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Irish in the NFL: A Season Recap

By Liam Farrell|Writer|Twitter @LiamFarrell_IT

Via USA Today

As the NFL season comes to a close, several Notre Dame players shined throughout the league. The staple position of Notre Dame, tight end, had the most players make an impact for their respective teams. Tommy Tremble, Cole Kmet, Brock Wright, and Durham Smythe helped anchor their team’s run game and made plays in the pass-catching department. In addition, several safeties jumped on the scene this year, begging the question if Notre Dame could be considered Safety U. There was also an emergence of familiar faces around the Irish community that made their name known nationally. The breakout seasons of Drue Tranquill and Alohi Gilman helped lead a depleted Los Angeles Chargers defense to make the playoffs; Kyren Williams and Ben Skowronek shined bright for the other team that plays their home games at Sofi Stadium. Let’s take a look at the former Irish’s performance this season.

Tight End U

Via Kamil Krzaczynski, AP Staff

Tight end is a position that is synonymous with the University of Notre Dame. There are Irish tight ends everywhere you look around the league. However, the main Irish star is Chicago Bears’ Cole Kmet. While it has been an underwhelming performance for the Bears, Cole Kmet has been a bright spot. Kmet has logged 44 receptions and five touchdowns this season, which leads the team for all pass catchers. Kmet’s durability should also be highlighted, as the former two-sport prodigy hasn’t missed a game yet this season. He has also been alongside former Irish receivers Equanimeous St. Brown and Chase Claypool this season.

Another breakout tight end who burst on the scene halfway through this year is Detroit Lions’ Brock Wright. Wright, a guy always in the shadow of the previously mentioned Kmet, stepped up after the Lions traded their former first-round pick TJ Hockinson. Since the Hockinson deal sent him to Minnesota, Wright has been a reliable option for Jared Goff in the air raid scheme. Most recently, Wright caught a go-ahead 51-yard pass with two minutes to go, ultimately putting the Lions on top of the Jets and keeping their playoff hopes alive.

The final tight end I will mention is the best run blocker in recent Irish history, Tommy Tremble. Tremble specializes in the NFL as a run blocker, but has also shown his ability to catch the ball in space. Tremble has hauled in two touchdowns this year and has been a reliable option for whatever quarterback handles the reigns of the Carolina Panthers.

Safety U

Via Matt Krohn, USA Today

While Notre Dame has been known for their play in the trenches, a position that gets overlooked for the talent it produces is safety. Notre Dame has established many good safeties over the past decade, a group that shined in the NFL for former Irish players. To start, Harrison Smith had another remarkable season. Smith, who got snubbed from a Pro Bowl roster this year, is the 3rd leading tackler for the 12-3 Minnesota Vikings. Smith is also tied for 3rd in the league for interceptions this year with five. The 33-year-old veteran from Knoxville, Tennessee, has been dealing with a neck injury this entire season and is hopeful to be a significant part of the Vikings’ playoff run.

Another safety that garnered major buzz around South Bend was rookie Kyle Hamilton. Hamilton, the 14th overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft, has immediately impacted John Harbaugh’s defense. Hamilton has started in 14 games this year and has notched 51 tackles this season, which is the 5th most on a stacked Ravens’ defense. However, Hamilton will be pushed to his limits come playoff time when the Ravens have to face the AFC air raid teams like the Chiefs, Bills, and Bengals.

The last safety I will highlight is someone who didn’t even play safety at Notre Dame. The star of the 2017 Fighting Irish defense, Julian Love, shifted from being a lockdown corner, who had the most deflected passes in a single season in Notre Dame history, to being a ball-hawking safety. Love has netted two interceptions and is the leading tackler for the New York Giants. Love has shined bright in the Big Apple alongside another Irish legend Jaylon Smith, who is right behind Love on the roster for most tackles.

Los Angeles Connection

Via Kyusung Gong, AP Staff

The West Coast has been treating former Irish well this past year. Let's start with the best team in Los Angeles, the Chargers. Going into the year, the Chargers' defense was getting high acclaim due to stars like Derwin James, Joey Bosa, and Khalil Mack. While injuries have sadly hampered these stars all year, others have taken the most of their opportunity and haven't looked back. This includes former Irish Captain Drue Tranquill. Tranquill has become a stud in his breakout year after being limited to Special Teams duties in the 2021-2022 season. Tranquill has played in every contest this year for the Chargers and is the team's leading tackler with 129 total tackles. In addition, Tranquill has been a vital piece in blitz packages for Renaldo Hill's defense and is second on the team in sacks, right behind future Hall of Famer Khalil Mack.

To help Tranquill on the defensive side of the ball was another Irish Captain, Alohi Gilman. Gilman, who transferred from Navy, was always a physical hard hitter who had great instincts. This year, Gilman has filled in for Derwin James, who has battled a quad injury throughout the back half of this season. Recently, Gilman received rave reviews from Charger’s Head Coach Brandon Staley, who said Gilman “has a command of our defense…leadership characteristics.”

For the team that also calls Los Angeles its home, the Rams have been helped on the offensive side of the ball by recent Irish standouts. After breaking his foot in the offseason, Kyren Williams worked his tail off to be able to play this season. Williams is the clear running back 2 for the Rams behind Cam Akers; however, the team's decision to waive former lead rusher Darrell Henderson Jr. and keep Williams is telling of the Rams' faith in the sparkplug rookie running back.

A surprise player for the Rams this season was wide receiver, Ben Skowronek. Skowronek, the transfer from Northwestern, had an immediate impact in his sole season with the Irish in 2020. The rangy, sure-handed second-year player from Fort Wayne, Indiana, was the Rams’ go-to guy after the season-ending injury to Cooper Kupp. Skowronek emerged at the end of the Rams’ season last year, culminating in a Super Bowl Ring. This year, Skowronek displayed that he could be a trusted source in Sean McVay’s grand scheme.

Final Thoughts

While there were a few players that I missed highlighting, like Zach Martin and Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame’s impact in the NFL is growing by the year. The Irish have built a foundation of creating NFL-ready players and is becoming a well-known pipeline at a multitude of positions. With projected first-round picks Michael Mayer and Isaiah Foskey, this tradition should not end anytime soon.

1 Comment

Dec 29, 2022

another great article!

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