Notre Dame vs. Stanford: Power Ranking the Top 5 NFL Draft-Eligible Players
Notre Dame's regular-season finale showdown against Stanford isn't simply a matchup of two top-25 teams.
There will be an added intrigue beneath the surface when the Irish and Cardinal meet at Stanford Stadium Saturday evening, one that NFL scouts will have a keen eye on. Each program possesses the services of coveted NFL draft prospects, each of which will play a key role for their respective teams in the 28th installment of the series.
So, which among those future professionals should you have your eye on?
Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford
Stanford's attacking 3-4 defense has been blessed by the presence of Murphy.
The 6-foot-6, 261-pound outside linebacker gives the Cardinal terrifying presence coming off the edge. Because of his tremendous closing speed mixed with brute strength, Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason is able to mix and match a variety of three- and four-man fronts.
With the NFL rapidly transitioning to the spread era, scouting departments are searching far and wide for players who fit the hybrid defensive end/linebacker position as perfectly as fifth-year senior does.
Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller projects Murphy being selected 29th overall by the New Orleans Saints.
Louis Nix, NG, Notre Dame
Due to a torn meniscus suffered earlier this season, Nix's draft stock has suffered, though it hasn't detracted from his potential value to NFL clubs.
At 6-foot-3 and more than 340 pounds—Nix's weight has been widely speculated since fall camp—the Jacksonville, Fla., native fits the bill as a prototypical interior defensive lineman in either a three- or four-man front.
Due to his burst off the line and nearly flawless technique, Nix is able to command the attention of double-teams, opening up blitz alleys for his fellow defenders.
While falling out of the first round is a likely scenario for the three-year starter, falling to a team somewhere in the second round is all but a certainty at this point, as Miller has projected.
Miller's projection: 34th overall to the Minnesota Vikings
Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
As has been the fate of his teammate, Louis Nix, this season, Tuitt has also seen his draft stock plummet due to injury.
The 6-foot-6, 322-pound underwent surgery to heal a sports hernia during the summer and was forced to miss nearly all of the Irish's summer conditioning program. Thus, it took Tuitt nearly eight games to return to his 2012 form that earned him such high praise.
At his size, if Tuitt can prove to scouts that he's fully recovered from surgery and capable of consistently playing at a high level, the Monroe, Ga., native could vault back into the first round.
But for now, Miller has Tuitt slotted as a mid-second-round pick.
Miller's projection: 38th overall to the Washington Redskins
Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
If you're an NFL general manager searching for a run-stopping inside linebacker, then Skov is your guy.
The Guadalajara, Mexico, native currently leads a brick wall of a Stanford defense with 85 total tackles, while ranking third for tackles for loss with nine.
After missing a majority of the 2011 season with a significant knee injury, Skov returned to form last season, being named to both Phil Steele and SI.com's preseason All-American teams. The vocal leader of the Stanford defense earned his way to those accolades through an aggressive streak channeled into the detailed structure of Mason's defense.
Miller's projection: 42nd overall to the Baltimore Ravens
Zack Martin, LT, Notre Dame
Starting in 50 consecutive games and being only the 18th two-time captain in program history will always catch the attention of NFL personnel.
Such is the case with Martin, Notre Dame's most consistent offensive lineman of the past decade. The Indianapolis native has been phenomenal as a blindside protector for quarterbacks Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees and Everett Golson during his career, leading an offensive line that has been a consistently excellent pass protection unit.
The only question surrounding Martin is whether at his size (6-foot-4, 308 pounds) he is capable of playing tackle at the next level.
Thus, it has been widely assumed the fifth-year graduate student will spend his professional career at guard.
Miller's projection: 63rd overall to the Seattle Seahawks