Notre Dame Football 2014 NFL Draft Tracker, Analysis and Results
Notre Dame slipped from 2012’s BCS national title game appearance and 12-1 season, but plenty of NFL talent still resides on the Fighting Irish’s roster. That’ll be clear this weekend when the 2014 NFL draft unfolds.
Led by likely first-round offensive tackle Zack Martin, as many as eight Notre Dame players could hear their names called in the three-day draft, which begins Thursday night and runs through Saturday at New York's Radio City Music Hall.
Here is a look at the former Irish standouts who expect to hear their names called in the seven-round draft, with analysis, stats and projections.
WR T.J. Jones
Drafted: Sixth round, No. 189 overall to Detroit Lions.
Weight: 188 lbs
He is a highly productive receiver who can play a number of different positions. Jones served as a team captain and runs his routes well with good acceleration, balance and body control. He has the ability to make things happen after the catch and had good hands. He could stand to get stronger and lacks elite burst and explosion, but has a well-rounded skill set.
The Lions have one of the NFL's best receivers in Calvin Johnson, but clearly need to add depth. They signed Golden Tate away from the Seahawks as a free agent and also drafted receiving tight end Eric Ebron as their first-round pick. However, with the likes of Kevin Ogletree and Ryan Broyles as the top reserve receivers, Jones has a great chance to stick and see some snaps this fall.
Notre Dame’s receiving situation is unsettled. Davaris Daniels, the Fighting Irish’s top returning receiver (49 receptions, 745 yards, seven touchdowns as a junior) was suspended from school for the spring semester for an academic matter but hopes to return this fall.
Beyond him, Chris Brown (16 receptions, one touchdown) is the leading returning receiver. C.J. Prosise and Corey Robinson will also be expected to contribute more heavily this fall. If Daniels can’t return, Everett Golson will be severely lacking in receiving options.
CB Bennett Jackson
Sixth round, No. 187 overall to New York Giants.
Jackson is a converted wide receiver who was impressive at the NFL Scouting Combine with a 38-inch vertical leap. He is a durable player and team captain who could also fit in on special teams, although he needs to hone his cover skills and also needs to add bulk to jam opposing receivers better.
The Giants signed free agent cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond to deals this spring, and Jackson likely won’t have a shot at starting unless something catastrophic happens. He fits in as a developmental player who could see time on special teams this fall and improve his skills.
One of the Fighting Irish’s starting corner roles will be held down by standout senior KeiVarae Russell, but the battle for Jackson’s spot will be fascinating.
Cole Luke was the starter in spring, but he faces a battle in preseason practice from Cody Riggs, who has SEC experience while transferring from Florida. It could be one of the most intriguing position battles of the fall.
LB Prince Shembo
Drafted: Fourth round, No. 139 overall to Atlanta Falcons.
Weight: 230 lbs
Shembo is a strong, physical player who gets things done at the line of scrimmage with good sideline-to-sideline movement and is also a good tackler. He does not have elite speed and his instincts are average. He is a very competitive player who could fit in on special teams and as an outside linebacker with average size.
The Falcons are looking for depth at linebacker, seeking players who are versatile. Shembo fits that bill. He is unlikely to start, but will likely see time on the field at the Georgia Dome this fall.
Shembo was a productive outside linebacker, but it’s hard to tell how he’ll be replaced with new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s 4-3 scheme. Sophomore Jaylon Smith started 13 games as a sophomore, making 67 tackles. He’ll clearly be the Fighting Irish’s top linebacker this fall but will operate as a more of a “Will”, or inside linebacker in VanGorder’s system. He can move inside or outside, however, and will be active all over the field.
OG Chris Watt
Drafted: Third round No. 89 overall to San Diego Chargers.
Weight: 310 lbs
Watt was a solid starter for Notre Dame who moves his feet well and is a great run blocker with good balance and footwork. He is also a good pass blocker with good hands and mobility. He is a tough, smart player but doesn’t have ideal arm length and is an average athlete. He could easily fit into an NFL team’s interior line.
The Chargers featured one of the NFL’s most improved offensive lines last fall, protecting Philip Rivers well and helping Ryan Matthews rush for a career-best 1,255 yards en route to a playoff berth. But the right side of the interior line is getting a bit old in the tooth. Center Nick Hardwick will be 33 in September, and Jeromey Clary is 30. Watt is an excellent selection to build depth. He likely won’t start this fall but will learn behind Clary and left guard Chad Rinehart.
Backup center Matt Hegarty would be a solid choice to replace the departed left guard: he played center last fall but was one of the most impressive members of the left guard rotation this spring.
Connor Hanratty spelled Watt when he missed time with injuries last fall, and started four games between left and right guard. He could fit in at either guard slot this fall on a line that must replace its left side in Watt and first-round pick Zack Martin. Steve Elmer could also competed there.
DT Louis Nix
Drafted: Third round, No. 83 overall to Houston Texans.
Weight: 331 lbs
Nix is a big-bodied presence inside who can collapse a pocket with excellent strength. He is a better run stopper than a pass rusher and needs to work better with his hands and play better against double teams. With a 331-pound frame, conditioning and stamina are issues, but he’ll be picked in the first two rounds of the draft regardless. He is coming off season-ending surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
Nix slipped to the middle of third round, potentially due to concerns over his health, but if healthy, he’ll be an excellent addition to a Houston defensive line that features star defensive end J.J. Watt and No. 1 overall selection Jadeveon Clowney. It’s unclear how much Nix will contribute as a rookie, but he has huge upside for the Texans.
