Notre Dame Football: NFL Draft Projections for Every Former Irish Prospect

Keith Arnold@@KeithArnoldNotre Dame Lead WriterMay 5, 2014

Notre Dame Football: NFL Draft Projections for Every Former Irish Prospect

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    With the NFL draft finally (almost) upon us, it could be a very busy weekend for former Notre Dame football players. With 10 players hoping to hear their names called at Radio City Music Hall, Brian Kelly's program is hoping to continue the draft momentum that it's built since Kelly took over the Irish. 

    Success in the NFL draft isn't a new thing for Notre Dame. A program with the second-most NFL draft picks (the Irish's 477 picks trail only USC's 484), Notre Dame should close that gap on the Trojans by Sunday, with Kelly's talent-rich program potentially having a player chosen in every round.

    The Irish could match their strongest draft crop of the last 20 years. Seven players were picked in 2007, led by first-round quarterback Brady Quinn.

    It'll also likely be the most top-heavy draft for the Irish since 1994, the last time the team had four picks in the draft's first two rounds (Bryant Young, Aaron Taylor and Jeff Burris were all selected in the first round, while Tim Ruddy went late in Round 2). 

    Let's take a look at where Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has Notre Dame's prospects slotted in his final mock draft.  

Zack Martin

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    Miller's Projection: 17th overall to the Baltimore Ravens

    With the ability to play just about anywhere on the offensive line, Martin fits in perfectly with the Baltimore Ravens' needs. Martin's selection in the middle of the first round completes one of draft season's ultimate climbs to a draft position that Brian Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand have talked about for the past few seasons. 

    While Miller has Martin making it to the 17th pick, the NFL Network's Mike Mayock doesn't see him lasting past the 13th pick. Speaking to the South Bend Tribune's Eric Hansen, Mayock calls Martin the draft's safest pick

    "He’s too good, he’s too safe, and there are too many offensive line needs out there," Mayock said. "He’s about as safe a player as there is in this draft. And if you want him, you better get him early."

Louis Nix

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    Miller's Projection: Second Round (47th pick) to Dallas Cowboys

    There are some prognosticators that have Nix getting snatched up by the Pittsburgh Steelers or San Diego Chargers in the first round, but in Miller's draft, the Dallas Cowboys get their hands on Nix, with Jerry Jones getting a jumbo-sized tackle to anchor the interior of the defense. 

    While Nix's physique and trim look at the NFL scouting combine and his pro day had scouts impressed, there's a bit of a concern as to why he played his final season in South Bend at a weight that hovered close to 350 pounds. 

    In Miller's projections, Nix is taken after Pitt's Aaron Donald and Florida State's Timmy Jernigan, two defensive tackles that project to be one-gap players who can also rush the passer. Nix wasn't asked to do that in South Bend, and while he's the draft's best pure nose guard, not all teams are looking for that type of player. 

Troy Niklas

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    Miller's Projection: Second Round (62nd pick) to New England Patriots

    With Aaron Hernandez incarcerated and Rob Gronkowski slowed down by injuries, Miller has Bill Belichick taking Troy Niklas to rejuvenate a position that broke the offensive mold in New England. 

    No NFL head coach could get a better read on Niklas than Belichick, who has forged a good friendship with Brian Kelly over the past few years. The Patriots coach has spent time in South Bend watching the Irish practice as well as speaking at Kelly's coaching clinic, so he's seen his fair share of the Irish tight end. 

    For Niklas, a second-round selection would be a nice landing spot. But even better would be the opportunity to play in the Patriots offense, catching passes from Tom Brady at a position that's been statistically prolific as well. 

    The idea of "matching meatheads," with Niklas joining Gronkowski as 6'6", 270-pounders, makes for a frightening proposition. 

Stephon Tuitt

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    Miller's Projection: Third Round (99th pick) to Baltimore Ravens

    If Stephon Tuitt slides to the bottom of the third round, it'll be hugely disappointing for the three-and-out player, who left Notre Dame after a disappointing junior season. Entering the year as a preseason All-American candidate, Tuitt started the season out of shape after a slow recovery from an offseason hernia surgery, never recapturing the explosiveness he showed as a sophomore. 

    He displayed a new commitment to fitness when he showed up at the combine weighing just over 300 pounds, losing over 30 pounds from his playing weight during the 2013 season. But when a medical screening showed a minor fracture in his foot, Tuitt was unable to work out for scouts, instead hosting a pro day workout before having surgery. 

    In Tuitt, the Ravens would get a prototypical 3-4 defensive end who, at his best, shows powerful passing rushing capabilities and scary athleticism. He's also an example for Brian Kelly to use of a talented player who left his degree and likely millions of dollars on the table by bolting for the NFL too early. 

Chris Watt

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    Miller's Projection: Fourth Round (132 pick) to Seattle Seahawks

    Zack Martin's partner on the left side of the offensive line goes to the defending Super Bowl champs, where he'll have a chance to help fortify a position group that dealt with injuries and inconsistency last season. 

    Watt suffered a late-season knee injury, but recovered in time to take part in the Senior Bowl and scouting combine. While he lacks ideal size, Watt has the physicality NFL teams covet at guard, and he's heading to a franchise that's made offensive line a priority in the draft. 

TJ Jones

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Miller's Projection: Fifth Round (165th pick) to San Diego Chargers

    The Irish's MVP from last season finally goes off the board in the fifth round, a disappointment to Jones but likely a great fit for the Chargers. TJ Jones would join a receiving corps headlined by Keenan Allen but still looking for a capable No. 2.

    While Eddie Royal looks to be the Chargers' slot receiver, Jones has the versatility to play inside or out and showed last season that he can be a contributor on special teams as well. Running a 4.4 at the combine shows that Jones has the top-end speed necessary to get down field, something the Chargers could use as well. 

Prince Shembo

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    Miller's Projection: Sixth Round (211th pick) to Houston Texans

    Shembo's size makes him a bit of a tweener. That and a mildly disappointing senior season make him available toward the bottom of this draft.

    New Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien brought in defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to install his 3-4 system, likely a good thing for Shembo, who played as a "Cat" linebacker for four seasons in a similar system. While he lacks the proper size, Shembo battled that at Notre Dame as well, showing spurts of being unblockable while also struggling at times with leverage. 

    He spent the offseason trying to prove his versatility to NFL scouts, working as an inside linebacker and defensive end during all-star games and workouts. He'll also show value on special teams, where he'll likely start his NFL career.