Troy NIklas Leaving Notre Dame Early for NFL

Troy Niklas - Leaving Notre Dame for NFL
Notre Dame Fighting Irish tight end Troy Niklas (85) makes a catch during the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium. Michigan Wolverines defeated Notre Dame Fighting Irish 41-30. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s been a single day with more disappointing news stories for Notre Dame fans than today, I can’t remember it.  Late Thursday night reports surfaced that junior tight end Troy Niklas is leaving Notre Dame early and declaring himself eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft.

Add Niklas early departure to Thursday’s news of Matt Dickerson decommitting from Notre Dame and Davaris Daniels being suspended for the spring semester and you have a trio of terrible news for Notre Dame fans all in less than 24 hours.

Just a few weeks ago Niklas had told the media before the Pinstripe Bowl that he fully planned on returning to Notre Dame for his senior season.  Once reports surfaced that Nikals received a 2nd-4th round grade from the NFL Advisory Committee though his comments with regards to the draft were not as definitive.

Now we know why.  Niklas became the third Notre Dame junior to the declare for this year’s NFL Draft – an unprecedented number of Notre Dame underclassmen to bypass their senior seasons in favor of declaring for the NFL Draft.  Stephon Tuitt declared for the draft on Sunday as most expected and on Wednesday George Atkinson surprised most when he too declared for the Draft.

In his first season as a full time starting tight end for Notre Dame, Niklas caught 32 passes for 498 yards and 5 touchdowns – numbers similar to the production of Tyler Eifert in 2012.  Even with strong numbers, NIklas’s early exit comes as a bit of a shocker to most as no one could have envisioned that Niklas would be in position to leave early for the NFL after just his second season playing at tight end.

Prior to 2014, head coach Brian Kelly had done an amazing job of recruiting high profile juniors to return for their senior seasons.  Michael Floyd, Manti Te’o, Tyler Eifert, Zack Martin, and Louis Nix all could have left Notre Dame earlier than they did, but all returned at least for their senior seasons.  Efiert and Nix had eligibiltiy remaining when they did leave for the NFL, but completed their senior seasons and gained their degrees.

Luckily for Notre Dame Ben Koyack began to emerge in 2013 as a viable receiving threat at tight end, but Niklas departure will thrust either Mike Heuermann or Durham Smythe into a much more prominent role than either imaged they would have in 2014.  Given Koyack’s receiving skills and problems with blocking, Smythe may be in the line for the bigger role as the better blocker between he and Heurmann.  Notre Dame also has two tight ends in the current 2014 recruiting class in Tyler Luatua and Nic Weishar.

In our list of 2014 New Year’s resolutions for Notre Dame, we had hoped for a quiet off-season after the tumultuous off-season Notre Dame endured in 2012.  Well, the calendar reads January 9 and Notre Dame has already had three juniors declare for the NFL Draft, a key defensive lineman decommit in favor of UCLA, and lost its leading returning wide receiver for Spring practice.

So much for a quiet, drama-less off-season.

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  1. Notre Dame scored $96.6 million in revenue,and we cant find a world class oc and dc? its not about the money but clearly we have the ability to compete with anyone. were is that guy from oregon!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Really? Which CW are you talking about? The pinprick CEO or the wannabe player’s coach in the end? CW’s ego kept him in the grey area with his vasillating indecisiveness as a wannabe leader. BK has admitted the same exact problem at the begining of the 2012 season. “I need to get back being a player’s coach!” Leader’s who question their own leadership are of no value to anyone! They are lost sheep! Any board of directors in the real business world would throw them out on their tail! The jekll and hyde coaching club loses. Franklin is not from that leadership club he has stayed the coarse.
      PSU wanted a high energy ‘positive’ players coach that does not call out players in the media! The jury is still out on BK’s claimed transformation.

      Excellent question Brandon, thank you!

