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Notre Dame Football

The 16 Fighting Irish Players on NFL Playoff Active Rosters

January 13, 2023

Former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith watched the first two weeks of the 2022 NFL season from his hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind., as a free agent.

The 2015 Collegiate Butkus Award winner remained steadfast in his NFL future, despite both the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers cutting him last fall. 

“I can still play this game at a high level,” Smith said on Shaun Crawford’s Varsity House Podcast. “I know I’m still one of the best linebackers in this league, but it’s about opportunity and that’s really where I’m at. I’m just attacking everything head-on — the feeling, my reality.”

On Sept. 20, he was signed to the New York Giants practice squad, the same franchise he finished the 2021 season with. 

Less than two weeks later, he made his season debut against the Chicago Bears with six tackles. Soon thereafter, Smith earned the first-string middle linebacker job, starting the final 10 games of the regular season. 

In 13 contests he finished second on the team with 88 tackles.

“It’s a humbling experience,” Smith said. “It was my first year really dealing with the politics, the business side of the National Football League, but I’ve been through so much that nothing can stop me. I’m a guy that’s going to continue to work, continue to learn.”

On Sunday, Smith is one of 16 former Fighting Irish players on an NFL Playoff active roster. There’s a Notre Dame alum represented in all six NFL Wildcard matchups this weekend.

Seattle Seahawks (9-8) at the San Francisco 49ers (13-4) - Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EST on FOX

The 49ers feature two former Irish All-Americans on its offensive line, which ranked seventh in the NFL this fall according to Pro Football Focus. 

Right tackle Mike McGlinchey started all 17 games for San Francisco this fall after missing the second half of 2021 with a severe tendon strain in his quad, and he finally appears to be living up to his potential as a former top-10 pick.

McGlinchey remains one of the most agile run-blockers in the NFL, but he improved significantly in pass protection, anchoring the right side of a line that finished fifth overall in pass-blocking efficiency

He accomplished all this while playing with a pair of broken ribs since week eight. 

Left guard Aaron Banks started the first 16 games of the season before missing the 49ers' week 18 matchup victory over the Arizona Cardinals with a knee and ankle sprain. Team physicians cleared the second-year offensive lineman to play ahead of Wildcard Weekend. 

As a first-year starter this fall, Banks proved to be a revelation, allowing just one sack and is still able to get to the second level at 6-5 and 325 pounds. 

Running back Tony Jones Jr. is no longer on the Seahawks roster but appeared in four games for Seattle before the team waived him on Dec. 21. He began the season with the New Orleans Saints.

Los Angeles Chargers (10-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8) - Saturday at 8:15 p.m. EST on NBC

Linebacker Drue Tranquill and safety Alohi Gilman were both day-three draft selections for the Los Angeles Chargers in 2018 and 2019. Neither were guaranteed roster spots as rookies, let alone multi-year NFL careers, but today they’re significant contributors on a playoff team. 

Tranquill led the team with 146 tackles, which ranked 12th overall in the NFL. With defensive end Joey Bosa out for much of the season, the fourth-year linebacker also increased his havoc rate with 5.0 sacks and 10 TFLs. 

What makes him truly special is his ability to thrive in coverage on third downs. He broke four passes in 2022 and snagged an interception. 

Beyond his production, he’s a leader who calls defensive plays in the huddle. 

“As a middle linebacker, you have this desire to be the quarterback of the defense and show that you can be trusted with that,” Tranquill told The Athletic. “To have that green dot, you have to be on the field every play. You have to be able to add value on third down, you have to be able to add value on first and second down.”

In five starts and 17 appearances, Gilman finished sixth on the team with 58 total tackles to go along with three pass deflections, a forced fumble and an interception. 

Defensive tackle Jerry Tillery began the season on the Chargers, but the franchise cut the fourth-year player on Nov. 10. The Raiders claimed him shortly thereafter, and he finished out the season in Las Vegas, registering 10 tackles in eight games. 

Rookie wide receiver Kevin Austin is on the Jaguars' practice squad but has yet to appear on the team’s 53-man roster.

