a very special call — that Jones’ dad, Matthew, was able to be taken off a ventilator for the first time in two weeks while battling COVID-19 in a Rochester, N.Y., hospital.

Matthew also got to FaceTime with his family, the first direct communication he’s been able and allowed to have with them in a couple of weeks.

The parents of Jamir and Jarron, the latter also a former ND football player, are both nurses. Mom Lakiescha tested negative around the time Matthew tested positive.

Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool (83) takes the field prior to the Cotton Bowl against Clemson, Dec. 29, 2018, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Notre Dame defensive end Jamir Jones (44) has become an intriguing long shot to make an NFL roster.

When: Thursday 8 p.m. EDT (Round 1), Friday 7 p.m. (Rounds 2-3), and Saturday noon (Rounds 4-7)

Where: Originally scheduled for Las Vegas, the draft will be virtual from various locations. That includes NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announcing first-round picks from his basement in Westchester County, New York.

TV: ABC, ESPN, NFL Network

Live Stream: WatchESPN app, NFL Network app,, various streaming services

Notre Dame draft hopefuls: LB Asmar Bilal, WR Chase Claypool, S Jalen Elliott, WR Chris Finke, S Alohi Gilman, DE Jamir Jones, RB Tony Jones Jr., DE Khalid Kareem, TE Cole Kmet, DE Julian Okwara, CB Troy Pride Jr., CB Donte Vaughn.