If you watched any Notre Dame football in 2020, there is no question about how talented the team was. It was a successful season for the Irish that included a College Football Playoff Berth, a handful of postseason awards, and now a nation-leading seven former players that have accepted invites and will be participating in this week’s Senior Bowl.
The Reese’s Senior Bowl takes place annually in Mobile, Alabama, and features the nation’s best senior college football players flying in from across the nation to participate in the week-long event that culminates with a game between the two “all-star” squads all in front of scouts from all 32 NFL Teams. Due to COVID-19 protocols in Alabama, the traditionally public events surrounding the Senior Bowl will not take place this season. The players endure a week full of practices, interviews with media and teams, and a live game setting in front of scouts against the best talent in the nation. Below is a programming schedule for all the events that comprise Senior Bowl week:
Tuesday, January 26th:
- 8:00 PM EST, Day 1 recap with highlights and analysis (NFL Network)
Wednesday, January 27th:
- 12:30 PM EST, National Team Practice (ESPNU)
- 3:00 PM EST, American Team Practice (ESPNU)
- 8:00 PM EST, Day 2 recap with highlights and analysis. (NFL Network)
Thursday, January 28th:
- 12:30 PM EST, National Team Practice (ESPNU)
- 3:00 PM EST, American Team Practice (ESPNU)
- 8:00 PM EST, Day 3 recap with highlights and analysis (NFL Network)
Saturday, January 30th:
- 2:30 PM EST, Reese’s Senior Bowl Game (NFL Network)
Given Notre Dame’s success this season, it’s no surprise they are so well-represented this week down in Mobile. Of the seven Irish players selected, there are five offensive players and two defensive players. Notre Dame’s all-time quarterback wins leader Ian Book highlights the list and will be joined by wide receiver Ben Skowronek in addition to offensive linemen Robert Hainsey, Liam Eichenberg, and Aaron Banks. On the defensive side for the National Team, Notre Dame will have two defensive ends in Daelin Hayes and Adetokunbo Ogundeji.
The National Team will be coached by Brian Flores and the Miami Dolphins coaching staff, while Matt Rhule and the Carolina Panthers coaching staff will lead the American squad. With no NFL Combine in 2021, this week of events presents an excellent opportunity for these players to leave a lasting impression in not only the minds of the coaches but the scouts in attendance from every NFL team. Last season, Matt Patricia took a chance on Jalen Elliot and Romeo Okwara in the 2020 NFL Draft after previously coaching them in the Senior Bowl.
Let’s dive in to what each Irish representative will bring to the gridiron.
Ian Book, QB (6’0 206 lbs)
Ian Book leaves Notre Dame as the all-time wins leader at the quarterback position with 30. This week he will be stacked up against players like Kyle Trask and Mac Jones to prove that he belongs at the next level. While Book finished his career at Notre Dame with a 63.8% completion percentage, over 70 touchdowns, and a career QBR of 147, the deep ball has not been his strong suit over the years and he lacks the prototypical size of an NFL quarterback.
Book will have to prove he can make all of the throws this week during practice and especially during his time in the game on Saturday, as the reps for each player will all be limited. An excellent leader who knows how to get the best out of his teammates, Book is just a flat-out winner. He will have the benefit of playing alongside three of his offensive linemen and one of his leading receivers this week. One of Book’s strong suits is his ability to extend plays and to make things happen with his legs, so it will be interesting to see how he stacks up against this week’s quarterback competition.
Ben Skowronek, WR (6’3 224 lbs)
Skowronek was a Northwestern graduate transfer and turned out to be a much-needed injection of raw playmaking ability that the Notre Dame offense lacked early in the season. He has the size of a prototypical NFL receiver and is a skilled route runner with sure hands that can win the 50/50 ball. Skowronek received praise from NFL great Chad Johnson during the season and even began training with Randy Moss once the season was over.
Skowronek logged 139 receptions in his collegiate career and finished with 13 receiving touchdowns plus one on the ground. One of Skowronek’s best traits is his physicality. He’s a willing blocker and will win most hand fights with defensive backs to get off the line. He will also have the benefit of his quarterback Ian Book throwing him the ball this week. The chemistry and timing the pair developed this season will help both of them this week and should be a competitive advantage.
