There is plenty of talent in South Bend these days. However, can that talent translate to the NFL?
As we look at the Notre Dame roster for the 2012 season, there are seven players that have the potential to make big impacts at the next level. We're going to look at each one and project where they could wind up being drafted.
Keep in mind, depending on their circumstances, a lot of these players will be in different drafts. They all have a lot of work to do while in South Bend, but if all goes to plan, expect to see them playing on Sundays very soon.
OT Zack Martin
The 2011 Notre Dame offensive line was fantastic. They had a few lapses late in the season; yet, they played great as a whole, led by Zack Martin and Braxston Cave (more on him later).
Martin has the size (6'4", 304) and athletic ability to compete in the NFL. He's quick on his feet and has a monster wingspan. He had problems keeping his hands active against pass rushers, but he got better and better as the season wore on.
I have him graded as a fourth-round pick, but that can change if he impresses at the combine.
DT Louis Nix III
Don't let the size of Louis Nix fool you; he can move. This athletic ability is what catches the eye of many NFL scouts, and it jumps out at you on film.
This past season is the first time Nix saw playing time after he spent his freshman season getting in shape and studying Ian Williams, 49ers DT.
Nix is most comfortable playing Nose Guard in a 3-4, but with a little work he could transition into a 4-3 Defensive Tackle.
I have him graded as a third- or fourth-round pick, but if he can prove that he can be on the field for three downs and has a couple more strong seasons, that could very easily change for the better.
C Braxston Cave
As mentioned earlier in talking about OT Zack Martin, the Notre Dame offensive line was very good last season. Braxston Cave, however, suffered a season ending injury down the stretch and Mike Golic, Jr., took over the center position.
Golic did an admirable job filling in for Cave, but the line was never quite the same, struggling a bit over the last couple of games against Stanford and Florida State.
When Cave was healthy, he was absolutely dominant. Cave has optimal size (6'3", 304) for an NFL center, and his lateral quickness really stands out on tape. It's a rare that a center is just as comfortable in pass protection as run support, but Cave truly is.
I have him graded as a third- or fourth-round pick. The only thing that could push him back further than that would be additional injury concerns.
RB Cierre Wood
This is the case of a player that could launch up draft boards or crash off of them.
Cierre Wood, when clicking, is the perfect NFL running back. Wood is comfortable running inside and outside, and has the speed to get the corner and strength to battle for extra yards. Also, he holds up in pass protection and is a fantastic receiver out of the backfield.
The criticism that usually comes with him is that he breaks very few tackles and lacks top-end speed. With all that being said, don't be surprised if after another solid season he launches up draft boards.
I currently have him as a third-round pick, as he'll have to prove he's a three down back to secure his spot in the top couple of rounds.
TE Tyler Eifert
It was a nice surprise for Irish fans that Tyler Eifert decided to return to Notre Dame following a stellar 2011 season.Eifert was rated as the top tight end by many publications, but chose to return to South Bend.
What has NFL scouts drooling over Eifert? Well, his size (6'6", 251) and athletic ability are good starting points. His hands are what stand out the most to me. If he gets a hand on the ball, it will be brought in. Eifert is very good at finding the holes in zones and sitting in them, as well as moving with his quarterback to give him a security blanket, all of which translate very well to the NFL.
I have him graded as a second-round pick, but with another solid season I wouldn't be surprised to see him go in the first-round as the top tight end chosen.
LB Manti Te'o
You would be hard pressed to find a better interior linebacker than Manti Te'o. Whether he's sitting in zone coverage, matching up in man coverage, stuffing the run or getting after the quarterback, Te'o does it better than anyone. Yes, it does help having Aaron Lynch and Louis Nix III in front of you, but it wouldn't matter even if he didn't.
It's amazing to watch a linebacker with the size of Te'o (6'2", 255) get from sideline to sideline as quickly as he does. Te'o made great strides in rushing the quarterback last season, using his speed and instincts to close quickly.
As long as he can stay injury-free and make slight improvements in coverage, he'll be the first inside linebacker taken in next year's draft.
No surprise, I have him graded as a first-round pick.
DE Aaron Lynch
This kid is a monster. I may get some flak for putting him ahead of Manti Te'o but, when all is said and done, Aaron Lynch will be the best Notre Dame prospect in a long, long time.
Lynch is incredibly strong. He's able to get off double teams quite easily, then has the speed to close quickly. Lynch has the size (6'6", 270) of a 4-3 defensive end, but I could also see him transition to a outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
As a freshman, his hands impressed me the most. Lynch has very busy hands and, coupled with his long wingspan, it's a nightmare for tackles to keep him off of their quarterback. Over the next couple seasons he will need to improve in run support, especially on the interior.
Nonetheless, he has all the tools to be a future Top 5 pick. Every time I see him on tape, I can't help but have flashbacks of Mario Williams.
I have him graded comfortably in the first-round, although he is still a couple seasons away from draft eligibility.