      1. So James Franklin with a 24-15 record is somehow golden in your book but BK and his 208-72 record should be thrown out by the board of directors.

        Your hypocrisy knows no bounds.

      2. PSU was desperate genius for a winning coach that fit their program exclusively. So your in love BK what’s new about that jr. ND hires Head Football Coaches to win National Championships! Slap that on your wall and grow-up!

        Woody Hayes had a better record than BK and look how he got fired Mr. Wonderful! Anger issues!

        Whatever, keep puffing those lucky charms!

      3. Don’t let your mind wander, it’s far too small to be let out on its own.

        Just keep sniffing your advertised favorite panther sex cologne to see the real moron in the mirror.

  2. The Big Ten is officially not as relevant any more to Notre Dame sports. sure they have the revenue of the Big Ten network, but they hung up another typical 2-5 in the Bowl Games.

    And talent? Follow the demographics.

    Where are our studs (early draft entrant) from:
    Georgia: Tuitt
    Florida: NIx
    California: Atkinson and Niklas

    This year, we have a nice contingent from California, Texas and Florida.
    And that is the key for us getting the top athletes.

    The Big Ten is a mere archive.

    And our schedule will begin reflecting that appropriately.

  3. niklas also had a concussion while at Notre Dame, and may have had one in high school.

    Given the recent studies, the short economic window, and news like John Carlson having to give up football change the way you look at things.

    at least for some of us.

  4. dog don’t hunt Jack.

    Championships at three levels are championships at three levels.

    Better comparisons might have been Tressel or Pinkel.

    Franklin fattened up on Wake and Kentucky, and the programs in disrepair.
    the only “solid” SEC team he beat was this year’s Georgia team.

    Facts are facts.
    Championships at three levels are championshbips at three levels.
    One quality SEC win is one quality SEC win.

    1. Facts are definitely in the paycheck! Hell yes the dog hunts at tune of 4.5 million per year! Stop licking the dog bowl clean. Listen to something ‘you’ duranko no nothing about! Franklin has personality plus and his players love him! BK is a purple face expert and his players love the assistant coaches. Stop making excuses for BK’s piss-poor interpersonal skills after 4 years. Fact is, you know damn well we are stuck with a prima donna similar to yourself! Take a bow you just won your own coveted “Princess on a pea” Award!

    2. Duranko,

      Franklin’s only head coaching gig was at Vandy. Not fair to compare. Let BK learn the ropes in the SEC and his numbers wouldn’t have been so great. I am telling you PSU will be vying for Big Ten championships under this guy and fighting the great cheat Urban.

  5. Jack, we have all wondered what “external” force would bring Bama’s program back to the pack. But it would not shock reason if, as you hint,
    Saban’s hire of the Gaetan Dugas of college football is the thing
    that infects the Red Elephant.

    As far as Franklin, it is still too close to the Paterno era. The Paterno family ought be exiled to football’s Elba. Al McGuire was eloguent and incisive, and those words are redundant when you mention McGuire,
    about the perils of following a legend. UCLA post Wooden and Bama post Bryant are case studies that it takes a decade or two. Franklin is from the Stroudsburgs so he knows the territory.

    And for the record, I must demur to the comparison of Franklin and Kelly. Kelly won championships at three of his stops. Franklin won none.
    that is a difference with distinction.

  6. JC,

    It’s easy to be a firecracker when 8 wins is a successful season. We’ll see what happens after the sanctions and the expectations of ghr fan base in PA. Just like BK your a genius at a second tier program. How about Lane dip shit going to Obama. Bad fit I think Nicki boy will regret that

    1. Jack,

      Hahaha! I love rattling your chain! I knew you would come up for air on that one! It’s criminal what PSU dorks are paying him???? I just imagine Jimbo Fisher will be back at the table on that one! Definitely a circus at PSU! Maybe their board of trustees were on a recent POT vacation in Colorado?