Robert Hainsey, OL (6’5 290 lbs)
Hainsey is slightly undersized for an NFL offensive tackle, but he has proven throughout his career at Notre Dame that he can compete with and often dominate some of the best edge rushers in the nation. While serving as Notre Dame captain in 2020, Hainsey logged a 91.2 grade during this season from PFF (Pro Football Focus), which was good for the best-graded tackle in the nation. He finished roughly three points ahead of his teammate Liam Eichenberg, who scored an 88, but the duo of Hainsey and Eichenberg was the highest-graded tackle duo among all Power 5 teams in 2020.
Looking back to 2019, Hainsey was the highest-graded tackle of all the independent schools with a 76.8. So not only did he see a big jump in his game during the 2020 season, he also proved 2019 was not a fluke and that consistency is part of his game.
Liam Eichenberg, OL (6’6 302 lbs)
If you were to ask any NFL scout down in Mobile this week, Eichenberg is arguably the most intriguing prospect from Notre Dame in attendance. A staple on the Notre Dame offensive line over the last few seasons, Eichenberg was the second-highest graded Power 5 offensive tackle, as outlined above. Way too early 2021 NFL Mock Drafts project Eichenberg going anywhere from the first to the second round.
Eichenberg possesses a traditional NFL tackle build, the footwork to match, and film that is as good as any tackle in the nation. Over the years the Senior Bowl has proven to be a major opportunity that can drastically improve a player’s draft stock, so this could be a monumental week for Eichenberg to solidify himself as a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Aaron Banks, OL (6’6 330 lbs)
Aaron Banks projects as another late first-round or early second-round offensive lineman from Notre Dame. He checks all of the boxes for an NFL-level guard — he has the size, great footwork, is great on the pull, and, similar to his teammates, is a dominant force on the offensive line. This is nothing new considering the offensive lineman factory that Notre Dame has turned into.
In addition to his skill set, Banks has shown great versatility by starting at both guard positions and even playing a little tackle at Notre Dame. A lineman’s ability to play multiple positions has proven more valuable to NFL franchises over the years, as they can’t go three deep at each position on the line. PFF graded Banks as the most valuable guard in college football in terms of wins above average. His final season grade came in at 83.1, good for the best grade in the nation. Similar to Eichenberg, this week will prove to be pivotal for Banks in determining where he goes in the 2021 NFL draft.
Daelin Hayes, DE (6’4 258 lbs)
One of the unquestioned leaders on Notre Dame’s defense as well as a captain during the 2020 campaign, Daelin Hayes saw vast improvements in his game this past season. He finished his career at Notre Dame with 97 total tackles, 20.5 TFL’s, and nine sacks.
While Hayes has always been part of a crowded defensive line room that featured several current NFL players, he has proven very opportunistic during his career at Notre Dame. Once he assumed the role of a leader on defense, his play truly flourished. He may be considered a bit undersized by NFL scouts’ standards, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in heart, motor, and raw athletic ability.
Adetokunbo Ogundeji, DE (6’4 268 lbs)
Ogundeji is a player who possesses tremendous upside, as he continued to improve his game year in and year out during his time at Notre Dame. Ogundeji finished his Irish career with 71 total tackles, 15 TFL’s, and 10.5 sacks — six of which came during the 2020 season. His size is similar to that of Daelin Hayes, and both defensive ends carry a similar skill set.
Ogundeji is athletic, keeps contain, and can pin his ears back to get after the quarterback when the situation calls for it. The Senior Bowl and its surrounding events will present prime opportunities for Ogundeji to build on a tremendous 2020 season and prove to NFL scouts that he will be successful at the next level.
Beyond the aforementioned names, there are two additional Notre Dame players that most would have expected to play in this week’s Senior Bowl; Tommy Kraemer and Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah. I do not have any information as to why they are not participating, but Owusu-Koromoah is a sure-fire first-round pick by every metric. Expect Kraemer to come off the board by the end of Day 2 at the very latest.
Be on the lookout for an episode of Irish On Tap to recap the events from Senior Bowl week. We will also provide a deep dive report on each Notre Dame prospect that declared for the 2021 NFL Draft. There will be a lot of Gold Helmets out there in Mobile this weekend, and it will be great to see that Book to Skowronek connection one last time.