Notre Dame Football: Top 2014 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch for Fighting Irish

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistAugust 6, 2013

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 13: Louis Nix III #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes against Kevin Danser #76 of the Standford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 13, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Stanford 20-13 in overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Brian Kelly's Notre Dame squad produced six NFL draft choices last season as Tyler Eifert, Manti Te'o and four other Golden Domers took their talents to the next level. 

Looking at this year's roster it wouldn't be surprising to see them send just as many to New York for the 2014 NFL draft. 

South Bend has historically served as a strong NFL factory. According to Rich Exner of the Cleveland Plain Dealerthe Notre Dame program entered the 2013 draft with the third-most first-round selections in NFL history with 63 and second all-time in overall selections with 470. 

The Irish closed both gaps when Eifert went in the first round and their six selections were two more than current leader USC's four. 

With Notre Dame's rich history of developing NFL talent, there are plenty of players on the current squad that will wind up playing football on Sundays. Here's a look at the very best prospects to watch this fall. 


Louis Nix

Height: 6'2"

Weight: 326 pounds

Class: Junior

Manti Te'o made all the headlines for the dominant Irish defense last season, but it was Louis Nix that really made it work. The 6'2" 326 pound behemoth anchored the middle of their 3-4 look and allowed Te'o and the other linebackers to roam free. 

Nix is just a junior, but his incredible combination of size and strength alone makes him a prime candidate to leave early. In the run game he commands double teams in the middle and forces all runs to bounce to the outside gaps. 

As a pass-rusher Nix is surprisingly and athletic with the kind of burst that makes it difficult for centers to anchor against him. He even showed off his wheels as a quarterback in the Notre Dame spring game. 

Space-eating nose tackles with the athleticism that Nix has shown are always a valuable commodity to the many teams that run the 3-4 in the NFL. He should be a first-round selection with another strong season this year. 


Stephon Tuitt

Height: 6'6"

Weight: 322 pounds

Class: Junior

It's safe to say that the defensive line isn't an area of concern for the Irish. Tuitt is another first-round prospect for them this season. 

Tuitt is a classic five-technique in the 3-4 defense. He's strong enough to hold his own and occupy space against the run, but explosive enough to get a pass rush when called upon. He led the Irish with 11 sacks last season. 

Given his combination of size and athleticism, Tuitt could wind up as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 system or bump down to the three-technique in a 4-3. As the NFL tends more and more toward multiple fronts a player with the production and versatility of Tuitt appears to be another lock to go in the first round. 


Bennett Jackson

Height: 6'

Weight: 195 pounds

Class: Senior

Rounding out the Irish's top NFL draft prospects is Bennett Jackson. 

Last year, the secondary was one of the few questions facing this defense and Jackson emerged as a binding force in the unit. He was second on the team in interceptions with four and was second in pass break up with four. 

His efforts last season were enough to cause Gil Brandt of to rank him as the No. 5 senior cornerback in the country. 

Jackson figures to be a fourth- or fifth-round selection at this point, but that could change with another year for him to prove himself as a leader of the defense this season.