      1. JC,

        PSU people annoy me. I live in PA and the level of high school talent has dropped considerably. PSU will be a good program but to go to the height they were in the 80’s isn’t going to happen. I know I am going to get crap saying it, but the worst thing they ever did was go I to the Big Ten. Franklin is avoid coach, but he needs to recruit and recruit better than Joe Pa. It will be interesting.


        BK played in a week league with similar talent. Franklin coached in the SEC with inferior talent and beat some pretty good teams. Both accomplished great things before their hired at the big school.

      2. Good luck recruiting there. At least we are somewhat close to Chicago. Great PA football died with the grit of the coal-mining.

  7. Here you go Jack!

    This guy is from Vanderbilt going to Penn State, he was hotter a firecracker at Vandy! Plus he is getting paid 4.5m a year better than Jimbo Fisher’s 4.1m. WOW! What a deal! So yes indeed, there are plenty of good coaches out there coming up the ladder, just in case BK bolts to the NFL! Do you still need a list? Here’s 2 tiger! Fisher and Franklin!

    1. He may wind up being a great hire and winning a lot of games but I can’t believe PSU hired him. This guys tenure at Vandy was marred by a rape scandal. You would think PSU of all places would’ve steered clear of that. This will create all sorts of negative headlines in August when that trial begins. You know the media will make all sorts of ties to the case and PSU.

      Again, he won at Vandy which ain’t easy but probably not the best decision by the brass at PSU.

      My favorite Franklin quote, “I’ve been saying it a long time I will not hire an assistant coach until I’ve seen his wife. If she looks the part and she’s a D1 recruit then you have a chance to get hired.”


    2. A bit of an interesting hire since there was some scandal I thought with a sexual assault or something at Vandy given what has happened at PSU. I thought it even stranger Saban hired douche Kiffen and that Doug N would want to go to Michigan to take the same job he left at Bama. Coaching carousel is a spinning.

  8. I think our offense is going to light it up next year and frankly our D is going to have to be solid, not exceptional. They can do that.

    1. I hope you’re right fxm. I also think 11 wins will be iffy to get into one of the four playoff slots! Based on looking at the top four teams last year, and looking at schedule this year, we definitely need the luck of the Irish! Plus, win as many shootouts as we can. Tall order!

  9. spicey, I think that he would have improved, but he made great strides this year. He is much better as a route runner, and is much better running with the ball after he catches it.

    The evolution of the Tight End position is intriguing. The Patriots really pushed it forward with the way they used criminal Hernandez and Gronkowski, and EVERYONE noticed when Hernandez got arrested and Gronkowski was out. The Pats offense was not the same.

    Jimmy Graham, Coby Fleener, Greg Olsen (former Notre Dame player for a cup of coffee), Antonio Gates, Zach Ertz, Ben Watson are prominent players for
    playoff teams. Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez were team leaders for teams not in the playoffs.

    But the tight end who can both block and pass is valuable and causes match up problems, mostly because the TE is not navigating against the alleged
    “lock down” corners. The position has risen in value the last several years.

    Niklas will do well, and he may make himself a lot of money at the combine.

    Ben Koyack! Come on Down!!

    1. Lots of Depth at TE. ND will be ok in this area. The loss of Tuitt is much worse as the depth on the D line is lacking. Now with 2 or 3 scholarships added maybe we can land a couple big fish. CB Adoree Jackson, S John Smith, RB Kalan Ballage, and Flip a 5Star DT are on my wish list

  10. I honestly thought he could use another year as a starting TE at ND. At least his predecessors all had at least two years of starting experience. Niklas only has one year of being a starter. He will eventually become a good TE. He is in the mold of Martellus Bennett with good speed and incredible size. Like Bennett, Niklas will need a couple of years.