Miami Dolphins (9-8) at Buffalo Bills (13-3) - Sunday at 1 p.m. EST on CBS

Left guard Liam Eichenberg and tight end Durham Smythe significantly contributed to the Miami offensive attack, which ranked sixth in total offense despite starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa missing multiple games in concussion protocol. 

Eichenberg started the first eight games of the season for the Dolphins before he was carted off the field in a 31-27 victory over the Detroit Lions with an MCL injury. He returned for the final two games of 2022, only to exit the season finale against the Jets early due to a hand injury. 

He missed practice on Wednesday and is questionable for Saturday’s matchup with the Bills.

Smythe continues to carve out a productive career in Miami. He started 15 games this fall with head coach Mike McDaniel primarily using him as a run blocker. 

Despite playing alongside two of the most productive wide receivers in the NFL, Smythe still managed to snag 15 receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown to go along with a one-yard rushing score and three tackles.

There are no former Irish players on Buffalo’s roster or practice squad.

New York Giants (9-7-1) at Minnesota Vikings (13-4) - Sunday at 4:30 p.m. EST on FOX

Four former Notre Dame defensive stars are expected to suit up in Saturday’s midday matchup between the Giants and Vikings. 

Julian Love was named a defensive co-captain prior to the season and started 16 games before sitting out last weekend with a playoff spot locked up. He led the team with 124 tackles, which ranked him third among NFL safeties. The fourth-year defensive back also registered five pass deflections, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a sack. 

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Jaylon Smith and cornerback Nick McCloud emerged as starters in the back half of the season. 

McCloud recorded 43 tackles, eight deflections and 1.5 sacks this fall.

Harrison Smith continues to roam the backend of the defense for the Vikings. At 33 years old, he started 14 games and made 85 tackles to go along with 10 deflections and five interceptions, which was tied for fifth in the NFL.

He sat out of last weekend’s game due to knee soreness and is listed as questionable for Sunday. However, he still practiced in a limited capacity on Wednesday, and it would be a surprise if he doesn’t ultimately play.

Baltimore Ravens (10-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) - Sunday at 8:15 p.m. on NBC

The Ravens used one of the franchise’s two 2022 first-round draft selections on safety Kyle Hamilton. While he had his share of rookie moments, he’s lived up to the hype as well. 

He played in 16 games for the Ravens, starting the last four, and earned the eighth-highest PFF grade among NFL safeties in 2022. Hamilton recorded 62 tackles, four TFLs, 2.0 sacks, and five pass deflections. 

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley continues to struggle with injuries, missing six games in 2022, but appears to be healthy now. He started the last five games and allowed just one sack all season. 

Second-year outside linebacker Daelin Hayes spent the season on injured reserve.

There are no former Irish players on Cincinnati’s roster or practice squad.

Dallas Cowboys (12-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9) - Monday at 8:15 on ABC/ESPN

Dallas Cowboys right guard Zack Martin continues to dominate opposing defensive tackles nine years into his NFL career. 

On Friday he was named First-Team All-Pro for the sixth time. Martin has two second-team nods to his name. The only season he failed to make either squad was in 2020, when he missed six games due to injury. 

He’s also heading to his eighth NFL Pro Bowl in February — that is unless the Cowboys make Super Bowl LVII. He’s now been invited to the NFL’s All-Star game more times than he’s been called for a false start (7) or holding (6) as a professional

“I’d be a liar if I told you I don’t hold,” Martin told Sports Illustrated in December. “But the biggest thing is understanding when I can and when I can’t.”

Center Robert Hainsey started all 17 games for the Bucs this fall. He exited the season finale against Atlanta on Sunday with a hamstring injury but practiced on Thursday, which is a good sign that he’ll be ready to go come Monday night. 

Tight end Kyle Rudolph also plays for Tampa Bay, but he’s struggled to stay on the field in 2022. He appeared in nine games and grabbed three catches for 28 yards and a touchdown, which came on an eight-yard reception against the Falcons on Sunday. 

It’s unclear if the 10-year NFL veteran will play a role against the Cowboys.

Philadelphia Eagles (14-3) —  first-round bye

The New Orleans Saints released quarterback Ian Book on Aug. 30. A day later, the Eagles claimed the second-year signal-caller off waivers, and he’s served as the team’s third-string quarterback ever since. 

