2019 NFL Draft: Notre Dame's defense has first-round caliber prospects at each level

Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson won't be line up in the trenches for Notre Dame this fall, but the Fighting Irish will still field a handful of high-quality NFL Draft prospects in 2018. 

Te'von Coney is the headliner, a rangy linebacker who dominated against the run in 2017 and has the athleticism to be a star in coverage. 

As usual, Notre Dame has stalwarts up front, and Alex Bars and Sam Mustipher will be serious people-movers who attract NFL scouts. Jerry Tillery is a tall defensive tackle with Malik Jackson upside

Let's examine the Fighting Irish's top 2019 NFL Draft prospects before their colossal showdown with Michigan on Sept. 1.

Te'von Coney, LB 

As an ultra-productive linebacker from NFL factory LSU, Devin White is the flashy pick for the top prospect at his position heading into the 2018 college football season, but to me, Coney's 2017 film was superior, and he's currently my top off-ball linebacker prospect in the country

Coney is everything needed in a modern-day linebacker. He has effortless, blazing speed. He reacts quickly -- and correctly -- to his keys and has the athleticism to get to the football in a hurry. All of those skills translate to his coverage ability too, although he wasn't in the stat book with any pass breakups in his junior campaign. Importantly, Coney's a reliable tackler, which I think, at times, actually can be overlooked on a linebacker's resume as a prospect. 

Last year, Coney had 116 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks. Beyond the pure sideline-to-sideline speed, the 6-foot-1, 235-plus pound linebacker plays with plenty of power at the point of attack. Like most linebackers at the collegiate level, Coney has to become more effective shedding blocks. He reminds me of Jordan Hicks, who, when fully healthy for the Eagles in 2016, had five interceptions, 86 tackles, and 11 defended passes.

Desperately wish you had a 30-minutes-or-so, daily NFL podcast in your podcast app every morning by 6 a.m.? Put some Pick Six Podcast in your life and join Will Brinson as he breaks down the latest news and notes from around the league, as well as the win totals on a team-by-team schedule. It's a daily dose of football to get you right for that commute or gym trip. 

Subscribe: via iTunes | via Stitcher | via TuneIn | via Google Play

Julian Love, CB

Regardless of size, cornerbacks with plus awareness, impressive ball skills, and dynamic click-and-close skills are typically big-time play-makers in college and it translates to the NFL level. Recent examples include Bills corner Tre'Davious White, Saints corner Marshon Lattimore, and new Rams corner Marcus Peters

And, with the way the rules in pro football today have made in significantly more difficult to play man-to-man defense, read-and-react, takeaway-the-football cornerbacks are rightfully trendy. 

Love is right around 6-0 and 193 pounds and made his presence felt in the play-making department as a sophomore in 2017 with three interceptions -- two returned for touchdowns -- an a ridiculous 20 pass breakups. He processes route combinations rapidly and has an uncanny ability to get his hands on the football once he arrives in perfect position. 

This may come as a shocker, but the last time the Fighting Irish had a first-round cornerback was Jeff Burris in 1994. Love has the mature skills and physical capabilities to hear his name called within the first 32 picks of the 2019 Draft. 

Jerry Tillery, DL

It's always fun watching uniquely sized prospects make it work at their respective position. Tillery's one of those players at a nearly 6-7 and 305 pounds on the interior of Notre Dame's defensive line. 

Despite having the body type of a block-eating defensive end for a traditional 3-4 base, Tillery's hips are super fluid, and it's with impeccable lateral agility, active hands, and long arms that he wins against more compact guards on a regular basis. Even given his height, Tillery doesn't play that high. He's fundamentally sound stacking and shedding blocks against he run, and he covers ground quickly with long strides after he knifes through gaps to be a disruptive pass-rusher. 

I'd actually like to see Tillery dominate more often with his athletic gifts, because it's safe to assume professional inside blockers will be able to gain the leverage advantage on him more frequently than collegiate offensive linemen have thus far during his time with the Fighting Irish. Also, more weight and lower body strength would really round out his game. 

In 2017, Tillery had 56 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. If he's gotten stronger, I expect a jump in production in 2018, which very well could lead to him being a first-round selection. 

Alex Bars, OL

A towering right guard for Notre Dame in 2017, the 6-6 Bars has also spent time at right tackle during his tenure in South Bend. At times, he looks out of place on the inside and has trouble clinging to blocks in one-on-one situations. 

However, many times, he moves like he's much smaller and destroys linebackers at the second level. Bars might have problems with squatty, one-gap defensive tackles at the NFL level who quickly shoot gaps. He's reliable in pass protection against bigger, taller rushers who try to overwhelm him with power. 

Bars seems like a Day Two or early Day Three selection heading into the season, but he'll be one of the key cogs on the Fighting Irish front. With better grip strength and a relatively clean year in protecting the quarterback, and he could sneak into the early stages of Round 2. 

Sam Mustipher, C

Last year's starting center for Brian Kelly's club, Mustipher is a former four-star recruit according to 247 Sports. His combo-blocking skills are impressive. He's loose-hipped and has light feet when reaching the second level. 

At a little over 6-2 and 305 pounds, Mustipher has a requisite NFL center frame, I'd like to see him get nastier and more powerful in man-on-man situations in his final season at Notre Dame. Those deficiencies were noticeable blocking for the run and when dealing with bull rushes in 2017. Pro scouts will love his athleticism, and physically gifted pivots don't grow on trees. 

In what will likely be a run-first offense again, Mustipher will have ample opportunity to showcase his agility, which will bode well for him during draft season. As it currently stands, landing on Day Two seems most likely for the Notre Dame center.

Drue Tranquill, LB 

While watching Coney, you'll notice Tranquill making his fair share of plays on the football too. In 2017, he had 85 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and three pass breakups. 

At times, he aligned near the line of scrimmage and simply was too small and not strong enough to deal with tackles and pulling guards against the run. Because he's 6-2 and around 230 pounds with the ability to bend the edge, he can cause issues for taller outside blockers in pass-protection when he's sent after the quarterback. 

When Tranquill plays off the ball, his pure speed is put on display, and he can fly. Also, he's a screen-destroyer thanks to quick play-recognition ability and twitchiness. He projects well as a traditional weakside linebacker or "big nickel" safety at the NFL level, and landing on Day Two isn't out of the question. 

Our Latest Stories