  11. Hummm…me thinks something is amiss here. While Troy is a good TE – he certainly isnt great and needed another year in my opinion to really mature. He isnt on the level of a Rudolph or Carlson or Eiffert or Fasano. The same argument of needing another year can be applied to GAIII or quite frankly Tuitt especially coming off an injury this year. Something aint right here – almost like rats off a sinking ship called the USS BK perhaps…the interview w/ Philly almost immediately after getting pummeled by Bama last year still really does not sit well with me….somethng smells about this. Recruits decommiting happens every year although even that seems to be happening more frequently…

  12. For the individuals, as long as they graduate, the rest is their decision. Regardless of whether players leave before their final year of eligibility, Notre Dame’s mission is the graduate top students with character and who will contribute to society. Some of those are athletes who will manage their academic career along with their athletic careers.

    For the football program, and how long the learning curve seems to be to get to championship level play, large numbers leaving early does not bode well for the team’s ability to play for championships. Kelly’s system and Notre Dame’s academic standards require more commitment.

    Furthermore, unlike basketball, caution should be excercised by players who may or may not be physically mature to withstand the rigors of NFL speed and contact over a 16 game season.

    Finally, is there a connection between the churn in players and commits, with the recent churn in coaching staff? Is Kelly interviewing again? Or is he solidifying a stable staff?

    Would one of the gurus care to compare turn over of players between Notre Dame, Stanford, and Michigan State? Some are saying MSU is now close to getting to that next step of playing for the NC. Anyone cre to comment? Objectively?

      1. Thanks, JC. Hopefully one of the gurus provides insightful analytical responses to my questions.

      2. In the past 5 years, nearly 15% of the Rivals Top 100 (yearly) recruits have de committed from the original school they gave a verbal to. What’s interesting is that over 35% of those that de commit either fail to qualify, transfer or get dismissed from their teams.

        Over this time period Urban Meyer and Lane Kiffin were the best at flipping commitments.

        Stay classy.

    1. Bama’s had 3 guys de commit since the end of November. Roberts, Talamavio and Jones have all switched.

      So everybody relax, it happens.

      1. You get some of it, just not when a top recruit can expect to be a starter. At Bama, you might think the de commits know there is someone ahead of them. Just speculation. Most of us want Bama’s problem with talent overload before we see decommits.

      2. Kudos C-Dog,

        You’re exactly right, we do not have the talent depth luxury like the elite teams. Our depth is improving but just not even close to the problem Bama has. How many times can we afford to set all our starters on the bench, and play our practice 1st team even one critical quarter against elite teams? When that day comes we will have Bama’s problem. ND will then be an elite team and command the respect most players will be happy, ready and willing to wait their turn to play! Until then, we are still building quality depth to become elite! We will certainly know when we get there!

        Was it Lou who benched all the starters for a whole quarter for bad play? I could be wrong but I’m thinking it happen.

  13. What’s with all the doom and gloom about players leaving early? That is part of the process when you have an EMERGING, SUCCESSFUL football program. It means players are coming to Notre Dame and PERFORMING at a level that equals a chance in the NFL.

    If your hoping for all players to stay 4-5 years, I suggest you start cheering for some bottom of the barrel teams. Personally, I’d plan on great ND players being there 2-3 years and going to the NFL. If that becomes common, that will also mean we aren’t playing in the Hawaii/Pinstripe/Sun Bowl year in and year out.

    The key is reloading the roster. All successful programs deal with players leaving early. The great programs simply plug in another player of equal or greater talent to fill the void.

    1. If they go on to have successful careers in the NFL, I would agree with you.

      If Niklas was projected to be a first round pick, then yes, it really wouldn’t be shocking.

      What concerns me a bit is that he is projected a 2nd to 4th round pick and he decided to leave. Another year at tight end could have resulted in him being a 1st or 2nd round pick. That could be millions in the NFL that he’s losing by going now.

      To me, that’s an indication that all may not be well in the ND locker room. I certainly could be wrong.

      I’ve said all along, BK needs to succeed. If BK fails, I don’t see any top line coaches coming to ND in the future with all the changes coming in college football, along with ND’s stringent standards (which I’ve always supported BTW).

