Tag: Stephon Tuitt

NCAA Football: Purdue at Notre Dame

Tuitt, Niklas, Nix and Watt go in draft’s second day


Notre Dame had four former players taken on the NFL Draft’s second day, with Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas, Louis Nix and Chris Watt all selected. At the end of the third round, only LSU joined Notre Dame with five players selected.

The first player off the board for Notre Dame in round two was Stephon Tuitt, selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 46th pick. Tuitt, who entered the draft after his true junior season slipped down the board, falling well outside of the first round after a subpar final season in South Bend.

“If you look at him from the 2013 season and you compare him to the 2012 season, you will see a different guy,” Steelers defensive line and assistant head coach John Mitchell said. “We got a good football player tonight. If this guy had been healthy coming into his junior year, he probably would have been in the top-ten guys drafted. We feel like we got a steal in the second round with our pick.”

Surprisingly, Troy Niklas came off the board just a half dozen picks later. Taken by the Arizona Cardinals, Niklas will join Michael Floyd catching passes in Arizona, taken 52nd by the Cardinal. Niklas is the 12th tight end in Notre Dame history to be taken in the drafts first two rounds. He joins Tyler Eifert, Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson and Anthony Fasano as recent tight ends selected early.

Interestingly, Arizona tracked Niklas carefully. They also proved Brian Kelly’s point that the 6-foot-6, 270-pounder has only just scratched the surface.

“Probably had he gone back, he would have been a top 10 pick with that skill set,” Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said. “He was more than – in the interview – he was more than ready in his mind and mine also.”

The biggest shock of the evening was the fall of Louis Nix. After looking like a first round pick, Nix slid all the way to the 83rd pick, going to the Houston Texans, where he’ll join Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt on the defensive line. Nix will play for new head coach Bill O’Brien and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, whose 3-4 system should be perfect for Nix.

Joining this trio in the first three rounds was veteran guard Chris Watt. Surprising some by coming off the board so early, Watt was selected by the San Diego Chargers, who see his versatility and ability to compete as a three year starter as a major plus.

“He’s tough and he’s smart and he’s played some solid, excellent football for three years in a major program, so we’re happy to get him,” Chargers general manger Tom Telesco said.

The draft concludes tomorrow with the final four rounds, where several Notre Dame prospects are in the mix to be selected.


Irish show well at the NFL Scouting Combine


Notre Dame had nine players at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. To a man, they all left town improving their proverbial draft stock. We’ve already touched on what the nine-man Irish contingency meant to the football program.

Speed, strength and athleticism were on display by Irish prospects, with statistical gains under Paul Longo’s direction quite obvious. As message-board sage FunkDoctorSpock points out, since 2008 only three Notre Dame prospects clocked a sub 4.51 40-yard dash: David Bruton, Golden Tate and Michael Floyd.

This year, three (George Atkinson, Bennett Jackson and TJ Jones) did it alone.

Let’s talk a look at the results for each player and walk through where they sit with individual workouts and a few more twists and turns until May.

George Atkinson
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

Analysis: Irish fans probably expected Atkinson’s elite track speed to produce an every better number than 4.48, but Atkinson did a very nice job in Indianapolis. He also talked candidly about the late-season suspension that ended his career watching his teammates play Rutgers.

Andrew Owens of BlueandGold.com caught this telling quote from Atkinson:

“It was during team meal and I was on the phone and Coach [Brian] Kelly walked up to me and told me to get off the phone,” Atkinson said. “For some stupid reason I decided not to get off right away, and it led to the suspension.

“I would’ve liked to have approached the situation towards the end of my career there, especially my junior year, with both carries and the coaching staff [with a] more mature mindset.”

Atkinson also talked about the health of his mother playing a factor in jumping to the NFL now. He’s the type of elite athlete that one team will look at as a special teams factor, and this performance might help his status as a late-round pick.

Bennett Jackson
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

Analysis: Jackson ran a 4.51 forty, a really impressive number, even though we all knew he ran track at Notre Dame. His 38-inch vertical leap and 128-inch broad jump were also explosive as well, along with his 20-yard shuttle time.

The tape wasn’t always kind to Jackson and his decreased physicality this season had many thinking he was still playing with a bum shoulder. But Jackson did enough to put himself in that mid-to-late round discussion among cornerbacks.

TJ Jones
6’0″, 188 pounds

40-yard Dash: 4.48 seconds
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

Analysis: When Jones ran an unofficial 4.40 in his first attempt of the forty, even NFL Network’s Mike Mayock was shocked. While the number rounded up a bit officially, that’s the type of speed Jones needed to display to scouts, who likely were questioning his ability to get behind a defense.

