After seeing six players selected in the NFL draft in each of the previous two years, Notre Dame surpassed that mark in 2021 with nine members of the Fighting Irish picked this past weekend. The nine draftees set a school record for most selections in a single draft during the Brian Kelly era, as well as the highest total since 10 were selected in the 1994 NFL Draft.
Liam Eichenberg — who went in the second round (42nd overall) to the Miami Dolphins — was the first of that bunch to hear his name called. With Aaron Banks and Robert Hainsey joining a total of five Fighting Irish players to come off the board on Day 2, Notre Dame became the first school in 20 years — and just the second in 39 years — to produce three linemen taken in the first three rounds of a single draft.
Building on a strong lineage that has seen Notre Dame produce 28 top-100 draft picks in the past 10 years — tied for fourth among all schools in that span — the Fighting Irish should continue to feature highly talented draft prospects. Here are some players to watch that could hear their names called in the 2022 NFL Draft.
1. Kyle Hamilton, S (Jr., 6-4, 219)
Ever since he first stepped foot on the field at Notre Dame Stadium, Hamilton has been turning heads — of fans, scouts, and coaches — at the college and professional ranks. Hamilton intercepted four passes as a true freshman in 2019 — one of just four freshmen to tally at least that many — and averaged nearly 35 coverage snaps per reception (according to Pro Football Focus) to finish with the second-best mark among freshmen.
The accolades kept coming in 2020, as Hamilton — despite grabbing just two interceptions and tallying just six pass breakups — led the FBS in passing stops at free safety (according to PFF) en route to becoming a unanimous All-ACC pick. Hamilton was also named a first-team All-American by the FWAA and Phil Steele and was a second-team selection by the AFCA, Walter Camp, and The Athletic. Teams have been and will continue to be hesitant to challenge Hamilton in the passing game, and he still projects to be one of Notre Dame's top players in 2021 and a near-lock to hear his name announced by commissioner Roger Goodell next year.
2. Jarrett Patterson, OL (Jr., 6-4, 305)
A two-year starter on an offensive line finishing as a finalist for the 2020 Joe Moore Award — given annually to the top offensive line in the nation — Patterson is one of two returning starters from that unit and entering his third year atop the depth chart. His consistent and reliable play at center in 2020 contributed tangibly to the offense's strong play throughout the season, as the Irish led the ACC and finished in the top 15 nationally in time of possession (33:56, seventh in FBS) and fewest penalties per game (4.42, 11th).
3. Josh Lugg, OL (Sr., 6-7, 310)
The second returning starter from that offensive line, Lugg likewise has collected a wealth of game experience and will only build on that when he suits up for his fifth season on campus in 2021. Lugg contributed primarily on special teams in 2018 before becoming a key piece of the line over the next two seasons, starting eight games in that span while finishing the 2019 campaign allowing just three QB hits and no sacks on 263 pass blocks.
4. Kurt Hinish, DL (Sr., 6-1, 296)
Playing on the opposite line from Lugg after attending rival Pittsburgh-area high schools (Lugg: North Allegheny, Hinish: Central Catholic), Hinish has started all 25 games in the last two seasons and played in 50 of the Irish's 51 games over the last four seasons. The stats — four sacks, 12 TFLs in the past two seasons — may not look all that impressive, but Hinish's relentless pursuit and energy coupled with his physical play and leverage are sure to be a major plus in his draft profile, as is his continued development under new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman.
5. Shayne Simon, LB (Sr., 6-2, 230)
Simon certainly has grown and developed during his time at Notre Dame, coming into his own as a key piece of Notre Dame's linebacking corps in 2020. After not starting a single game in his first two seasons, Simon started in eight of Notre Dame's 12 contests in 2020 and had arguably his best performance in the win over then-No. 1 Clemson when he notched four tackles (one TFL) and broke up a pair of passes in the double-overtime thriller. Look for that progression to continue as Simon enters his senior season working with the innovative schemes that Freeman will implement.
6. Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, DL (Sr., 6-2, 282)
Tagovailoa-Amosa enters his third year as a starter in the powerful interior of Notre Dame's defensive line alongside Hinish. A second-team All-ACC selection in 2020, Tagovailoa-Amosa notched a TFL in each of the first two games of the season and had a stat-stuffing performance against Syracuse in which he checked all the boxes with a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery (different play), and three tackles. Like Hinish, Tagovailoa-Amosa may be a bit undersized for the interior of an NFL defensive line, but the ability to make plays and create havoc have more than made up for it during his time in blue and gold.
Honorable Mention: WRs Braden Lenzy (Jr., 6-0, 181) and Kevin Austin Jr. (Jr., 6-2, 215)
Both Lenzy and Austin have battled injuries during their time at Notre Dame, with the latter also dealing with various off-field issues, but both have proven to be weapons on offense. NFL scouts and front offices are always searching for dynamic and versatile athletes who can challenge defenses all over the field, and — if healthy — both of these talented playmakers would fit that mold perfectly and reward any team which picks them.
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.
(Photo courtesy of und.com)