      If BK fails, that will be the 4th coach in a row to fail to meet expectations. I think that would be a crushing blow to ND and we’d really have to face the prospect of being grouped with teams like Northwestern, years of mediocrity with an occassional BCS-type bowl every few years.

      Simple put, we can’t afford for BK not to succeed.

      1. Let’s include, J. Swarbrick and the athletic department and also, the Office of Student Affairs, and finally, the Office of University President.

        We’ve been thinking this, but it hasn’t been articulated loudly. The issue is broad. It’s not a savior QB, or even just the coach. It’s not the AD, or just the administration, ( although I have a hard time with the limp wristed President ). All together they need to figure out what they stand for, what gives Notre Dame it’s unique identity and they need to adapt what they do to fit inside that. Whatever Stanford is, Stanford knows itself and is true to itself. That’s why Stanford is stable and competing consistently and successfully without too much drama. I’d begin to put MSU in that category. Rumors have it that Narduzzi will wait for Dantonio to retire. That program achieved it’s own identity that is no longer about couches burning or coaches slapping themselves.

        Worrying about any player, coach, turf versus grass, jumbo trons, irritating music, etc. will ensure a no better than good, “brand” with folks arguing about how this team or that team measure up against the ghosts of the fading past.

        Define who you are as an institution and figuring out how athletic excellence fits in that principle, and then holding to that unique identity. That’s what will restore glory by laying a foundation toward excellence and “Playing Like a Champion”

        ND can maintain it’s values and succeed, but the entire organization needs to commit to both and intelligently execute.

      2. “Define who you are as an institution and figuring out how athletic excellence fits in that principle, and then holding to that unique identity. That’s what will restore glory by laying a foundation toward excellence and “Playing Like a Champion.””

        This sounds good but we have heard this over and over again. If ND football does not meet your expectations than the institution has lost its way? Why, because it’s losing football games? If you can, provide more details about the inner confusion because I am not as well versed as you are on the AD, President, etc. situation.

        For me, I lay the current state of ND football at the feet of Brian Kelly. In terms of wins and loses, is the program elite? No. Are we above average? Maybe Yes. Is this acceptable? For me, No! For the University? Who knows.

      3. MMA1983d,
        You make the point several of us have been trying to communicate. ND’s athletic successes have always been integrated into the institution’s academic success and religious mission. It’s been an experiment not to compromise either. Accepting 9-4 seasons and polyanna talk about “Next Year” has gotten so old.

        I don’t like just pointing a finger at Kelly. But I wish Notre Dame would either ask itself hard questions and get into that elite position to stay for a while, or just make an announcement that it no longer is willing to make the effort. Hope is not a good strategy.

      4. In 2012 we were embarassed in BCS title game and last year we chose the lowest rated bowl team (6-6)! The administration needs to rescue itself from its own incompetence. They either design a new 21st century innovative student/athlete program to level the playing field, or simply move down to Division 2 Football. Furthermore, masquerading around as a relevant zeitgeist marketing strategy is definitely more than 26 years stale and counting. Time for a real performance review. Top to bottom.

  14. Frank, if you think about it, is this news really to be considered “disappointing”?

    There was a time, not so long ago, that when you looked around the NFL and you could find very few former ND players. That was disappointing.

    Now that ND is putting more players in the NFL than ever before we suddenly reguard the anual mistep by a current player and a decomit from another who was never fully on board to begin with, as disappointments?
    Players going to the NFL is a disappointment?

    Contrary to what some misguided fans might say, ND’s top priority has always been to develop and prepare it’s students and students athletes for life in the real world, not a fantasy one.

    For me, seeing an ever increasing number of our players making it in the NFL is refreshing and satisfying. It speaks of success. Losing players early to the NFL is the price of that success.

