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Chargers and their recent love of Notre Dame

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Will the Chargers drink from the South Bend well once more?

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Chicago Bears Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

With so many universities across all levels of play that could potentially feed into the NFL, it’s not often that players from the same university end of going to the same team at the next level. There’s of course the teams that are NFL prospect factories, such as Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, and Clemson, so there’s obviously a bigger chance when a school has 10+ prospects in a single class compared to maybe two or three.

The University of Notre Dame has long been a blue blood of college football. In the last decade, they’ve been to a national title game (2013) and were just in the 2018 College Football Playoff where they played Clemson in the Cotton Bowl Classic.

The Fighting Irish are always known to have some of the top NFL prospects in each class, even if the team, in general, isn’t one of the best in the country. Since Tom Telesco took over as the general manager in January of 2013, he’s drafted or signed six players from the Golden Domers. Last year, following that Cotton Bowl loss to the eventual 2019 CFP Champions, the Chargers drafted a pair of players from that 12-1 Irish team and signed another as an undrafted free agent.

After an 8-sack senior season, the Chargers made defensive tackle Jerry Tillery their first-round pick in 2019. With their first pick on day three, the Chargers made linebacker Drue Tranquill their fourth-round selection. Both players saw time as rookie with Tranquill earning the most snaps out of all their rookies. The hope was to get Tillery on the field early and often but his shoulder injury forced the team to handle him carefully. That, combined with his struggles while on the field, led to an underwhelming rookie campaign. According to Pro Football Focus, Tillery was the lowest-graded defensive tackle in the entire NFL with a 34.0 overall grade. He finished with three starts in 15 games, totaling 17 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, and two sacks.

Tranquill finished top-5 in tackles on the team with just three starts in 15 total games played. He had four tackles for a loss and a pass deflection on top of 75 total tackles. He slowly earned more playing time at the MIKE linebacker spot as the season went on and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him as the opening day starter in 2020. We also can’t forget his amazing play on special teams. Tranquill blocked two punts in 2019, including one in the team’s biggest win of the year over the Green Bay Packers who wound-up making the NFC Championship Game.

Punter Tyler Newsome, awesome mullet and all, was signed by the Chargers but was unfortunately beaten out by Ty Long for the team’s punting job prior to the regular season.

Several years prior, the team selected defensive end Isaac Rochell in the seventh round of the 2017 NFL Draft and signed outside linebackeer James Onwualu as an undrafted free agent. Both played very sparingly with Onwualu seeing mostly time on special teams. He finished with just eight tackles that year and is currently a member of the Jacksonville jaguars.

Rochell saw time in just a handful of games in ‘17, managing four tackles, two tackles-for-loss, and a single sack. He has since started three games, all in 2018, but has played in 35 total. His most productive season came that same year when Joey Bosa missed time due to a foot injury. He finished with a career-high 29 tackles, six tackles-for-loss, and five sacks with an interception off a tipped pass.

Both players were team captains for the Irish.

Way back now in 2013 and ‘14, the Chargers drafted former All-American Manti Te’o and interior offensive linemen Chris Watt, respectively. Watt was just another dart thrown at the wall in hopes of reinforcing an offensive line unit that could never seem to get right, no matter how many resources were poured into it. He had just eight starts across 17 games played for the Chargers in two years with the team.

Te’o, for obvious reasons, had immensely high expectations from the very beginning. Forget the whole imaginary girlfriend fiasco, he was a supposed to be the second-coming of Junior Seau. Te’o won a laundry list worth of national awards with the Irish, including the Maxwell (Player of the Year), Chuck Bednarik (Defensive Player of the Year), and the Butkus (Nation’s Best Linebacker) all while being a runner-up to the Heisman Trophy. His final stat line in 2012 was great, but there was huge notable stat that is quite insane for a linebacker. Te’o finished his last season in South Bend with 113 tackles, 5.5 tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks, 11 passes defended, and a staggering seven interceptions. Yes, you read that correctly. That was the most interceptions by a linebacker since 2001 and ranked second in the nation that year.

