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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
The Observer

Two Irish drafted in 2022 NFL Draft, six more sign contracts

Two former Notre Dame players heard their names called in the 2022 NFL Draft. Six more signed as undrafted free agents.

Baltimore Ravens draft Kyle Hamilton 14th overall

Kyle Hamilton was one of two Irish players drafted in the 2022 NFL Draft. He went 14th overall to the Baltimore Ravens. Even that represented a slip, as Hamilton entered as a potential top-five pick. However, he lands in a very solid situation with the playoff-contending Ravens. He is Notre Dame’s highest-selected defensive back since 1991. 

Rams draft Kyren Williams in 5th round

Reigning Super Bowl champion the Los Angeles Rams selected Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams with the 164th pick in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. With the selection, Williams became the first Irish running back taken in the draft since Dexter Williams in 2019.

Williams is a former 4-star recruit out of St. Louis. He grew up a Rams fan with the team playing in St. Louis until the franchise's 2016 move to Los Angeles. He will likely battle with Darrell Henderson Jr. for a backup spot behind former second-round pick Cam Akers. Akers is the Rams‘ current projected starting running back. The selection also means that Williams will be reunited with former teammate wide receiver Ben Skowronek. Skowronek won a Super Bowl last year after the Rams selected him in the seventh round. 

Over the last two seasons, Williams was the backbone of the Notre Dame offense. He put together consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons, one of only five Notre Dame running backs to accomplish that. Williams also played a big role in the passing game, averaging over 8.5 yards per reception in the last two seasons, racking up over 600 receiving yards and catching four touchdowns. Despite his size (5’9”, 199 lbs), Williams also earned praise for his abilities in pass protection, often blocking blitzing defenders coming off the edge.

Williams — a 2021 team captain — had numerous memorable moments from his time at Notre Dame, but none more than his 65-yard TD run in the second play from scrimmage against Clemson in 2020. That play set the tone for the Irish. They went on to defeat then-No. 1 Clemson 47-40 in double overtime — their first win over a top-ranked opponent since 1993. Williams finished that game with 140 yards rushing and three touchdowns, including the game-winning score in the second overtime.

Kevin Austin signs with the Jaguars

In one of the bigger surprises of the draft, former Notre Dame receiver Kevin Austin went undrafted. Austin ended up signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent. Austin only played one full season with Notre Dame. Off-the-field issues kept him away from the gridiron in 2019, and a fractured foot threw away most of the 2020 season. 

On the field, Austin struggled a little bit with some drop issues, but he fixed most of them in the 2021 season, only dropping one pass over the final six games of the season. He became a dangerous deep ball threat, leading the Irish with 888 receiving yards. He did that on just 48 receptions, reeling in passes at 18.5 yards apiece. 

Austin came to Notre Dame as a highly-touted four-star prospect, a top-100 player by 247 rankings. He was also the top offensive recruit in Notre Dame’s 2018 class. Austin’s undrafted status was unexpected. He was among the top wide receiver performers at the NFL Combine, and he felt like a high-ceiling draft pick — the type of guy teams like to go after on the third day. However, the lack of experience seemingly drove teams away, and Austin didn’t hear his name called. Regardless, he heads to an interesting situation in Jacksonville. On a weak and rebuilding roster, Austin should have a chance to compete for a spot. 

Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa signs with the Raiders

Another Notre Dame player found a professional home when the Las Vegas Raiders signed edge rusher Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa as an undrafted free agent Saturday night. A former three-star recruit from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, Tagovailoa-Amosa played five seasons in South Bend. He was named a captain in his final season with the Irish. 

Tagovailoa-Amosa made an immediate impact as a freshman in 2017, appearing in all 13 games while collecting 12 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. He was limited to just two games his sophomore year with a broken foot. However, he returned with a vengeance in 2019. Tagovailoa-Amosa started 12 games his junior year, totaling 22 tackles, and a memorable fumble recovery that he returned 48 yards against Virginia, changing the course of that game for the Irish. 

He continued his momentum into Notre Dame's memorable 2020 campaign, where he helped lead the defense to the College Football Playoffs. He added 17 tackles and 2 more fumble recoveries and earned All-ACC Second Team honors. In his graduate season, as a team captain, he tallied a career-high 25 tackles including two sacks. He also added a fumble-recovery touchdown, this time on senior day against Georgia Tech. 

Tagovailoa-Amosa joins a Raiders front seven that was solid last season but traded away star pass rusher Khalil Mack in the offseason. Tagovailoa-Amosa won’t start right away. But he has impressed scouts with his versatility in the pre-draft process and will compete to make the active roster this fall.

