Six Irish players selected in 2020 NFL Draft, six more signed as undrafted free agents
Observer Sports Staff | Sunday, April 26, 2020
Though no current Notre Dame players were taken in the opening round of the unprecedented 2020 “virtual” NFL Draft, six now-former Irish players were selected over seven rounds this weekend. While six more Irish athletes who did not hear their names called have signed with teams in the league, a handful of others are still awaiting offers. At the end of the draft, the Irish, with 511 players drafted, inched closer to passing rival USC in most players drafted of all time. Notre Dame is second on the list, while USC has 512 athletes drafted.
Former Irish tight end Cole Kmet was the first former Irish athlete to come off the board when he was selected by the Chicago Bears in the second round with the 43rd overall pick.
Kmet — widely regarded as the best tight end in the 2020 draft class — came to Notre Dame in 2017 from St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, Ill., as the No. 3 tight end in the country. Living in the Chicago area, Kmet grew up a Bears fan and even turned down the chance to play for the Chicago White Sox back in 2017. He was a dual-sport athlete at Notre Dame, participating on the diamond in baseball in springs and on the gridiron in football in the fall.
Kmet, towering at 6-foot-6 and 262 pounds, had his best season on record last year, recording career highs in all receiving categories with 43 receptions, 515 yards and six touchdowns despite missing the first two games with a broken collarbone. In his first game of the season, Kmet put up career high numbers, recording 108 receiving yards over nine receptions against Georgia in Athens, adding a touchdown to boot.
Kmet is the 11th tight end in school history to be taken in the first or second round of the draft, becoming the 10th tight end currently on the Bears roster with their pick.
Canadian native wide receiver Chase Claypool was the second member of the 2020 Irish draft class to fall off the board when the former Irish wide receiver was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round with the 49th overall pick.
This makes Claypool the earliest wide receiver picked by Mike Tomlin’s Steelers since 2006, when they took Santonio Holmes in the first round.
Claypool clocked in at a 40-yard dash time of 4.42 seconds and a 40.5-inch vertical. He recorded 66 catches last season for 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns. He had 150 career receptions, which is seventh best in Notre Dame history. The last receiver to record over 140 receptions was Will Fuller in 2015; Fuller was preceded by Tyler Eifert in 2012.
Claypool is expected to sign a four year, $6,616,636 contract, including a $2.37 million signing bonus.
Defensive lineman Julian Okwara will be joining forces with his older brother Romeo in Detroit as the Lions selected Okwara in the third round with the 67th overall pick. Romeo also attended Notre Dame and graduated in 2016; he went undrafted in the draft that year but signed with the Giants and started his rookie campaign there. Romeo was waived during the offseason but was picked up by the Detroit Lions a day later. He started in all 15 games the following season with Detroit.
Julian was born in London while his mother was visiting family, but he was raised in Nigeria. In the third grade, he moved to the United States.
The edge rusher hit the ground running when he arrived in South Bend, recording four tackles in 11 games in his freshman season. He picked up the pace his sophomore year, playing in 12 games and recording 17 tackles, 4.5 for a loss, 2.5 sacks, one interception and one forced fumble. But Okwara really broke onto the scene his junior season when he recorded 38 tackles, 12.5 for a loss, an interception, a forced fumble and eight sacks. Everything was going according to plan for Okwara until he suffered a fibilia injury in the Irish’s week 11 matchup against Duke, which ended his season prematurely.
Okwara was originally expected to go in the first round but his injury set his draft stock back, perhaps for the best as he will have a new home with his brother Romeo in Detroit.
Troy Pride Jr.
The Carolina Panthers selected cornerback Troy Pride Jr. with the 113th overall pick in the fourth round of the NFL Draft. The South Carolina native will be heading back to the Carolinas to help Matt Rhule’s defense, which evidently needed quite a bit of help as the Panthers made history by being the first team to ever use all seven of their picks in the draft on defensive players.
Pride, a 5-foot-11, 194-pound corner, will be adding quite a bit of speed to the Panthers secondary, as he formerly ran track at Notre Dame. He holds personal bests of 48.0 seconds in the 400m dash, 21.2 in the 200m dash and 10.5 in the 100m dash. He clocked in a 4.4 40-yard dash time at the combine, which ranked fourth-fastest among corners.
In his junior campaign he made 47 tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble. His two interceptions came against Wake Forest and Vanderbilt, while his forced fumble came against USC.
His senior season numbers dipped slightly, but not troublingly. In 2019, he recorded 40 tackles and one interception.