He failed to see the field this fall and is unlikely to see action in the playoffs, as he backs up second-team All-Pro Jalen Hurts and Gardner Minshew, who’s started 24 games over the course of his career.

There are no former Irish players on the roster or practice squad for the Kansas City Chiefs (14-3), which holds a first-round bye in the AFC.

Other Notre Dame Players on NFL Teams

Bars, Alex — The fourth-year offensive lineman started 14 games at right guard for the Las Vegas Raiders.

Boykin, Miles — The fourth-year wide receiver appeared in 16 games for the Pittsburgh Steelers, catching two passes for 11 yards.

Claypool, Chase — The third-year receiver was traded from the Steelers to the Chicago Bears after week eight. He finished with 46 receptions for 451 yards and a touchdown. 

Daly, Scott — The long snapper appeared in all 17 games for the Detroit Lions this season.

Elliott, Jalen — The third-year safety spent training camp with the New England Patriots and was added to the Raiders practice squad in November. 

Farley, Matthias — The Raiders' safety appeared in 17 games, primarily on special teams. 

Hinish, Kurt — The rookie defensive tackle appeared in 15 games for the Houston Texans, starting three. He finished 2022 with 23 tackles, two TFLs and a sack.

Jansen, J.J. — The Panthers long snapper completed his 14th season in Carolina, appearing in all 17 games. 

Jones, Jamir — The third-year outside linebacker appeared in 17 games for the Steelers, registering 10 tackles and a pass deflection.

Kareem, Khalid — The third-year defensive end appeared in four games for the Indianapolis Colts, recording a tackle and three quarterback hits. 

Kmet, Cole — The third-year tight end started 17 games for the Chicago Bears, snagging 50 receptions for 544 yards and seven scores. 

Kraemer, Tommy — The third-year offensive lineman saw action in week one for the Detroit Lions before suffering a back injury and spending the remainder of the season on injured reserve. 

Martin, Nick — The sixth-year offensive lineman appeared in four games for the Washington Commanders, starting two. 

Mustipher, Sam — The third-year center started 16 games for the Chicago Bears. 

Quenton, Nelson — The Indianapolis left guard made the Pro Bowl for the fifth time, making him the first Colts player to ever be named to the all-star game in each of his first five seasons. 

Ogundeji, Ade — The second-year defensive end for the Atlanta Falcons started 16 games this fall, recording 42 tackles, 2.0 sacks, three TFLs and a QB hit. 

Okwara, Julian —The third-year edge rusher saw action in 10 games for the Detroit Lions before suffering an elbow injury on Thanksgiving and spending the rest of the season on injured reserve. He recorded 10 tackles, 2.0 sacks and three TFLs. 

Okwara, Romeo — The seventh-year defensive end returned from a torn Achilles tendon in week 14 and appeared in five games for the Detroit Lions. He registered eight tackles and 2.0 sacks.

Owusu-Koramoah, Jeremiah  — The second-year linebacker appeared started 10 games for the Cleveland Browns before a foot injury in week 14 ended his season. He recorded 70 tackles, seven TFLs, four pass deflections and two forced fumbles. 

Pride Jr., Troy — The New Orleans Saints signed the former Irish cornerback to a reserves/future contract on Jan. 11.

Rochell, Isaac — The sixth-year defensive end appeared in seven games NFL games in 2022 — six with the Browns and one with the Raiders. He recorded 12 tackles. 

Skowronek, Ben — The second-year wide receiver appeared in 14 games for the Los Angeles Rams, starting 11. He snagged 39 receptions for 376 yards.

St. Brown, Equanimeous — The fifth-year wide receiver started 16 games for the Bears, hauling in 21 catches for 323 yards and a touchdown.

Tagovailoa-Amosa, Myron — The rookie defensive lineman spent the 2022  season on the Raiders practice squad.

Tremble, Tommy — The second-year tight end appeared in all 17 games for the Panthers, catching 19 passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns. 

Williams, Kyren — The rookie running back appeared in 10 games for the Rams, picking up 139 rush yards on 35 carries and snagging nine catches for 76 yards. 

Wright, Brock — The second-year tight end appeared in all 17 games for the Lions, starting 10. He registered 18 receptions for 216 yards and four touchdowns.

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