Nix leaves a huge hole (literally and figuratively) in the Irish’s defensive front. But when new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder watched tape of last season, he surely noticed Jarron Jones. Jones made three starts after knee troubles ended Nix’s season and made 13 tackles. He stands 6’5”, 305 pounds as a former defensive end and filled the gap capably. Tony Springmann, whose 2013 season was ended by a dislocated knee in preseason practice, is also on track to contribute.
TE Troy Niklas
Drafted: Second round, No. 52 overall to the Arizona Cardinals.
Weight: 230 lbs
Niklas is a converted linebacker who is the latest in a long line of standout Fighting Irish tight ends. He has only played two years as a tight end, but is a natural. He is an athletic player who is a threat in the red zone and over the middle, and is a solid blocker. He is still working on gaining some strength and only has average speed and elusiveness following the catch, but he has excellent potential to be a solid all-around tight end prospect.
Niklas is an excellent fit in the Cardinals' system, as coach Bruce Arians loves to use tight ends. The Cardinals signed former Viking John Carlson as a free agent, and returnee Rob Housler caught 39 passes for 454 yards and a touchdown. Niklas might not start, but if he improves his blocking he'll contribute early.
Niklas continued the Fighting Irish's tight end success, and next in line is Ben Koyack. The 261-pound senior showed improvement last fall, making 14 catches and three touchdowns in a reserve role behind Niklas. Coaches have praised his improvement in both receiving and blocking, but he’ll need to take another step forward to continue Notre Dame’s tight end legacy. He’ll need to be more well-rounded, and coaches believe he can make that transition. To what level he’ll rise, we’ll see this fall.
DE Stephon Tuitt
Drafted: Second round, No. 46 overall by Pittsburgh Steelers.
Weight: 304 lbs
With excellent size and length for a defensive end, Tuitt is capable of making things happen in opponents’ backfields with great movement. He is a strong tackler who can play at defensive end or defensive tackle. He can work better with his hands and develop pass rush moves despite 20.5 career sacks in college. He could be more consistent but has the size and strength to make a difference on an NFL defensive line.
Tuitt is a natural selection for the Steelers, who are looking to get younger on their defensive line. Veteran Brett Keisel just finished his 12th season but is not expected to return. Adding Tuitt gives Pittsburgh youth that could contribute immediately.
Replacing Tuitt, the Irish’s sack leader in the past two seasons, is a tall task. Notre Dame could rely on a variety of players to fill his role in the 3-4 defense. Senior Chase Hounshell has missed the past two seasons with shoulder injuries, and production from him would be a plus. 6’3” sophomore Isaac Rochell could fit in as either a defensive tackle or defensive end with his 280-pound frame, and 260-pound true freshman Andrew Trumbetti could also figure into the mix.
A breakout candidate could be sophomore Sheldon Day, who had 33 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss last fall while hampered by a high ankle sprain.
OT Zack Martin
Drafted: First round, No.16 overall to the Dallas Cowboys.
Weight: 308 lbs
Martin is one of the top offensive linemen in the draft and very versatile, capable of playing guard, tackle or center. He figures to start out at tackle in the NFL. A flexible player who has good feet, hips and hand placement, he reacts well while pulling or handling blitzing linebackers. He was a team leader and well respected by his teammates. He might eventually move inside to guard as he doesn’t have ideal arm length to play tackle. He could be an immediate NFL starter and is one of the safest prospects in the 2014 draft.
Martin’s selection was not a popular one in Dallas for fans who were hankering for Texas native Johnny Manziel, but it was a smart selection to improve the Cowboys’ running game. Martin could be plugged in at center, tackle or guard and his versatility will be a plus. He’ll see early action for America’s Team.
Martin's departure is a big loss for Notre Dame, but Ronnie Stanley is a veteran, capable replacement. He stands 6’5”, 318 pounds and emerged as the starter at left tackle during spring practice. The athletic Stanley moved from right to left tackle this spring and fit in well. Sophomores Mike McGlinchey and Steve Elmer provide valuable depth should Stanley falter.
RB George Atkinson III
Matt Miller Draft Projection: Undrafted
Weight: 218 lbs
Stat line: 555 rushing yards, three touchdowns.
Atkinson began the season as the Fighting Irish’s starting tailback but lost the job, rushing for only 555 yards on 93 carries. He was suspended for the Pinstripe Bowl for a violation of team rules. He has great size and speed and also ran track at Notre Dame for one season, and has been clocked below 10.4 seconds in the 100-meter dash.
However, he doesn’t always use his speed in the smartest ways and isn’t physical enough. In fact, that’s a big reason why he lost his starting role: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said he wasn’t running tough enough, and he would likely have been behind several underclassmen had he returned for his senior season.
What the Scouts Are Saying
“He’s one of the fastest players in the draft, he's 215 pounds. He might be the second or third best kickoff returner. He's going to be late draftable, his ticket is going to be returning kicks, playing special teams, and secondarily trying to earn some time as a tailback.” – Mike Mayock, NFL Network.