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College football: Notre Dame will continue to churn out NFL-caliber offensive line talent with the country’s best OL in 2020

We all love to debate which school is the best at producing talent at a certain position group (e.g. who is the real DBU). When it comes to the big men up front who pave holes for the running backs and keep the quarterbacks clean, there are a handful of schools that have separated themselves from the rest of the pack:

Most OL to produce a PFF WAR value above 0.1 during NFL career since 2006
School # of NFL OL
T1. Michigan Wolverines 10
T1. Alabama Crimson Tide 10
T3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish 9
T3. Wisconsin Badgers 9
T3. Iowa Hawkeyes 9
T6. LSU Tigers 8
T6. Oklahoma Sooners 8

Of these schools, the Wisconsin offensive linemen actually produced the highest combined WAR value — and it really isn’t close. In fact, Wisconsin offensive linemen who have played in the NFL since 2006 have produced more than double the amount of WAR than 116 of the 130 FBS teams. You can thank Joe Thomas, Travis Frederick, Kevin Zeitler and Ryan Ramczyk for a large majority of that. There is, however, a college program that has rivaled the Badgers for the top spot as of late: the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

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Notre Dame is in the next tier as far as the total WAR value its offensive linemen have produced in the NFL since 2006 (ninth among FBS teams, to be exact). But over the last five years in particular, they’re second in that metric — right behind Wisconsin. The Fighting Irish have had six linemen produce a positive WAR value, tying for the most with the Badgers. And in 2019 specifically, Notre Dame had the most total NFL offensive line WAR among all colleges by a landslide.

The trio of Fighting Irish alum — Quenton Nelson, Ronnie Stanley and Zack Martin — all ranked among the 10 most valuable offensive linemen in the entire NFL (first, fifth and ninth, respectively). No college had more than one in the top 10, nor did another college have three in the top 25.

Nelson came to Notre Dame as a four-star recruit and went on to become one of the best prospects we have ever evaluated here at PFF. Heck, PFF lead draft analyst Mike Renner was confident enough to call him a Hall-of-Fame player before he played a down in the NFL. Nelson produced overall grades a hair above 85.0 in each of his first two years at Notre Dame in 2015 and 2016 and went on to have one of the best seasons we have recorded by an offensive lineman in 2017. That year, Nelson produced elite 90.0-plus grades as a run-blocker and pass-protector and had the fifth most valuable season of any FBS offensive lineman since 2014. He, of course, translated his dominant play to the NFL for the Indianapolis Colts the last two years as  the second highest-graded guard each season.

Ronnie Stanley was a good recruit but by no means elite before showing up at Notre Dame. He ended up producing grades of 83.0 and 86.4 in his last two years of college in 2014 and 2015. His strong pass-pro we saw at Notre Dame translated to the NFL, as he has ranked sixth in PFF pass-block grade on true pass sets since being drafted sixth overall in 2016.

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