With the yearly NFL Combine coming up this weekend in Indianpolis, a handful of former Notre Dame players will be taking their first steps towards their professional football careers while trying to impress NFL scouts, executives, and personnel on and off the field.
In all, Notre Dame will have seven former gridiron standouts in Indy this weekend – Manti Te’o, Tyler Eifert, Braxston Cave, Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, Jamoris Slaughter, and Zeke Motta – while an 8th – Kapron Lewis Moore – was invited but is unable to attend due to the recovery from the knee injury he suffered in the first half of the BCS Championship Game.
Te’o and Eifert are the unquestioned headliners as both will be hoping to secure first round grades from the teams they talk to during the combine, but the other five former Domers on hand will have their chance to carve out their own niches in the NFL as well.
It has been an eventful off-season for Te’o since Notre Dame’s season came to a crashing end in Miami in early January. While the off the field drama will hang over Te’o’s head, the accomplishments that he had n the field this year will end up out weighing girlfriend-gate. At the NFL level, the biggest question for Te’o will be what defensive scheme does he project best for – a 4-3 or a 3-4? NFL.com compares Te’o to Demeco Ryans – an inside linebacker who struggled in a 3-4 scheme in Houston after thriving as the MIKE in a 4-3 defense.
While you will all most likely read about Eiefert forging his season senior for the NFL, Eiefert did indeed complete four years of school at Notre Dame and is merely heading to the NFL with a 5th year of eligibility available to him that he won’t be taking advantage of. That being said, Eiefert didn’t need a 5th year to prove to scouts his value. Most have Eifert as the top tight end in this year’s draft and he could end up outdoing his predecessors Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, and Anthony Fasano by getting picked in the first round – a solid 40 time in Indianapolis ought to seal the deal.
Zeke Motta had some big shoes to fill in 2012 by replacing 2012 1st Ro]und NFL Draft Pick Harrison Smith, and he did a more than OK job at replacing the ball hawking safety who spent his rookie year making plays for the Minnesota Vikings. In fact, Motta was one of the more unheralded players that made Notre Dame’s 12-0 regular season possible. While Motta does not possess the raw athleticism of Smith – and really, how many safeties do? – Motta made some big plays for the Irish secondary this year as the elder statesmen of a group that ended up featuring three first time starters after Slaughter’s injury. Motta is a big, physical safety who will need to find a home int he right scheme on the NFL level, but has the talents to be a standout special teams contributor from day one.
One the mainstays on the offensive line for the Irish over the last four years, Braxston Cave leaves Notre Dame as a 4-year starter at center. Cave is a tough as nails lineman who will impress everyone with his strength numbers at the combine – in fact it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Cave was one oft he top performers among the linemen in strength numbers. Cave could struggled in the agility drills, however, as he is not exactly flight of feet – even for an offensive lineman. The knock on Cave is that, despite his workout numbers, he can get overpowered at times and has a tough time fighting back. When Cave locks on and gets leverage, he is set, but if he gets a little off balance, he has struggle recovering. He won’t be able to do much to put those concerns to rest in Indy, but can impress with his workout.
Theo Riddick finally found a permanent home at running back in 2012 and by the end of the season, he was thriving as Notre Dame’s go-to back. Early on in the season, many (myself included) couldn’t figure out why Riddick was seeing more carries than Cierre Wood, but by season’s end, it was pretty clear. Riddick turned out to a be a great all around back for the Irish in 2012. The problem for Riddick at the NFL level is that he might not test that well in terms of 40 times and speed numbers. Riddick just simply does everything that you ask him to do well though and for that reason he will find a home in the NFL.
Like Eieft, many will say that Wood is leaving Notre Dame early, but in reality, Wood is leaving on time. He is leaving a year of eligibility on the table, but he was a senior in 2012 just like Eifert. Unlike Eifert though, Wood could have potentially improved his draft stock by coming back to Notre Dame for another season. He lost his starting role to Riddick in the summer after being suspended for the first two games and never gained it back while showing some inconsistency.
Up until last week, Jamoris Slaughter was holding out hope that he would be able to return to Notre Dame for a 6th year after missing the final 9.5 games of his 5th season due to a torn Achilles suffered against Michigan State. Slaughter’s request, however, was denied by the NCAA and thus he begins his quest to continue his career at the next level. Slaughter moved around a bit for Notre Dame, but injuries seemed to slow him down even when he was “healthy” which caused him to never reach his full potential while with Notre Dame. If Slaughter can get, and stay healthy, he has a chance to be a special teams stalwart on the NFL level at least.