Jones didn’t show elite explosiveness, but running sub-4.5 was a big step towards moving Jones up draft boards.

Zack Martin
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

Analysis: Perhaps the only thing that hurt Martin in Indianapolis was the performance of some other elite tackles, with Auburn’s Greg Robinson and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan showing elite measurables.

Of course, everybody knew Martin wouldn’t be a true stud in shorts and a t-shirt and his performance at the Senior Bowl did more to help than the combine did to hurt. There’s still likely a team that’s going to take Martin in the last 10 picks of the first round.

Troy Niklas
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

Analysis: Niklas didn’t run the forty, but did do everything else. He was one of the top performers at tight end and also at the 60 yard shuttle for his position group.

Niklas has a few months to work on getting a time in the 4.6 range before the draft in May. The longer teams get to look at him the better, as his athleticism will be intoxicating for teams thinking they might have found another Rob Gronkowski.

Louis Nix
6’2″, 331 pounds

40-yard Dash: 5.42 seconds
Vertical Jump: 25.5″
Broad Jump: 97.0″
3-Cone Drill: 8.29 seconds

Analysis: Nix reached the weight many wanted him to be at, stating that he lost over 20 pounds from the end of the season to the draft. He had limited participation, not bench pressing or doing either shuttle run as he still comes back from meniscus surgery.

Still, Nix was a hit at the combine, and certainly didn’t hurt his chances of being the first defensive tackle off the draft board, even with Aaron Donald running a ridiculous 4.68 at 285 pounds.


Prince Shembo
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

Analysis: Shembo’s mostly earning headlines for his acknowledgment of his connection to the Seeberg allegations. But he did a nice job athletically as well, putting up numbers that top to bottom were better than Manti Te’o last year.

Shembo is on the short side, with his 6-foot-1 an inch shorter than he was listed on the UND.com roster. But he’s got some explosiveness as well, with a 38.5-inch vertical leap pretty astounding.

Stephon Tuitt
6’5″, 304 pounds

Bench Press: 31 reps

Analysis: Tuitt’s combine was cut short when a small foot fracture turned up on his medical exam. That kept him from showing off the slender physique he brought with him to Indianapolis.

The time table for an injury like Tuitt’s is six to eight weeks, making a Pro Day workout possible, but not necessarily the smartest decision. Still, showing up at 304 was crucial for Tuitt, and the 31 reps on the bench press give you an idea of his impressive strength.

Chris Watt
6’3″, 310 pounds

Bench Press: 29 reps

Analysis: Watt came to the combine still recovering from a knee injury suffered late in the season. He didn’t do himself any harm at the combine, measuring in as expected and putting up impressive numbers on the bench press.

(A 5.50 forty time credited to Watt was previously listed on NFL.com’s Combine results page, but no longer exists.)

He’ll have a few months to continue to get healthy and game tape will likely make sure he’s selected in the draft’s middle-to-late rounds.




Mayock talks about NFL Draft potential for Irish players


Yesterday, Mike Mayock hosted a conference call with reporters to discuss NFL Draft prospects. The NFL Network draft analyst, who also calls Notre Dame football games with Dan Hicks, held a marathon conference call, a multi-hour event that showcased Mayock’s ridiculous knowledge base.

Throughout the call, Mayock talked about various Notre Dame players that will be taking part in the NFL Scouting combine. Here’s a smattering of what he said.

On Bennett Jackson:

“I think Bennett Jackson is a corner with some length. He’s got to get stronger. He’s got some pretty good movement skills but he’s not an elite speed guy, so he has to use his length to compete on the outside and I think he’s probably going to be mid to late draftable, somewhere in that fifth round or so.”

On the Arizona Cardinals targeting Zack Martin in the first round:

“I think he can play tackle, but the beauty in this kid is he can play all five positions in the NFL and some teams look at him as a Pro Bowl there for playing at tackle doesn’t make much sense. So I think the first part of that question is, I think Zack Martin is going somewhere in that range, plus or minus 20. If he’s available, do the Cardinals buy into him as a tackle.”

On Troy Niklas continuing Notre Dame’s run at Tight End and what he’ll show at the Combine:

“He’s an interesting guy, first of all, because of his size. You’re talking 6 6 and a half, 265, played outside linebacker, his freshman year, converted to tight end. Only had two years of college football at tight end. The first year he had Tyler Eifert who had most of the attention while he was trying to learn the position. So effectively, you’re looking at one year of production as far as catching the football, so I think what he is, if he commits to becoming a good in line blocker, he could be the best blocking tight end in the NFL in two or three years.

