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Leftovers & Links: Coronavirus impacts some Notre Dame draft hopefuls more than others

Chase Claypool combine

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 27: Wide receiver Chase Claypool of Notre Dame runs the 40-yard dash during the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 27, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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Asmar Bilal has had the odds stacked against him for a while. To some degree, that’s the case for most recruits, even the high-profile ones as Bilal was back in 2015. It’s simply a numbers game. When the linebacker arrived at Notre Dame, the Irish boasted a consensus All-American at outside linebacker; Jaylon Smith left no space for a fellow Indianan four-star.

The following year’s debacle of a revolving door of defensive coordinators did not do anyone any favors, and by 2017, Drue Tranquill had finally moved to linebacker from safety. Bilal was once again relegated to backup status.

If Bilal’s delay in making collegiate contributions had to do with being less fleet of foot than ideal or misdiagnosing plays, NFL teams will have to assess his development in those areas strictly on his last two years of film. After Bilal was not invited to the NFL combine earlier in the month, he will now go without any genuine drill testing due to the coronavirus pandemic canceling not only Notre Dame’s Pro Day scheduled for April 11 but also all in-person evaluations for the NFL.

While Bilal’s two years of starting work included 129 tackles with 13 for loss and a hand in two turnovers, he still would have greatly benefited from a decent showing in a 40-yard dash and the shuttle drills.

Cornerback Troy Pride will also lament the lack of a showcase, having run a somehow-disappointing 4.40-second 40-yard dash in Indianapolis. That will now remain the only time the NFL has on file.

Even if Bilal or Pride found a track and a cameraman in a socially-distant manner, these timings are more exact than they would have with the hardware at their disposal. Simply put, the NFL would not put much stock in such footage.

Neither receiver Chris Finke nor running back Tony Jones put together combine performances they would like to serve as their calling cards, either. Now, it’s a forced reality.

A week ago, the NFL insisting on keeping its April 23-25 draft dates, though clearly not holding anything in Las Vegas as initially planned, seemed a disservice to these types of players. Pride will still get drafted, just not as high as he would have if he ran a 4.35 at a pro day. Bilal will be on the fringe, while Finke and Jones will fall into the undrafted free agent market.

By now, though, it is clear the NFL would have to wait much longer than it is comfortable with if it wanted to put these players through their paces before the draft. The current chaos will stretch well into May, if not much longer, if not into when these draftees should be reporting to their new teams, if not into when their alma mater should be readying for a season.

In writing this after a weekend that left the brain just as frazzled as last week did — that’s an attempt at honesty here, because we’re all feeling it — it occurs to me, neither of Notre Dame’s two starring former defensive ends partook in drills in Indianapolis. Julian Okwara (ankle) and Khalid Kareem (shoulder) were both recovering from injuries, with intentions of impressing in South Bend.

More so than Bilal, they both impressed plenty in their collegiate playing days, but Kareem, in particular, would have benefited from a fast 40.

This situation does not benefit anyone anywhere, but in these terms, it may have impacted former Irish receiver Chase Claypool and safeties Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott the least among draft hopefuls. They all performed well in the early March combine. Meanwhile, tight end Cole Kmet drilled alright, his draft stock never truly hinging on a 40 time so much as his unique combination of agility and size.

RELATED READING: Claypool makes most of four seconds at NFL combinePride’s 40 disappoints, but former Notre Dame safety duo shine at combine

They will all still now have to conduct further draft prep interviews over the phone. A phone call was always going to be how they learned of their professional destination, but increasingly it seems it may take a bit longer for them to literally get to those new homes.

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