Six former Irish players selected in NFL Draft, others sign as undrafted free agents
Observer Sports Staff | Monday, April 29, 2019
Six former Notre Dame players were selected over the seven rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft this past weekend. Five other Irish players who did not hear their names called have signed with or been invited to try out for teams within the league, while a handful of other Irish players are still awaiting offers from teams.
On Thursday, former Notre Dame defensive lineman Jerry Tillery was selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Chargers with the 28th overall pick. With the selection, Tillery becomes the first Irish defensive lineman to be selected in the first round since 1997, when defensive end Renaldo Wynn was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the 21st overall pick. He is the first defensive tackle to be selected in the first 32 since 1994, when the 49ers took Bryant Young at No. 7.
Tillery was the only Irish player selected in the first round, but his teammates cornerback Julian Love, wide receiver Miles Boykin, linebacker Drue Tranquill, running back Dexter Williams and tight end Alizé Mack were all taken in subsequent rounds.
Tillery is the 69th Notre Dame player to be selected in the first round in the history of the Draft, and the ninth first-rounder to be selected in the 2010s. He is the 499th Irish athlete to be drafted, making Notre Dame the school with the second-most draft picks ever, behind only USC, which has 502. In Los Angeles, Tillery will join former Irish teammate and defensive end Isaac Rochell, who was drafted in the seventh round in 2017.
In his four years in an Irish uniform, Tillery — a Shreveport, Louisiana, native — played in 50 games, amassing 12 solo sacks, eight of which came in his 2018 campaign, for a total of 76 yards. He made 70 solo tackles, assisting on 65 for a total of 135 in his career — 24.5 of which were for loss, 10.5 of them coming this past season.
Tillery was an integral part of Notre Dame’s 2018 title race, leading a prolific defense which shut down even the most efficient offenses in the regular season. Tillery’s most efficient performance this fall came against Stanford, when he recorded four solo tackles and a career-high six total tackles, four of which were for loss to add up to 20 yards. In the same game against the Cardinal, Tillery had a collegiate-best six total tackles, also for 20 yards, and a season-best two quarterback hurries and one forced fumble.
As a senior, Tillery was named a second-team All-American by Sporting News, Associated Press and Sports Illustrated. He was also on the watch list for the Bednarik Award, the Outland Trophy and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.
At 6-foot-6 and 295 pounds, Tillery posted a 4.93-second 40-yard dash, 32-inch vertical jump and 115-inch broad jump. On the bench, he did 23 reps, amassing an overall prospect grade of 6.03.
With the Chargers, Tillery will look to earn a starting position under defensive coordinator Gus Bradley as the Los Angeles team has struggled to find a consistent player at the position.
Tillery is projected to sign a $11,422,088 contract, $6,326,972 of which will be a signing bonus.
The Baltimore Ravens selected former Irish wide receiver Miles Boykin with the 93rd pick in the NFL draft. With one year of eligibility remaining — having redshirted his freshman year — Boykin was largely expected to return to the Irish next season. However, after an impressive showing at the NFL Draft combine in March, Boykin seemingly leapt up the draft boards, ultimately taken as the second Notre Dame pick of the draft, following first-round pick Jerry Tillery.
This past season proved to be a breakout performance for the 6-foot-4 native of Tinley Park, Illinois. Boykin played in 12 games his sophomore and junior seasons, but saw increased playing time this past season when he moved into a starting position. In his first career start against LSU in the 2018 Citrus Bowl, Boykin was named MVP for his 102 receiving yards, including a 55-yard, one-handed touchdown catch that sealed the Notre Dame victory with a minute and a half remaining.
Boykin had steadily increased his role in the team, improving his previous season best of 21.1 yards per game to 67.1 yards per game this past season. He also averaged just under 15 yards per catch, recording 872 total yards on 59 passes. In Notre Dame’s 38-17 win over Stanford on Sept. 29, Boykin posted a career-high 144 yards. He also recorded eight touchdowns this past season, all of which came over a six-game span in the middle of the season.
Boykin demonstrated a strong skillset March at the NFL combine, impressing scouts with a 43.5-inch vertical jump and 4.42-second 40-yard dash.
The Ravens are coming off of a 10-6 season, having won the AFC North. Their postseason run came up short against the Los Angeles Chargers in the NFL Wild Card Round. As the third draft pick taken by the Ravens, Boykin will be expected to make contributions to the receiving corps this season.
Former Notre Dame cornerback Julian Love was selected in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the New York Giants. In declaring for the NFL Draft, Love decided to forgo his final year of eligibility with the Irish.