“And if I was him, if I was his father or I was his coach, I would try to impress upon him that he should try to become the best blocker he can. He’ll make a lot of money for a lot of years. Secondly he’s a better receiver than people think. He is not Tyler Eifert, he’s not a 4 5 guy, but a 4 8 kind of guy, he can catch the ball short or intermediate, understands how to use his body to position it.

“So I don’t think he’s getting out of the second round because I think there’s a drop off after him. So I think he’ll be a valuable commodity in the second round. I think he’s in between Kyle Rudolph, I think he’s a better blocker than Kyle, but not as good a receiver as Kyle, if that makes sense.”

On Chris Watt: 

“I think Watt is a better football player than people have given him credit for in the past. I think he’s a starting guard or center in the league. He’s smart enough, quick enough, tough enough and has the size for center. I gave him a third-round grade as a guard. I think he’s a starting left guard in the NFL.”

On the draft fates of Nix and Stephon Tuitt:

“Regarding Nix, some teams and general managers really like him. He’s a prototypical nose tackle, big kid. He’s got good short area quickness for a 330 pound guy but he had the knee last year, he flashed but didn’t play at a high level all the time. He’s got to be a little bit lighter. He’s got to play at 330.

“So the question is, can he push the edge a little bit; can he gain an edge and push the pocket, and if you believe in that, then he’s probably a top 20 pick because he’s a player 330 pound nose tackle with some movement skills. If you don’t believe that, you can get some pass rush out of him, he probably isn’t a top 20 pick for your team.

“The Stephon Tuitt kid, there’s opinions everywhere, again. Now, this kid had a groin issue coming off 2012. He was a little bit heavy. He’s probably at this point, 6 6, 330 pounds, he’s probably grown into a five technique which is the defensive end in a 3 4. Doesn’t have as much value as a three technique or a 3 4 outside backer. So without getting real technical, I think Stephon Tuitt, if he went somewhere between 25 and 50, it wouldn’t surprise me.”

Early exits to NFL present new challenges for Irish

Troy Niklas

When Stephon Tuitt and Troy Niklas decided to leave Notre Dame after three seasons and head to the NFL, it presented another minor crisis for Brian Kelly. Yet the biggest dilemma won’t be how Kelly and the Irish replace two frontline players, both likely to be off the board in the draft’s first two rounds. But rather the Irish’s three-and-out players present a minor crack in the foundation of what the program is selling, the ability to play elite college football while also graduating from one of the country’s premiere universities. 

Kelly and the Irish staff have poster children for that narrative, with pin-ups like early draft picks Tyler Eifert, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd and now Louis Nix. In Nix’s case, you’ll see a player whose injury-plagued final season won’t hamper what NFL teams see, with Nix still projected by most to be a first round pick.

While situations like George Atkinson will happen, it’s hard not to understand why Kelly and his staff would be disappointed by the decisions by Tuitt and Niklas to leave, especially a player like Niklas, who is only scratching the surface of what’s to come.

Kelly talked about his thought process in a radio interview with Bill King on SiriusXM early this week.

“It just depends on how you look at it. I feel like when you come to Notre Dame, you don’t leave your degree on the table,” Kelly told King. “I just feel like it is the best 401k that is out there, the best insurance policy. You then are playing with the house money, so to speak, relative to your NFL career. You don’t have any concerns because you have that degree.”

It’s interesting to think back to the last time an underclassman at tight end decided to head to the NFL early. Kyle Rudolph wasn’t recruited to Notre Dame by Kelly and also suffered an injury that came as he tried to play through hamstring troubles. But when the feedback from the NFL came, Kelly supported the decision in part because Rudolph was the top tight end on the board.

As you listen to Kelly’s rationale, both in his radio interview and in what Niklas has already publicly discussed, the fact that Niklas could’ve been a first round player and the top tight end in next year’s draft is what bothers him the most.

“I also felt like the way the draft was unfolding with all the juniors coming out, that he could have been the top guy,” Kelly said of Niklas’ prospects in 2015. “But Troy felt like he was ready. We wish him the very best and hope that it turns out to be a good business decision, because when you whittle this all down, this becomes a real big business decision. We hope that it works out for him.”

That business decision is something Alabama coach Nick Saban knows well. As he’s built up the Crimson Tide program into a powerhouse, he’s also had to deal with the inevitable talent drain that’s come along with it. This year, Saban said goodbye to four juniors, and he discussed his rationale for approving those decisions.

