The idea of Liam Eichenberg as a pro became a matter of time after his first year as a starter on Notre Dame’s offensive line.
Eichenberg’s 2018 season at left tackle displayed pro traits. The year ended with some early-round buzz surrounding him. He decided, though, to wait two more seasons and start 38 total games before venturing to the highest level of football.
It was Notre Dame’s gain. Now, he’s the Miami Dolphins’. They took Eichenberg in the second round with the 42nd pick in the 2021 NFL Draft Friday night.
Eichenberg is the first Notre Dame player taken this year, and in a draft-day surprise, he went ahead of linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. He’s the ninth Irish offensive lineman drafted since 2010, the most of any position in that span. Per Spotrac, he will sign a four-year contract worth $8,014, 479.
With his selection, one of the more fascinating stats of the Brian Kelly era is no longer active. Eichenberg’s three predecessors at left tackle, who collectively started from 2010-17, were all first-rounders. Eichenberg hoped to make it four and give Kelly a future first-round left tackle in all 11 of his seasons as head coach.
Still, he’s the fifth former Irish offensive linemen since 2016 to be picked in the first two rounds.
“I thought [he] might have a chance to slip in to the backend of round one,” NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said on the draft broadcast. “There’s nothing sexy about him when you watch him in terms of how athletic he is or how great he bends, but all he does is keep his body and the defender’s body away from the quarterback.”
Eichenberg, a top-200 recruit in the 2016 class, ended his college career on a 33-game streak without allowing a sack. As a senior, the Cleveland native allowed one or zero pressures in seven of his 12 games. The prior year, he did so nine times in 13 tries. In his last two seasons, he allowed a total of four quarterback hits.
“He was great from game to game – that’s what you look at,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said in March. “Do you see any drop-off? You didn’t. It was always a consistency with his game, where he didn’t have ups and downs or even an off game.”
That’s more or less his career theme. After a strong spring showing in 2018, Eichenberg became a set-it-and-forget-it replacement for top-10 pick Mike McGlinchey at left tackle. He was initially slotted in the right tackle competition with Tommy Kraemer that spring, but he stood out enough to force Notre Dame to move Kraemer inside to guard and play Eichenberg and Robert Hainsey at the tackle spots.
Eichenberg allowed three sacks in his first five starts, and then none the rest of his career. His 38 starts pitted him against several highly regarded draft prospects. He allowed only one pressure in a 2019 game at Georgia, with much of his work coming against projected 2021 early-round pick Azeez Ojulari. He allowed zero pressures against USC later that season.
In 2020, he allowed zero pressures in Notre Dame’s win over Clemson and held the powerful Pitt edge duo of Patrick Jones and Rashad Weaver sackless when they clashed with him. Eichenberg allowed two pressures and no hits in his final game, a College Football Playoff loss to Alabama. He also had a 90.1 Pro Football Focus run blocking grade in 2020.
Concerns about athleticism and upside, though, played into his projection as a probable second-round pick and likely right tackle in the NFL. Asked about those questions at his pro day press conference, Eichenberg swatted the idea aside and wanted to highlight his pro-readiness instead.
“I think I’m a guy you can plug in and play right now,” Eichenberg said. “I’m not a guy who needs a lot of development. I think I’ve been coached well. I use my technique and fundamentals well. A lot of people knock me for athleticism. Offensive line, I’m not running around or anything, so I guess it’s a little different, but I think I’m a guy who can get to the NFL and play right away.”
Eichenberg is the seventh offensive lineman drafted this year. Five of them went in the first round.
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