Overlooked by NFL Draft, these Notre Dame players find landing spots in free agency
A total of nine Notre Dame players were picked during the three-day NFL draft that concluded Saturday night in Cleveland.
Offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg (No. 42) to Miami, guard Aaron Banks (No. 48) to San Francisco and LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (No. 52) to Cleveland were all selected in the second round.
Tight end Tommy Tremble (No. 83) to Carolina and offensive tackle Robert Hainsey (No. 95) to Tampa Bay, both went in the third round.
Quarterback Ian Book, a projected late rounder, went in the fourth round (No. 133) to New Orleans.
Both of Notre Dame’s 2020 defensive ends — Daelin Hayes (No. 171) to Baltimore and Ade Ogundeji (No. 182) to Atlanta — were fifth-round picks. Wide Receiver Ben Skowronek went in the seventh round (No. 249) to the Los Angeles Rams
That left a handful of Irish draft hopefuls to hope for a preferred free agency route into the NFL. Here’s a look at Notre Dame players who weren’t drafted are going to land:
Javon McKinley, WR
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound McKinley from Corona, Calif., was easily ND’s top gainer in reception yardage last season at 717, was No. 1 among the team’s regular targets in yards per catch at 17.1 and tied tight end Michael Mayer for the lead in receptions with 42.
McKinley’s burst into prominence in his fifth and final Irish season came after he played sparingly over his first three years on campus, before making 11 catches for four touchdowns in 2019.
He appeared in just six games in 2016 and just four in 2018, with no catches, in addition to missing all of the 2017 season with a foot injury.
“My physical build, speed down the field, catching radius, route-running ability, blocking ability, just my physical size, I think compares to a number of receivers in the NFL right now that are major contributors,” McKinley said prior to his recent Pro Day, “so I think that just given that I possess some of the same attributes, I can be a major contributor early on.”
Golden Notre Dame moment
All three of McKinley’s touchdowns in 2020 came during the 41-25 home win over Syracuse in the regular-season finale. He notched a career-high seven catches, good for 111 yards, which was the second-best yardage output of his career.
5 Things to know about Javon McKinley
- Arrived at ND as one of the most prolific prep receivers in the nation after leading Centennial High to a 14-1 record, consensus top-10 national ranking and the California Interscholastic Federation open division state title game in 2015.
- Attempted and completed two passes in high school, each for exactly 65 yards.
- Joined Notre Dame as the nation’s No. 9-ranked receiver and No. 55 player overall in his class by Scout.com.
- Was rated the No. 33 available receiver by draft analyst Todd McShay, but just No. 53 by ESPN colleague Mel Kiper.
- Minored in Chinese at Notre Dame, is learning the language and has expressed interest in an international business career.
Brock Wright, TE
Wright arrived at Notre Dame in 2017 as the top-ranked high school tight end in the country by ESPN and Rivals.com — as well as rated as high as the 29th-best player overall — but wound up behind eventual stars like Cole Kmet, Tommy Tremble and Michael Mayer during his Irish tenure.
The 6-foot-4 ½, 255-pounder from Cypress, Texas, bypassed an extra year of eligibility and a chance to possibly increase his stock in favor of entering the draft.
Wright caught just seven passes for 78 yards and one touchdown over 48 career appearances at ND while serving more as a blocking tight end, lining up occasionally at fullback and seeing a leading role on special teams, while also becoming a widely respected teammate.
“I’m a smart, tough, disciplined player that plays with 100% effort 100% of the time,” Wright said just prior to Pro Day four weeks ago. “I pride myself on doing the right thing and always trying to make others around me better, and I know I’m going to be able to do that wherever I go. I think that’s what I bring to the table as well being an all-around tight end.”
Golden Notre Dame moment
Recovered the game-sealing onside kick in a 30-27 win over USC in 2019.
5 Things to know about Brock Wright
- Has been active in the Notre Dame chapter of Uplifting Athletes, an organization whose mission is to assist the rare disease community through the power of sport.
- When asked whom he would choose if he could have lunch with any person, dead or alive, Wright cited fellow Texan “Matthew McConaughey — he’s the coolest dude alive.”
- Recruited by powerhouses galore, Wright committed to the Irish on June 26, 2015, well before his junior year of high school.
- Father Len was an all-conference offensive lineman at Texas Tech and older brother Brady played defensive end at Rice.
- Does not appear on most lists ranking draft-eligible players, including the one by thedraftnetwork.com that stretches 425 players deep.
Tommy Kraemer, OL
The 6-foot-5 ½, 317-pound grad student from Cincinnati was a four-year starter at Notre Dame, earning third-team AP All-America and first-team All-ACC honors this past season in his third go-around at right guard.
In 2019, Kraemer started seven games, never allowed a sack and gave up just one QB hit before suffering a season-ending knee injury at Michigan.
Over the 2017 and 2018 seasons, with the first of those two being at right tackle, Kraemer played in all 25 Irish games with 22 starts for a pair of the nation’s premier offensive line groups. He did not see game action in his true freshman season of 2016.
