2018 ended in disaster for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, but their 12-0 regular season record was possible in large part to their sixth-ranked defense that ranked sixth in sport-reference.com’s simple rating system.
Some of that talent from the defensive side of the ball is entering the NFL, and is working out in front of the entire NFL this past week during the school’s pro day, including the Bengals.
The main attraction was interior defensive lineman Jerry Tillery. In an extremely strong class for pass rushers, Tillery has a claim as one of the more underrated prospects compared to those at his position. Tillery knows how to rush with a plan, and has outstanding length and hand strength that creates chaos for the guards trying to block him.
Currently, Tillery projects to go off draft boards somewhere between the end of first and beginning of the second round, with the slight chance of making it to the Bengals’ pick at 42nd overall.
Playing behind Tillery, cornerback Julian Love accumulated incredible ball production in his three years in South Bend. 126 solo tackles, five interceptions and 39 passes defended in 38 games (34 starts) is no joke. Love projects as one of the cleaner cornerback prospects in this class, but lacks the elite athleticism to warrant a first round grade. Day two seems to be a locked fate for him.
Linebackers Drue Tranquill and Te’Von Coney are both going to get drafted, but it’s anyone’s guess which one of them gets drafted first. Tranquill is a converted safety who certainly didn’t lose any athleticism in the process judging by his combine performance. He and Coney share similar production profiles, while Coney has the traditional linebacker build to him. Both project as mid-round picks.
The Bengals seemed to show some major interest in Coney in particular. Cincinnati reportedly met with the linebacker after he was finished with his workout in front of scouts.
On offense, tight end Alize Mack and wide receiver Miles Boykin are the names to keep an eye on. 2018 was the first year of major playing time for both of them, and their production suffered because of that. Mack is an above average athlete for his size, but Boykin might be the best athlete in this entire class of receivers. His combine performance was outstanding in every way, but his lack of production is what will keep him (and Mack) out of the early rounds of the draft.