    I give Brian Kelly and his staff a lot of credit for keeping his players humbled and focused, for developing their skills and talents, and instilling in them the tools and attitude necessary to be successful at the next level and throughout their lives. That is what ND is all about.

    There is nothing worst than wasted talent.

    Looking at the current number of players in the NFL and their names, it appears clear that Brian Kelly has done a better job than his predecessors at meeting those goals of success.

    Troy Niklas came to ND as a linebacker. He leaves as a tremendous tightend, blocker, reciever, team player, and a superb representive of the University and it’s football program.

    The more players that ND helps make it in the NFL, and in life, the more top recruits will want to come here to play.

    1. @ Shaz . . .

      “There is nothing worse (sadder) than wasted talent” (‘Bronx Tale’).
      Key message to all Troy’s age.
      Great post. I couldn’t say it better or clearer. But the devil tempts me with doubt about this early out.
      Something doesn’t add up here.

      Troy chooses the opportunity to play in the NFL now. He foregoes the opportunity of getting his ND degree, playing TE at ND, and more likely a bigger paycheck as a higher pick next year (or so the draft experts are projecting)

      His parents (reportedly) both wanted him to stay as of a week ago: Had he waited a year, his higher pick could have made him millions more as he left with his degree.

      Economics teach opportunity cost.

      Is what you’re getting out of it (staying as TE w/ degree at ND) worth what it costs you (probable higher pick/paycheck/degree next year) ?

      Why isn’t deferring your dream by staying at ND not worth it ? Does his decision wanting to play now in the NFL have anything to do with him not seeing a good enough reason or enjoying where he’s at, even if staying translates into a higher paycheck/degree next year?

      The devil made me ask it.

      I hope the team is appreciating and moreso enjoying the experience at ND.
      For most, it should be the “best of times”. If not, what’s down?

      Best wishes to you, Troy, for future health and success in the NFL. It was great watching you develop into an elite player.

  15. It seems BK is losing control or the faith of the team. He has some work to do. I’m a NY Giants fan, and Tom Coughlin can be a bit of a model hear. The year before they won their first Superbowl under Coughlin in 2008, it had appeared he had lost the team. Fans were calling for his head and even some team members (Tiki Barber in particular) were complaining about his coaching style. Then in the off season he did some soul searching and he was a much different coach to his team the following year. Then they make it to the playoffs and every playoff game that year the Giants were underdogs, but they won every one and took care of New England too.

    Now that’s not to say Coughlin doesn’t get red-faced still. But the players no longer blame him when they play poorly. Much like ND, this year the Giants were hit hard by the injury bug.

    I think BK could take a few lessons from Coughlin. When a player does something stupid or draws an idiotic personal foul penalty, I have no problem with him getting in their face. I think people sometimes forget Lou Holtz wasn’t always the nice guy he is now on ESPN. He used to grab guys by the helmet and scream at them. That’s football. But he has to work on player loyalty. Losing guys to the NFL that aren’t projected first round picks is concerning.

    In all fairness, sure, the loss of both the OC and DC is part of that. Whenever a coach leaves a team, sometimes some players leave too. But he needs to work harder to keep the team together. BK does have it in him. The year he kept Floyd from bolting was a real success story. I don’t know that even Weis, who recruited him, could have managed that. Also, he had an ability to get decommits to recommit at times. He needs to get his mojo back, esp. considering they won their bowl game this year.

    These players leaving is a reason for some concern, but it’s still not to the level of having EG kicked out last year. There’s no reason they still can’t at least draw a high level bowl (BCS equivalent) this year. I gave BK a pass this year because I always believed not having the ideal QB was a big loss for BK.


  17. Well, how about that for a mass exodus all in one day! What’s next the Detroit Lions or Div 2 football?

    Howbeit, “Apoplectic” Imposter duranko say’s no whinin’ boys!

    “remember this when all the pharasaic faux Notre Dame purists, traditionalists and Templars come a whinin’.”

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