2014 isn’t starting off any better than 2013 did for Notre Dame with junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt telling Sports Illustrated on Sunday that he is declaring for the NFL Draft and forging his senior season at Notre Dame.
BREAKING: #NotreDame DE Stephon Tuitt tells SI he will enter the NFL Draft. "I chose to declare for the NFL," Tuitt exclusively told SI.— Brian Hamilton (@BrianHamiltonSI) January 6, 2014
Since the 2013 season ended, Tuitt had said that he was 50/50 on returning to Notre Dame for a senior season or leaving a year early for the NFL. In December Tuitt reportedly received a 2nd round draft evaluation from the NFL Advisory Committee, but that was apparently not enough to entice Tuitt back to South Bend for a senior season.
According to SI’s Brian Hamilton who broke the news, Tuitt feels ready for the NFL challenge
#NotreDame DE Stephon Tuitt exclusively to SI on declaring for the NFL Draft: "I'm ready for it, and this is something I want to do."— Brian Hamilton (@BrianHamiltonSI) January 6, 2014
Over the last few years Brian Kelly has done an outstanding job getting some elite players to return for their senior seasons such as Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, and Tyler Eifert; but this time Kelly wasn’t able to work the same magic.
With Tuitt leaving for the NFL, Notre Dame’s depth along the defensive line takes a major hit with fellow linemate Louis Nix also heading to the NFL with a year of eligibility remaining. Nix, however, is leaving after his senior season after redshirting as a true freshmen. Jarron Jones began to emerge for Notre Dame down the stretch with Nix injured and Notre Dame will have Tony Springmann and Chase Hounshell back from injury, but losing two All-American talents at the same time is a lot to handle.
While Tuitt received a 2nd round grade from the NFL Advisory Committee, he is still projected as a first round pick in most mock drafts and has something that just can’t be taught or coached – size and speed – making him a hot commodity in the NFL. Part of the reason for the low grade from the Advisory Committee is likely from the drop off in production that Tuitt saw in 2013 as he recovered from off-season surgery and played without Nix next to him occupying blockers and letting him wreak havoc as he did in 2012. All it will likely take for Tuitt to land int he first round, however, is for one GM or coach to put in Tuitt’s tape and fall in love when they see him race down the field on his fumble return against Navy.
With Tuitt and Nix in the draft, Notre Dame has three potential first round picks with the defensive line duo joining Zack Martin who many are projecting as a potential first round pick as well. Should the trio all end up getting draft int he first round, it would be the first time Notre Dame had three first round picks since the 1994 Draft when Aaron Taylor, Bryant Young, and Jeff Buris all went in the first round. Just two years ago Notre Dame did have two first round picks though with Harrison Smith and Michael Floyd being selected by the Vikings and Cardinals in the first round.