“I think whatever team picks me, they’re getting a smart, tough football player that’s played a lot of football at two different positions (guard and tackle),” Kramer said just before Pro Day a few weeks ago. “I'm a guy that can play whatever. I've been practicing the left side, right side through this process. I’m excited to show teams what I can do.”
Golden Notre Dame moment
Started for the 2017 ND group that won the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s top offensive line.
5 Things to know about Tommy Kraemer
- Was the No. 3-ranked offensive tackle and the No. 37 player overall in the high school class of 2016, with similar ratings from several other services.
- Played at Cincinnati Elder, where he provided protection for eventual IU and Northwestern quarterback Peyton Ramsey, and from where former Irish tight end Kyle Rudolph also graduated.
- Is the No. 10-rated guard prospect by NFL Draft Bible, giving Notre Dame three top-10 players at the position, including Robert Hainsey at No. 4 and Aaron Banks at No. 7.
- ESPN draft gurus Mel Kiper and Todd McShay had Kraemer pegged at No. 18 and No. 20, respectively, on their lists of draft-eligible guards.
- While not a sport typically associated with premier offensive linemen, Kraemer has competed in club swimming.
Nick McCloud, CB
The 6-foot, 192-pounder from Rock Hill, S.C., led Notre Dame in his lone season aboard with eight pass break-ups while starting 11 of the team’s 12 games. He added two fumble recoveries and an interception on his way to second-team All-ACC recognition.
McCloud transferred to ND from North Carolina State after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the Wolfpack’s 2019 opener.
He started 18 games over the 2017 and 2018 seasons for the Pack, gathering three interceptions and a fumble recovery, and also saw action as a true freshman in 2016.
“I definitely feel like I’m a press-man corner,” McCloud said while addressing his versatility just ahead of Pro Day a few weeks ago, “but also I feel like I have the football IQ and the wits and the instincts and everything else to play zone coverage as well, so I feel like I’m pretty well-rounded.”
Golden Notre Dame moment
Both of McCloud’s fumble recoveries came in the 47-40 double-overtime win over No. 1 Clemson. The first set up an Irish field goal. The second came on the final play as he gained control of the ball to wrap up the Irish victory.
5 Things to know about Nick McCloud
- Turned heads with a pair of interceptions in the Hula Bowl senior showcase on Jan. 31, nabbing defensive MVP honors, and followed that up with a strong Pro Day showing.
- Hails from the same high school, South Pointe, as former NFL defensive player of the year and current New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Is in regular contact with Gilmore when seeking advice.
- Helped lead South Pointe to back-to-back South Carolina state titles over his final two seasons while shining both at cornerback and receiver.
- Considered a late bloomer, he was just the No. 117 cornerback nationally coming out of high school.
- Ranks as the No. 50 cornerback on the draft board of ESPN’s Mel Kiper.
Shaun Crawford, CB
The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder from Lakewood, Ohio, overcame an injury-peppered history to start all 12 games for Notre Dame this past season, primarily at his new position of safety while also seeing action at his original cornerback spot.
He tied for third on the team in total tackles with 57 — just six behind leader Kyle Hamilton — to go with five pass break-ups, two sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery.
Crawford appeared in 11 games with eight starts in 2019 after missing all of the 2018 season with a knee injury sustained in fall camp.
That setback marked the third time that Crawford lost all or virtually all of a season due to injury. He was shelved throughout his true freshman year of 2015 with a torn ACL, then sustained a torn Achilles’ in the second contest of the following season — that after intercepting a pass and returning a fourth-quarter blocked PAT for two points to force overtime in an eventual loss at Texas.
He rebounded in 2017 to play in 12 of ND’s 13 games, registering 32 tackles, five pass break-ups, two picks, two fumble recoveries and 1.5 sacks.
Crawford declared himself “fully healthy and still a great athlete” as he headed into Pro Day activities a few weeks ago, adding that he was eager to tackle the agility, speed and strength tests that awaited him.
Las Vegas Raiders
Golden Notre Dame moment
Registered a career-high nine tackles (later matched in the CFP national semifinal against Alabama) to go with 1.5 TFLs and a sack during ND’s 45-31 mid-November win at Boston College, earning him ACC defensive back of the week honors.
5 Things to know about Shawn Crawford
- A four-year starter and two-way standout at St. Edward High in suburban Cleveland, where he helped the Eagles to the Ohio Division I state title in his 2014 senior season.
- Arrived at Notre Dame as the nation’s No. 6-ranked high school cornerback by Rivals.com.
- Roommates with Irish quarterback Ian Book.
- Calls Colts cornerback Kenny Moore a “good friend” and advisor.
- Not listed among the 58 draft-available cornerbacks nor 43 safeties rated by ESPN analyst Mel Kiper, nor among the 51 corners or 39 safeties on colleague Todd McShay’s compilation.