“If you stay three years and you’re going to be a first-round draft pick, that guy should probably go because it’s a significant amount of money and a business decision,” Saban said. “All these other guys that are second-day … 53 percent of the guys that get second-round grades don’t even get drafted. It’s all about what kind of career you have.

“Even the second-round pick or third-round pick, your average signing bonus is $700,000. If you can go from being a third-round pick to a guy that’s the 25th pick, you make $7 million. That’s 10 times more.”

Compare that with what Niklas’ father Don said about the numbers the Niklas family crunched.

“Money wasn’t the focal point, but it was certainly a point,” Don Niklas told Irish Illustrated. “He got a consensus grade of being as high as a second round pick and typically teams are conservative.

“There are very few tight ends who have gone in the draft in the Top 10 and the Top 10 is where the money is. If you take the Top 10 out of the salary calculation, then going 21st in the draft isn’t terribly different than going in the second round at No. 34. We crunched the numbers.”

Saban’s stats put into context what the NFL’s Advisory Committee’s success rate is. While the Irish players that are departing have called the projections traditionally conservative, tell that to the guys that go undrafted (like Darius Walker or Cierre Wood), which happens every year.

Ultimately, leaving early grants you access to a living and salary that everyone — not just college football players — dream of making. But it also leverages your future, putting the onus of completing a Notre Dame degree on Niklas and Tuitt, two guys that have pledged to do so.

In many ways, NFL departures is a champagne problem for Notre Dame, with a draft class that’ll likely be the strongest the Irish have produced in decades. But how things fare for Tuitt and Niklas will ultimately be determined down the line.

Kelly submits NFL evaluations for Tuitt, Niklas and Atkinson

Stephon Tuitt

When catching up with the local media over the weekend, Brian Kelly revealed that he asked the NFL’s advisory committee for evaluations of three juniors: defensive end Stephon Tuitt, tight end Troy Niklas and running back George AtkinsonThe deadline to enter the NFL Draft is January 15. 

That Tuitt would receive an evaluation is a no-brainer. The 6-foot-6, 322-pound defensive end is believed to be a future first round pick when he decides to head to the NFL, a decision Tuitt hasn’t made. After the team’s awards banquet, where Tuitt took home the team’s award for lineman of the year, he shed a bit of light on the decision-making process, saying that he, his mother and Kelly will weigh the pros and cons before making a decision. There’s reason to think that Tuitt can certainly have a better season next year, especially if he enters the offseason healthy.

That evaluation submitted for Niklas also makes sense, as the hulking junior put together a breakout season on his way to becoming a Mackey Award semifinalist. With the NFL becoming more and more dependent on jumbo athletes like Niklas, the Irish’s track record of spitting out NFL talent alone makes him worth a look. Add to that Niklas’ 28 catches and five touchdowns, paired with his size and blocking ability, and you’ve got a guy that’ll be highly valued by NFL teams.

Niklas talked a little bit ($) about the evaluation process, seeing it more as a to-do list for his senior season than an impending decision-maker.

“Definitely some key takeaways, what they think I need to improve in my game,” Niklas told IrishIllustrated.com. “Definitely some good things to work on in the off-season. Just having a little bit of information at the next level so you’re not going into it next year kind of clueless.”

The wild card in all of this is Atkinson. The enigmatic running back led the Irish with 6.0 yards per carry this season, but seemed to disappear just as often as he dominated play. Atkinson’s home run potential is obvious, but after running for 148 yards against Oklahoma, including an 80-yard touchdown run, he ran for just three yards a carry against Arizona State, when he was given 18 carries against the Sun Devils mediocre rush defense.

From then on, he never got more than eight touches in a game, finishing the regular season with just one yard on four carries against Stanford. Atkinson’s size and sprinter speed make him an intriguing NFL prospect, yet you can’t help but think that Atkinson’s chances at being a feature back are gone, and his career on Sundays depends on his kick return abilities and niche skills.

Those that heard this interview last week could wonder if there’s some discontent between the Atkinson family and the Irish coaching staff. In addition to George’s limited touches, twin brother Josh hasn’t made it into the two-deep at cornerback and is now supplying depth at wide receiver. The evaluation could be three-fold for Atkinson. Add an objective third-party, reinforce the coaching staff’s point of view, and satisfy the frustrations of a father who likely only wants what’s best for his sons.

If Irish fans are wondering about a timeline for any NFL decisions, a look back at past years gives you an idea of the timing. Michael Floyd decided to return on January 12. Tyler Eifert decided on January 6. With the Irish bowl game done before the New Year, Tuitt will have plenty of time to make his decision.