Jack Coan signs with the Colts

Irish quarterback Jack Coan signed a professional deal of his own Saturday night, inking an undrafted free agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts. The Wisconsin graduate transfer had a productive year in his only season with the Irish, passing for 3,150 yards and 25 scores. 

Coan came to South Bend to provide an experienced hand to ease the transition from three-year starter Ian Book to presumed 2022 starter Tyler Buchner. Coan provided just that — especially as the season progressed. A turbulent first half of the season saw the Sayville, New York, native experience plenty of highs and lows. This cycle is embodied best in Notre Dame’s game against Virginia Tech. Benched after the first quarter due to poor performance, Coan was eventually brought back into the game in the fourth. There, he led a pair of drives to tie and win the game. 

Coan’s return to Blacksburg proved to be the spark he needed to find consistency down the stretch. In the seven games that followed, he threw for 15 touchdowns against just 4 interceptions. He completed over 70% of his passes in five of those seven games. His resurgence perhaps reached its peak in Notre Dame’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State. In the bowl game, Coan threw four first-half touchdowns but couldn’t steady the Irish in a second-half collapse. 

Coan will join a Colts team that has a starting quarterback already lined up for the 2022 campaign in Matt Ryan. However, there is uncertainty below him on the depth chart. Sam Ehlinger was Indianapolis’s sixth-round selection in 2021 but didn’t have much chance to prove himself last season. Coan and Ehlinger will likely compete for the backup job. Even if Coan ends up third on the depth chart, he should pick up valuable experience under the tutelage of a seasoned veteran in Ryan.

Isaiah Pryor signs with the Saints

As a graduate transfer from Ohio State, Pryor came to the Irish having played 31 games with 47 tackles and one interception. Despite an underwhelming first graduate year — eight solo tackles with one sack and one forced fumble — Pryor came back using his COVID year and proved a reliable piece of the defense. In the 13 games of the season, he posted 42 tackles, 23 of them solo. He was able to get Georgia Techs Jordan Yates for his one sack on the season and claimed three tackles for loss.

The Saints went on a signing frenzy after the draft as they restructure under a new coaching staff. That kind of environment could be the place for a defender with decent individual numbers behind him to rise in the ranks.

Drew White signs with the Commanders

Another player carving his own path into the NFL is Drew White, who joins the Washington Commanders after going undrafted. White spent most of his career with the Irish on an upward trend. He and the rest of the 2016 recruiting class spent their freshman year on the scout team. In his sophomore year, White took the field four times for the Irish before sustaining an injury.

He exploded his junior year, starting 12 of 13 games and leading the team with 80 tackles in the 2019 season. Forty-eight of those were solo tackles and he snagged eight of them for loss. His single-game tackle career-high came against Michigan, where he had 11 tackles. In that same season, he recorded fumble recoveries in two straight games against Navy and Boston College. Cut to his senior year and the middle linebacker took control of the field, posting another banner year. White had 29 solos out of 56 total tackles, nine of them for loss.

In his graduate year, White recorded 30 solo tackles but it was where he remained stagnant and even dropped off that kept him out of draft prospect range. He fell to 4.5 tackles for loss and notched the same 1.5 sacks. Still, White served as a key defensive captain for the Irish and grabbed his first interception against Wisconsin.

Running that snag back 48 yards for a touchdown may have caught the Commanders‘ attention though in addition to White‘s ability to play a supporting role. Against Cincinnati, when defensive end Isaiah Foskey stripped quarterback Desmond Ridder, White was there to pick the ball up and keep it moving. The Commanders may be able to use White in a similarly supportive role while they have two strong starting linebackers and as they determine how the LB depth chart will look.

Kurt Hinish signs with the Texans

The Texans defensive line spent most of 2021 below average so even in a depth role, signing an undrafted Kurt Hinish makes sense. The noseguard played full seasons all five of his years on campus and stayed on a positive trajectory the whole way through.

Hinish saw a jump in his senior year when he went from 15 to 19 tackles but 13 of them he completed alone rather than the seven in his junior year — 7.5 of those were tackles for loss. His graduate year was the cherry on top though. With 28 tackles, 15 of them solo and one game against Navy where he saw 10 tackles and a safety, Hinishs career was on the right track to look like a benefit to any roster. Hes just going to have to fight to make a name for himself within the organization. With three returning starters, and the Texans snagging Thomas Booker in this draft as well, Hinish could potentially climb up the depth chart but likely wont see the field in his first year.