In three seasons with the Irish, Love started all but four games, setting the program record for pass break ups at 44, 23 of which came in his sophomore season. Throughout his career, he made 126 solo tackles and contributed in 50 others. He also recorded five career interceptions, four career fumbles recovered and three career touchdowns.
Love, a product of Westchester, Illinois, was originally projected to go near the end of the first or beginning of the second rounds. However, after waiting for two days to hear his name announced, Love was taken Saturday by the Giants.
The Giants got off to a rough start this season, losing seven of their first eight matchups. Although they managed a slight rebound, winning four of their next five, the Giants ultimately ended the season 5-11 to hold last place in the NFC East. With the Giants defense giving up an average of 371.4 yards per game, placing them 24th among NFL teams, Love will likely have opportunities to make an immediate impact.
Former Notre Dame linebacker Drue Tranquill was taken in the fourth round by the Los Angeles Chargers with the 130th pick in the NFL Draft. Tranquill, a two-time Notre Dame captain, returned to the Irish this past season as a graduate student after missing the majority of his sophomore season following an ACL tear. Tranquill began his career as a safety, making an immediate impact in the program, appearing in 11 games his freshman season, starting in three.
Returning to the field his junior year, Tranquill proved himself to be a well-rounded tool for the Irish defense, recording 79 tackles — second only to teammate Nyles Morgan — one interception and deflecting three passes. Following that breakout season, the native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, continued to add to his toolbox, recording 85 tackles — 10.5 of which were for a loss — 1.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries, four deflected pass and an interception. In his final season with the Irish, Tranquill took on a more independent role on the field, marking a career-high 63 solo tackles, tying teammate Te’von Coney to lead the team. His position of rover gave him a unique advantage and, paired with his vocal leadership, he helped guide the Irish to back-to-back top-15 finishes.
In their second season since returning to Los Angeles, the Chargers were 12-4, tied for first place in the AFC West with the Kansas City Chiefs. Notably, they were 7-1 on the road through the regular season. In their Wild Card matchup on the road against the Baltimore Ravens, the Chargers won 23-17 but fell to the eventual Super Bowl Champions, the New England Patriots 28-41.
Former Irish running back Dexter Williams was selected by the Green Bay Packers with the 194th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Originally from Orlando, Florida, Williams spent much of his time with the Irish behind current Philadelphia Eagles back Josh Adams. He was once again limited touches due to a four-game suspension to open this season, but he made the most of his nine available games, coming five yards short of reaching the 1,000-yard mark.
In his first play back with the Irish, Williams rushed 45 yards straight into the end zone to put Notre Dame up seven over Stanford. The Irish went on to win 38-17, led by Williams’ 161 rushing yards and 7.7 average yards per carry. The very next game, Williams set a career-record for longest run at 97 yards, leading the Irish to a major victory over Virginia Tech on the road. He continued to create within the line throughout the season, recording 12 touchdowns.
Williams will be joining former Notre Dame wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers struggled in recent years, going 6-9-1 this past season. However, as recently as 2016, they led their division.
Former Notre Dame tight end Alize Mack was the final Irish player chosen in the 2019 NFL Draft. Mack was selected with the 231st overall pick by the New Orleans Saints in the seventh and final round. Mack’s selection is of particular note, as he is now the eighth-straight tight end to open the season as a starter for the Irish and be selected in the draft.
A 6-foot-5 Las Vegas native, Mack was the No. 1 tight end prospect coming out of high school in 2015 and saw immediate playing time his freshman season, starting five games for Irish. However, Mack was forced to sit out his sophomore campaign with an academic suspension that restricted him to only practicing with the team. Despite this, Mack got his career back on track and became a strong player for a program known as “Tight End U.”
In his junior year, Mack caught 19 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown in 10 games. He improved greatly on those numbers his senior year, catching 36 passes for 360 yards and three touchdowns.
At the NFL combine, Mack posted impressive numbers with a 4.7 second 40-yard dash, a 36-inch vertical and 22 reps on the bench press, all of which ranked in the top seven among tight ends. While he will most certainly be behind Saints’ incumbent starter Josh Hill, Mack’s physical tools alone should allow him to work his way into contention for minutes among the remainder of the tight end group.
After going undrafted in the 2019 NFL draft, former Notre Dame punter Tyler Newsome signed with the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday. Newsome will rejoin teammates Jerry Tillery and Drue Tranquill who were selected by the Chargers with 28th and 130th overall picks, respectively.