His four year contract is estimated to be valued at $4,072,484, of which $777,484 will be a signing bonus.
The Cincinnati Bengals used the first pick in the fifth round of the NFL Draft to select defensive lineman Khalid Kareem, 147th overall.
The Detroit native measures 6-foot-4, 265 pounds and is an absolute force to be reckoned with — in his senior season alone the Irish captain recorded 46 tackles, 10 for a loss, 5.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovered and returned for a touchdown.
Kareem totaled 109 tackles over his three seasons at Notre Dame, 13 sacks and four forced fumbles. Kareem will be joining the first pick of the draft in Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow in Cincinnati.
Safety Alohi Gilman was the final Irish player to fall off the board in the 2020 NFL Draft, but he was not the last Irish player to sign with a team. Gilman was selected in the sixth round by the Los Angeles Chargers with the 186th overall pick.
Gilman will be around plenty familiar faces as he will be once again joining forces with former teammates Drue Tranquill and Jerry Tillery, as well as former Irish defensive end Isaac Rochell. The Chargers defensive roster will be jam-packed with former Irish stars.
Gilman did not start his collegiate football career with Notre Dame though; he got his start in Annapolis with the United States Naval Academy. The Hawaii native played in all 14 of the Midshipmen’s games his freshman year and earned an All-American Athletic Conference honorable mention after finishing second on the team with 76 tackles. But when the academy changed their policy on players wishing to enter the draft, Gilman transferred to Notre Dame.
He sat out his sophomore season due to NCAA rules but started all 13 games as a junior, recording 95 tackles, three forced fumbles and two interceptions. He also forced a fumble in the Camping World Bowl to give the Irish another shot to get on the board first. At the end of his senior campaign, Gilman announced he would forgo his final year of eligibility to enter the draft.
Undrafted Free Agent Signings:
Bilal will be around those same familiar faces Gilman will be around as he signed with the Los Angeles Chargers. The 6-foot-2, 227-pound linebacker may have a more difficult path to climb after going undrafted, but he will certainly not have any lack of motivation being surrounded by former teammates.
Bilal had his breakout season in 2019 where he had 79 total tackles, 10 for a loss, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery. Bilal also received the game ball in the final home win against Boston College in 2019.
Former Irish captain Jalen Elliott has signed with the Detroit Lions and will be joining former teammate Julian Okwara. The 6-foot, 205-pound safety played four seasons in South Bend for the Irish. In his senior season he recorded 49 total tackles, two interceptions, and two pass breakups. However, Eliott really had his breakout year the season prior when, as a junior, he recorded 67 tackles, seven pass breakups, a forced fumble and four interceptions.
He ran a 4.8-second 40 yard dash at the combine in Indianapolis but got the time into the 4.55-4.60 second range at his private Pro Day workout. The Chesterfield, Va. native who came into South Bend in 2016 as a three star recruit also put on a show at the Senior Bowl, where he was named Defensive Back of the Week.
Tony Jones, Jr.
The 5-foot-11, 225-pound running back from Bradenton, Florida, was widely considered to fill the hole left by Dexter Williams in the backfield. Jones signed a free agent contract with the New Orleans Saints after going undrafted in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Once Williams departed, Jones certainly had some big shoes to fill. In his senior campaign he rushed for 857 yards and six touchdowns on 144 carries, including an 84-yard score in the Camping World Bowl win over Iowa State. He also became the 10th player in school history with five or more 100-yard rushing games in a season.
Finke went undrafted, but all hope was not lost as he signed an undrafted free agent deal with the San Francisco 49ers that includes a guaranteed $95,000.
Finke started his career at Notre Dame as a walk-on, but he worked his way all the way up to a starter and captain. Over the course of his career at Notre Dame, the wide receiver has recorded 1,256 yards receiving, 106 receptions and eight touchdowns. Finke is also a punt returner who tallied up 602 punt return yards over 73 returns.
Jones, a 6-foot-3, 255-pound defensive end, signed a free agent contract with the Houston Texans after going undrafted. His older brother Jarron Jones was also a standout player at Notre Dame on the defensive line and is now an offensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Jones played in 10 games in his senior season and recorded 26 tackles, the third most on the squad, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Cornerback Donte Vaughn will also be joining the long list of former Irish defensive players reuniting in Los Angeles The 6-foot-2, 215-pound corner will have the chance to play at the newest venue in football at SoFi Stadium.
Vaughn recorded 57 tackles with the Irish and will surely be looking forward to seeing some of his former teammates when he touches down in Los Angeles.