With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting all things college football, could opting out hurt Notre Dame football players entering the NFL Draft?
First, it was Virginia Tech corner Caleb Farley who opted out of the 2020 season to prepare for the NFL draft. Then, on Tuesday, Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman announced he’d be doing the same. Now, every player is going to consider skipping the season for safety concerns, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many players with aspirations for the NFL will need to play this season, to try and impress scouts. What does all of this mean for Notre Dame football players?
That last season of tape is incredibly important for tons of players. There’s no better example than Joe Burrow, who would have been a late round pick at best without the 2019 season. For this reason, a lot of players will play, even if they don’t think it’s safe. For the most part, only first or second round picks will want to skip the season for the NFL.
So, the question is how could Notre Dame’s season — and program going forward — be affected by players skipping 2020 for the NFL?
It’s important to note that this is just players who would reasonably skip the season for the NFL, and not just health concerns. Players who opt out solely due to safety will likely be back for 2021. It’s also impossible to break who may opt out due to safety down to a few players.
Within Notre Dame’s roster, there are fewer players who may opt out in 2020 than would have happened in seasons past. Last year, Julian Okwara and Cole Kmet, among others, would have been liable to go pro.
However, in 2020, there are no obvious candidates to leave early. By no means is Ian Book an obvious high-round pick. Seniors like Javon McKinley obviously have something to prove.
Juniors, like Jafar Armstrong and Drew White, are certainly important for Notre Dame’s success in 2020, but they’re also not obvious choices to go pro after their junior seasons, let alone before. Frankly, none of the juniors stand out as obvious picks to leave until they’ve finished their four years of eligibility.
Not even high profile graduate transfers like Isaiah Pryor, would realistically skip the 2020 season. Pryor has all the talent in the world, but he needs to show off that talent on tape. He was buried on an extremely talented depth chart at Ohio State, and doesn’t have as much in game experience as scouts like at the next level.
The one player who would make sense to leave for the NFL before this season is Liam Eichenberg. Physically, Eichenberg is NFL sized and doesn’t need to prove his strength. He also has already started for two seasons, so there’s plenty of tape on him. Add to that he’s a redshirt senior receiving 1st round draft pick hype. There may not be any value of Eichenberg in risking his health in 2020, and therefore forgoing his final season in South Bend.
Hopefully, for Notre Dame, he doesn’t make this decision. It is a reality to deal with, though, and there’d be severe ramifications for the Notre Dame offense if he chose to skip the season. They’d need to replace a multi-year starter who was expected to anchor the offensive line. Replacing him on short notice would be almost impossible and the running game and Book’s protection would take a huge hit for it.