Notre Dame Football: Tracking 2014 NFL Combine Results for Former Irish Stars
Indianapolis serves as the epicenter of the NFL this week, with the annual NFL Scouting Combine taking place at Lucas Oil Stadium. Over four days, the top prospects from college football will be evaluated by NFL coaches, scouts and general managers, a very important step as team's set their draft board.
For nine former Notre Dame players, the combine serves as an opportunity to impress. While Zack Martin, Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt will fight to be drafted in the first round, prospects like George Atkinson and Bennett Jackson look to make an impression as a potential late-round pick.
For those looking for evidence that the Irish football program continues to improve, the attendance figures at the combine serve as an important datapoint. Notre Dame falls only behind Alabama and LSU for invitations this year.
The 17 prospects invited over a two-year period are more than Notre Dame had in the five previous combines and puts the Irish in lofty territory falling behind just LSU (24), Alabama (22), Florida State (22) and Florida (18) over the last two seasons.
Let's take a look at the nine former Irish standouts and follow their progress throughout the combine.
RB George Atkinson III
Atkinson is probably the biggest surprise of Notre Dame's early entrants into the draft. Gifted with sprinter speed, he's a work in progress everywhere but as a kickoff returner.
Atkinson's decision to forgo his senior season in South Bend was probably a mutual decision, with both sides likely frustrated throughout Atkinson's three seasons at Notre Dame.
But Atkinson is a physically gifted athlete with good size and elite speed, making him a talent some team might gamble on.
Height and Weight: 6'1", 218 pounds
40-yard Dash: 4.48 seconds
Bench Press: 19 reps
Vertical Jump: 38.0"
Broad Jump: 121.0"
3-Cone Drill: 7.07 seconds
20-yard Shuttle: 4.46 seconds
60-yard Shuttle: 11.50 seconds
Matt Miller's Draft Projection: undrafted
CB Bennett Jackson
Entering the season, the expectations were sky-high for Bennett Jackson. But an average season has turned the former Irish cornerback into a late-round prospect.
Jackson will need to use his time in Indianapolis to show the type of athleticism people expected to see this year. Jackson has good length for a cornerback and ran track at Notre Dame. He'll need to get a clean bill of health and show enough speed for a team to roll the dice on him.
Height and Weight: 6'0", 187 pounds
40-yard Dash: 4.51 seconds
Bench Press: 13 reps
Vertical Jump: 38.0"
Broad Jump: 128.0"
3-Cone Drill: 6.75 seconds
20-yard Shuttle: 4.00 seconds
Matt Miller's Draft Projection: Round 6 to Washington Redskins
WR TJ Jones
There's nothing extraordinary about TJ Jones. But he's a very good football player who needs to spend the combine showing he's a more than capable athlete as well.
Jones' senior season put together a good body of work for NFL talent evaluators. If Jones is able to go through testing and excel, he could climb up draft boards.
Height and Weight: 6'0", 188 pounds
40-yard Dash: 4.48 seconds
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: 33.0"
Broad Jump: 119.0"
3-Cone Drill: 6.82 seconds
20-yard Shuttle: 4.27 seconds
60-yard Shuttle: 11.45 seconds
Matt Miller's Draft Projection: fifth round to Miami Dolphins
OT Zack Martin
Few prospects in Indianapolis have a better track record than Martin. The four-time Notre Dame Offensive Lineman of the Year stole the show among offensive linemen at the Senior Bowl, drawing rave reviews during the week of practice.
Now Martin needs to impress in gym shorts and a t-shirt. He lacks the elite size of other offensive tackle prospects, but Martin can continue to dispel notions that he's a second-tier prospect and cement his place in the first round.
Height and Weight: 6'4", 308 pounds
Bench Press: 29 reps
Vertical Jump: 28.0"
Broad Jump: 106.0"
3-Cone Drill: 7.65 seconds
20-yard Shuttle: 4.59 seconds
Matt Miller's Draft Projection: first round, pick No. 28 to Carolina Panthers
TE Troy Niklas
A tight end who weighs 270 pounds and looks chiseled from granite is a good way to get some attention. But Troy Niklas will need to do more than look good at weigh-in to continue climbing up draft boards.
Niklas took the gamble after three seasons at Notre Dame and only one year starting at tight end to head to the NFL. If he can put up impressive numbers during testing and look smooth catching the football, he'll continue to be one of the draft's climbers.
Height and Weight: 6'6", 270 pounds
Bench Press: 27 reps
Vertical Jump: 32.0"
Broad Jump: 114.0"
3-Cone Drill: 7.57 seconds
20-yard Shuttle: 4.55 seconds
60-yard Shuttle: 12.19 seconds
Matt Miller's Draft Projection: second round to Green Bay Packers
DT Louis Nix III
Louis Nix III has plenty to prove at the combine, working to put an injury-plagued senior season in the rearview mirror and establish himself as the premiere nose guard in the draft.
After a knee injury robbed him of some athleticism, seeing Nix move at 345 pounds will be critical to getting into the first-round conversation. The man formerly known as "Irish Chocolate" has been diligent with his diet and rehab to be ready to work out for scouts. We'll see if that hard work pays off.
Height and Weight: 6'2", 331 pounds
40-yard Dash: 5.42 seconds
Vertical Jump: 25.5"
Broad Jump: 97.0"
3-Cone Drill: 8.29 seconds
Matt Miller's Draft Projection: second round to Houston Texans
OLB Prince Shembo
After a breakout junior season, Prince Shembo didn't build on it in 2013. Now he'll need to impress during the combine to make up for the fact that he's a bit of a tweener for NFL systems.
Testing will be important for Shembo, with strength, speed and agility a necessity for a player who'll need to rush the passer to show value. He's capable of playing 3-4 outside linebacker or lining up as a 4-3 defensive end, versatility that's a value. But to move up draft boards, he'll need to look the part this week.
Height and Weight: 6'1", 254 pounds
40-yard Dash: 4.71 seconds
Bench Press: 26 reps
Vertical Jump: 38.5"
Broad Jump: 122.0"
3-Cone Drill: 7.29 seconds
20-yard Shuttle: 4.31 seconds
Matt Miller's Draft Projection: sixth round to Arizona Cardinals
DE Stephon Tuitt
Tuitt did a nice job cutting down his weight, something he was very vocal about on social media. Now he'll need to show the type of freakish athleticism that had him running away from Navy skill players.
He's got all the size and power needed to be a 3-4 defensive end. But if Tuitt wants to be taken in the first round, he'll need to show more of what we saw in 2012, the season where he put up 12 sacks.
Height and Weight: 6'5", 304 pounds
Bench Press: 31 reps
Matt Miller's Draft Projection: second round to Pittsburgh Steelers
OG Chris Watt
Chris Watt isn't the type of guy who'll wow scouts in shorts, but he'll need to do a nice job at the combine, looking the part of an NFL lineman. He's done that on tape over three-plus years of starting, now he'll need to do it against other top prospects.
A late-season knee injury ended Watt's final season in South Bend early. He can use the next few days to show he's completely back and capable of being a starter at guard or center at the next level.
Height and Weight: 6'3", 310 pounds
40-yard Dash: 5.50 seconds
Bench Press: 29 reps
Matt Miller's Draft Projection: sixth round to New England Patriots
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