The long wait for a bevy of former Golden Domers is just about over with the 2014 NFL Draft kicking off live from New York later this evening. Notre Dame has as many as three players in this year’s draft whose name could be called by Roger Goodell on the 1st night – a number Notre Dame hasn’t produced in over 20 years.
Where will all of the eligible Notre Dame players land? Here’s a rundown.
Zack Martin (OT) - When the season ended, Martin wasn’t being talked about as a potential first round pick. Now that the draft is nearly upon though, Martin is not only considered to be a first round pick, he is considered a near lock to be off the board in the top 20 picks. Martin was a stalwart at left tackle for Notre Dame over the last four years and has been described by Mike Mayock as the safest pick in this year’s draft. There have been a lot of team’s rumored to be interested in Martin and if he is off the board before the 15th overall pick, Martin will be the highest drafted Notre Dame offensive lineman in 45 years when George Kunz was selected #2 overall. Here are the last few first round offensive linemen draft picks from Notre Dame to keep an eye on.
- #15 overall – Andy Heck (1989)
- #16 overall – Aaron Talyor (1994)
- #19 overall – Luke Petigout (1999)
- #21 overall – Jeff Faine (2003)
Final Projection: Top 15 pick
Louis Nix (NT) - When Nix declared for the NFL Draft in December with a 5th year of eligibility remaining, it was assumed that Nix would be a first round lock. As the Draft has drawn closer, however, Nix has been sliding down mock draft boards into the 2nd round. That said, I find it hard to believe that Nix will slide as far as some are projecting right now. You can’t teach the kind of size that Nix has and there are very, very human beings in the world possess Nix’s size and athleticism. Nix is also impressive on film and is sure to have grabbed the eye of a least one or two GMs throughout the process.
Final Projection: Late 1st round pick
Stephon Tuitt (DT/DE) - Like Nix, Tuitt has slid down draft boards after the season. Tuitt’s slide is in part related to some nagging injuries that prevented him from competing at the Combine on top of the injuries that slowed him down as a junior this past season. Like Nix though, Tuitt is just a physical specimen and all a scout has to do is watch Tuitt’s fumble return against Navy to see just how much a physical freak he is. There is a chance that Tuitt falls into the 2nd round but usually with a player like Tuitt, there is at least one team that falls in love with his potential and snags him. It will be a disappointment for Tuitt if he does fall considering he left after his true junior season which could end up costing him millions in the long run had he played his way into a top 15 pick next year.
Final Projection: Early 2nd round pick
Troy Niklas (TE) – Like Tuitt, Niklas left after his true junior season although for Niklas it was more of a surprise since he only played one season as a full time starting tight end. Niklas looked poised to continue Notre Dame’s tradition of producing second round (or better) first round picks at the tight end position had he returned for a senior season, but most mock drafts have Niklas falling to the 3td round. Unlike Tyler Eifert who came back for a senior season and improved as a blocker, Niklas came out early and doesn’t have the same all-around game that Eifert possessed heading into the draft. Niklas can still have a very productive NFL career and could develop into an elite player down the road, but with some questions about his blocking and without the same pure speed as Efiert, Niklas will likely fall to the third round snapping Notre Dame’s recent streak at the tight end position.
Final Projection: 3rd Round
Chris Watt (OG) – Any team that is looking for a safe, solid offensive guard in this year’s draft should look no further than Chris Watt who figures to be a great value pick based on current projections. Most mocks have Watt going in the 4th round or later which would be a steal given Watt’s consistency, durability, and production over the last four years. Watt won’t jump off the screen to anyone and doesn’t have the kind of measurables that make teams reach, but he has all of the tools to be a reliable starting guard in the NFL.
Final Projection: 4th Round
TJ Jones (WR) – I will go on record as saying that TJ Jones could be the steal of the draft for whoever picks him if he goes in the 5th round as most projections currently have him. Jones improved every season he was at Notre Dame and he put up impressive numbers without ever having an elite quarterback throw him the ball. If Jones had an elite quarterback for the last four years, his stats would be reflective of a first or second round pick. As a fan of team in need of help at the wide receivers, I will be screaming at the television if Jones is on the board when the Eagles are on the clock in the 5th round. Ok, that might be a lie. I most likely won’t be still watching the draft during the 5th round.
Jones might not be 6’4″ and might not run a sub 4.4 40 yard dash but he is a great route runner with great hands. He will be one of the players who turns heads in training camp and has people asking how he fell to the 5th round while some 6’4″ first rounder or second rounder struggles to produce as a rookie.
Final Projection: 5th Round
Bennett Jackson (CB) – For Bennett Jackson to stick around in the NFL, a position switch may be in his future. Mike Mayock has suggested that Jackson could potentially have to move to safety because he lacks the top end speed needed at corner in the NFL. Jackson was a special teams stalwart early in his career and it is likely that will be his ticket to making a NFL roster as a rookie. Jackson is a candidate to be a late round pick or at worst a sought after undrafted free agent. My guess is that some scout has turned on his tape from Jackson’s sophomore year and moves him up a few spots for his special teams prowess.
Final Projection: 6th Round
Prince Shembo (LB) – Unfortunately, Prince Shebmo might be a bit of a tweener on the NFL left. Shembo doesn’t have the size to be an OLB in a 3-4 defense on the NFL level like he was on the collegiate level. Shembo also does not have much experience dropping into coverage which will scare some teams off. He also had inconsistent production over the last four years. Every season he would have one or two monster games with multiple sacks and then go weeks without being heard from much. Tweener size + inconsistent production will have Shembo on the fringe of the draft and could slide all the way down to being an undrafted free agent.
Final Projection: 7th Round
George Atkinson (RB) – Atkinson is the last of three juniors from Notre Dame in this year’s draft. Unlike Niklas and Tuitt who have slid on draft boards but both figure to be off the board by round 3 at the latest, Atkinson is likely going to be waiting around a while to hear his name. Inconsistent production and an upright running style is not going to have many teams enamored this weekend. Atkinson’s skills as a returnman, however, will likely be his ticket to hearing his name called before the draft ends. As a position player, Atkinson is a project Where do you play him? Notre Dame coaches could never find a great role for him in the offense. As a returnman, Atkinson could have an early impact although it should be noted that with the kick-offs being closer in the NFL, the role of the kick return man has diminished some in recent years.
Final Projection: 7th Round
Kona Schwenke (DT) – Schwenke could be a surprise pick by some team late in this year’s draft. Schwenke is a strong kid who produced when call upon and has the versatility to play inside in a 4-3 or outside in a 3-4 defense. I still wish that Schwenke would have been able to redshirt at some point so that he could have returned for a 5th year because I think he still has a lot of good football left in him. Most people have Schwenke heading the undrafted free agent route, but I think he slides into the last round.
Final Projection: 7th Round
Dan Fox & Carlo Calabrese (LB) – Both multi-year starting linebackers for Notre Dame figure to be fringe draft prospects this weekend. Neither had the kind of production that would allow scouts to overlook some of their physical limitations. Still, look for both to get rookie free agent deals and have a chance to make a roster if they can make an impact on special teams.
Final Projection: Undrafted