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Notre Dame Football: Predicting Which Players Will Declare Early for NFL Draft

Apr. 21, 2012; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish tight end Tyler Eifert (80) catches a pass for a touchdown in the first quarter of the spring game at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Randy ChambersAnalyst IDecember 14, 2012

The deadline for players to declare eligibility for the NFL draft is quickly approaching, and there are a few players for Notre Dame who have a tough decision to make. The school that is already losing leaders such as Manti Te'o and Zeke Motta may have to wave goodbye to a couple of other guys as well.

The process is real simple.

If a player doesn't think he has anything left to prove in college or hears that he is projected to be selected in the first couple of rounds, he will likely pack his bags.

But if a player finds out he can improve in a few areas and isn't ready to give up the college life just yet, he will return for his senior season to work on his craft.

There are only three players who would even consider leaving South Bend early. Those players are Tyler Eifert, Bennett Jackson and Cierre Wood.

Let's take a look at who should stay and who should go.


Stay: Bennett Jackson, CB

With all of the injuries in the secondary, Jackson was able to take advantage of increased playing time. After spending much of his time on special teams last year, Jackson finished second on the team with four interceptions and picked up 61 tackles. 

The problem with Jackson is that he hasn't provided us with much to go off of. He has always been a sure tackler, but this was the first season he has spent the majority of his time on the defensive side of the ball. Even in high school, Jackson was primarily a solid wide receiver who was able to make plays after the catch.

Jackson has proved to be a leader on the football field and has made his fair share of big plays throughout the year. I think another full year on defense would pay off in a big way for him, especially with Te'o no longer on the field. The media and scouts will be able to focus more on other players.

With great corners such as DeMarcus Milliner, Johnthan Banks, David Amerson and Xavier Rhodes entering the draft, Jackson would easily fall if he were to leave a year early.


Go: Tyler Eifert, TE

The wide-receiver class in the upcoming NFL draft has quite a few respectable players. However, if a team is looking for a big target who can line up at wide receiver or tight end, it should look no further than Tyler Eifert.

The redshirt junior is by far the best tight-end prospect in the 2013 NFL Draft and would likely be selected in Round 1. This is why he pretty much has no choice but to leave school early because that possibility isn't on the table forever.

If you are considered a Top 32 pick, you can't improve your draft stock that much with another year. And the risk (injury) is much greater than the reward in returning.

Eifert is a big target at 6'6" and 251 pounds and has the above-average ball skills of a top-notch receiver. He high points the ball extremely well and displays a great deal of athleticism and body control. Eifert isn't the fastest or most explosive tight end, but if you are looking for a sure-handed player, you have found your guy.

Even though Notre Dame is doing special things right now, returning doesn't make much sense at this point.


Go: Cierre Wood, RB

In a draft that isn't very deep at running back, Wood may feel tempted to test his luck and throw his name into the conversation. Wood’s mother, Valerie Wood, has already told the Chicago Tribune that her son is seriously considering leaving Notre Dame a season early.

One of the main reasons he may leave school is the fact he has a 14-month-old daughter to take care of.

Wood is coming off another productive season, rushing for 740 yards and four touchdowns. His 6.7 yards-per-carry average was also the highest of his career.

Wood could help out an NFL team in many different ways. He can line up as a running back, help out in the receiving game and can even contribute on special teams. Wood has great vision and can really hit another gear once he gets into the open field.

Even with a weak running-back class, Wood would likely wait awhile to hear his name called. Still, with his versatility and explosiveness, you have to believe a team will give him a shot to succeed at the next level.

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