In four seasons with the Chargers, Te’o never started all 16 games. He started 13 games in in his rookie year but would never reach those numbers again. In 2014, Te’o started just six out of 10 games played. In ‘15, he started 12 out of 12. His final season with the Bolts came and went with only three games by Te’o. In the end, as it always does with this team, the injuries got the best of him.

So now that we’ve trekked down memory lane and relived the Ghosts of Chargers past and present from Notre Dame, we’ve got two guys in this year’s draft class that could easily find their way onto the Chargers. Those players are wide receiver/tight end Chase Claypool, who set the NFL Combine ablaze, and Troy Pride Jr., one of the top guys at cornerback who played in this year’s Senior Bowl.

At least year’s NFL Combine, former Notre Dame wideout Myles Boykin put on an absolute show in Indianapolis, running and jumping his way into one of the most impressive performances by a receiver in the history of the event. Well, Claypool essentially said “hold my beer” and went on to make his own history.

Claypool, standing 6’4 and 238 pounds, blazed to a 4.42. If that sounds absolutely nuts, it’s because it is. The last receiver to be at least 6’4 and over 235 and run under a 4.45? Calvin Johnson.

The massive wideout, not done with setting the internet on fire, went on to jump 40.5 inches in the vertical and 10’6 in the broad jump.All big-time numbers for a player of Claypool’s measureables.

During his true freshman season, Claypool was key contributor on specials teams, finsihing with eight tackles, which was more total tackles than he had receptions on the year (five for 81 yards). Through the next three seasons, Claypool increased his receptions, yardage, and touchdowns each year. As a senior in 2019, he caught 66 passes for 1,037 yards (his first over 1,000) and 13 touchdowns.

There’s been a lot of speculation that Claypool could make the transition to tight end at the next level, but after posting those workout numbers, I’d expect to see the opinions dwindle as we get closer to the draft.

Pride Jr. didn’t blow anyone away with his combine, but he was consistent all the way through the laundry list of tests. At 5’11 and 197 pounds, his 4.40 (4th-best out of cornerbacks) is exactly what you’d want out of a defensive back of his size. His 35.5” vertical and 9’11” broad jump were underwhelming while his 6.94 3-cone (tied-4th) and 4.26 short shuttle (7th) were also within the top marks for his position.

He finished his collegiate career with 121 total tackles, four interceptions, 18 passes defended, and two fumble recoveries.

The Chargers are in need of a third wide receiver and could benefit from another outside cornerback to play opposite Casey Hayward. Both Claypool and Pride Jr. could fill one of these roles for the Bolts, especially when you consider how much this team loves their versatile players. Pride Jr. could also be an effective option in the slot while Claypool could obviously play the “big “slot” receiver or even as a “move” tight end with his surprisingly strong blocking ability.

There were nine total players from Notre Dame at this year’s combine with several more likely to find themselves in NFL camps this summer. Both Claypool and Pride Jr. participated in this year’s Senior Bowl and that’s something to make a note of. If you guys delve into this team’s draft history, something I did around this time last year, you’ll notice a huge uptick in draft picks that played in Mobile since the start of Anthony Lynn’s time as the head coach.

Nasir Adderley and Tranquill both played in the 2019 Senior Bowl while Tillery also got an invite. Uchenna Nwosu, Justin Jones, Kyzir White, and Scott Quessenberry all played in the 2018 Senior Bowl. In 2017, it was Dan Feeney, Desmond King, and Rayshawn Jenkins. That’s at least three players in each of Lynn’s draft classes that were Senior Bowl participants.

So, in conclusion, there are two things you can probably bank on this draft when it comes to the Chargers: 1.) They might draft a player from Notre Dame 2.) They’ll likely draft multiple players from the Senior Bowl and 3.) If a player fits both, they’re likely going to be wearing powder blue in September,