One of the top punters in the nation last year, Newsome made the Wuerffel Trophy watch list for the second year in a row last season and was named a graduate student captain last season. He also holds many Notre Dame records with four of the top seven season punting averages under his belt, including a 44.7 yard per game average this season. Newsome also set the single-game record for punting with a 59.6-yard average this past year in a win over Vanderbilt.
Chargers’ punter Donnie Jones safely holds the starting job, so Newsome will likely be confined to a scout team role. However, with Jones having been in the league since 2004, Newsome may eventually be able to work his way up the rotation, especially since the Chargers have no established back-up punter.
Former Notre Dame captain Sam Mustipher will move only a couple of hours away from South Bend to join the Chicago Bears. After going undrafted, Mustipher joined fellow graduate student teammate Alex Bars in signing with the Bears on Saturday afternoon.
A product of Owings Mills, Maryland, Mustipher was a model of consistency for the Irish. He started 37 consecutive games from his junior season onward and did not give up a single sack or quarterback hit as a senior. This past season, Mustipher was on the watch list for the Outland Trophy, given to the country’s top interior lineman, and for the second consecutive year, he was looked at for the Rimington Award, given to the nation’s top center. Despite his collegiate success, Mustipher was not invited to the NFL combine.
The Bears went 12-4 en route to a first-place finish in the NFC North before falling in the Wild Card round to the Philadelphia Eagles. With Kansas State alum Cody Whitehair set at center, Mustipher will likely be restricted early in his career. However, should injuries plague the team, Mustipher may be relied upon to take necessary snaps.
Graduate student captain Alex Bars will continue his career as a member of the Chicago Bears. After failing to be selected in the 2019 NFL Draft, Bars and fellow captain Sam Mustipher signed with the Bears on Saturday afternoon.
After being a member of the offensive scout team his freshman year, Bars saw action in six games his sophomore campaign and received the starting nod twice when former Irish left guard Quentin Nelson was injured. Bars became an immediate contributor after his second year and started every game from the start of his junior year until an ACL injury against Stanford on Sept. 29th cut his season short.
Aside from being named a captain this past season, Bars was named the Outland Trophy watch list, given annually to the nation’s premier interior lineman, and a preseason first-team All-American by Sporting News.
Should Bars make the Bears’ final roster, he will likely not receive many minutes, but he could be a key reserve if injury issues plague last year’s NFC North leaders.
Former Irish linebacker Te’von Coney signed with the Oakland Raiders after failing to be chosen on the final day of the 2019 NFL draft.
Coney began his Notre Dame career as a reserve linebacker while primarily participating in special teams. He progressively saw more action as the years unfolded and became a staple of the Notre Dame defense. His junior season saw him breakout and led the Irish with 116 tackles, the most since former Irish linebacker Manti Te’o recorded 128 in 2011, including 13 tackles for loss, three sacks and a forced/recovered fumble on the opening play of the 49-14 victory over USC.
Coney continued his stellar play in his final year, once more leading the Irish with 123 total tackles, 63 of them unassisted and 9.5 for loss. He also posted six quarterback hurries, four pass breakups and one interception. Coney’s senior year play earned him spots on watch lists for the Butkus award, given to the top linebacker in the nation, as well as the Bronko Nagurski and Bednarik awards, given to the top defensive player in college football. Coney was also awarded Notre Dame’s impact player award after his junior season.
At 6-foot-1, 240-pound Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, product will look to earn a roster spot for the Raiders, who finished last in the AFC West with a 4-12 record. Coney will also try to aid in filling the void left by the trade of linebacker Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears.
Former Irish safety Nick Coleman will look to join Irish teammate Te’von Coney on the Oakland Raiders next season. After going undrafted in the 2019 NFL draft, the Raiders extended an invitation to Coleman to participate in the team’s rookie minicamp.
Coleman was a steady contributor for the Irish over his four years, starting on special teams as a freshman and working his way into a starting role. Coleman also received increased playing time due to season-ending injuries to cornerback Shaun Crawford their sophomore and junior years.
The 6-foot, 194-pound native of Dayton, Ohio, played in 49 games in his career and recorded 82 tackles — 52 of which were solo — to go along with two tackles for loss, 11 pass deflections and a 27-yard interception return on Senior Night against Florida State.
With the Raiders looking to rebound from a last-place finish in the AFC West, Coleman may be able to work his way into a scouting team role. The Raiders were 30th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game as well as 14th and 19th in interceptions and passing yards allowed, respectively, so Coleman could contribute to a secondary that needs development.