Tag: Troy Niklas

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.”

Last look back: Wide receivers and tight ends

TJ Jones, Julian Wilson

For the first time in forever, the Irish entered the season without an All-American candidate to catch the football. Gone were Tyler Eifert, Michael Floyd, Golden Tate and Jeff Samardzija, one of the best runs of receivers in school history.

But even lacking a leading man, this season proved to be a formidable ensemble. Even as the Irish broke in a bushel of young receivers and unproven tight ends, the passing game stayed on track, with TJ Jones stepping forward with a big year while Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack providing a more than adequate 1-2 punch at tight end.

Let’s take one last look at the receivers and tight ends.


Beyond Jones, it’s amazing that Irish fans weren’t more concerned about the receiving depth chart. Senior Daniel Smith was a receiver heralded for his blocking skills. Luke Massa was a converted quarterback still hobbled after a major knee injury. While DaVaris Daniels was poised for a breakout season, the depth chart behind him was all unproven players, including a slew of freshmen.

At tight end, it wasn’t much better. Niklas was expected to take a big step forward, but Koyack was coming off a brutal sophomore season and Alex Welch was still recovering from an ACL injury. Freshmen Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe weren’t expected to play.


GP-GS No. Yards Avg. TD Long
TJ Jones 13-7 70 1108 15.8 9 80
DaVaris Daniels 13-9 49 745 15.2 7 82
Troy Niklas 13-13 32 498 15.6 5 66
Chris Brown 13-4 15 209 13.9 1 40
Ben Koyack 13-5 10 171 17.1 3 38
Corey Robinson 13-3 9 157 17.4 1 35
CJ Prosise 13-2 7 72 10.3 0 16
William Fuller 13-3 6 160 26.7 1 47
James Onwualu 12-4 2 34 17.0 0 23
Daniel Smith 6-2 1 9 9.0 0 9



Bronze: TJ Jones vs. Temple

It was clear that Jones planned on turning 2013 into a season to remember. He got off to a quick start, breaking short passes for big gains and quickly established himself as the team’s No. 1 receiving option.

While it was DaVaris Daniels who caught two touchdowns over the top of the Temple defense, Jones made six catches for 138 yards, including a 51-yarder that he turned from nothing into a big gain.

Silver: TJ Jones vs. Arizona State

I toyed with giving this the gold, just because it was such a critical victory for the Irish. Jones did a little bit of everything for the Irish in this win. He caught eight balls for 135 yards, while also chipping in a touchdown.

He got over the top of the Sun Devils defense while also contributing two clutch first down catches late in the game. He also made a big play in the punt return game, taking one back 27 yards.

Clutch performance in a win that was one of the team’s most impressive.

Gold: DaVaris Daniels vs. Purdue

This is the kind of game Daniels is capable of playing. Utilizing his top-shelf speed, Daniels got over the top of the Purdue defense for a huge 82-yard touchdown catch, fighting his way to the end zone. Daniels also caught a beauty in the corner of the end zone, making a strong play for the football when that didn’t always happen this season (see Navy).

But on this September night in West Lafayette, Daniels played the type of football Irish fans would love to see from him next season, catching eight passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns.





Will Fuller. This could’ve just as easily gone to Corey Robinson, but Fuller’s emergence as the over-the-top threat, in addition to some skills that show he can be more than just that, give him the narrow nod.

Fuller only made six catches this year, but looking at that stat line, the 26.7 yard average certainly sticks out. It’ll be interesting to see where Fuller lines up now that TJ Jones is gone and DaVaris Daniels is out for the spring semester.



DaVaris Daniels. His numbers took a step forward, but he left a lot of good football on the field. For a junior, there were just too many times were Daniels was in the wrong spot or making the wrong read, and too often 50-50 balls went up without Daniels coming down with them. Elite receivers make those plays. Daniels didn’t all the time this season.

Add to that the semester suspension for the spring because of academic issues. So while it’s hard to be disappointed with seven touchdowns and 745 yards, it wasn’t the true breakout season that it could have been.



With Jones and Niklas gone, it’ll be interesting to see how Brian Kelly reformulates his offense. If the Irish had two top-shelf tight ends, like they could have with Niklas and Koyack, the strength of this team was likely playing double tight end sets, something the Irish did quite well in 2012.

Now, that strength shifts to the perimeter, where a young depth chart could begin to showcase itself. This spring will give us our first look at Torii Hunter Jr. and Justin Brent, two young players that could make an early impact.

Without Daniels, who takes advantage of the additional reps? Is it Corey Robinson, who could have a field day with Golson’s touch and ability to throw jump balls? Do Chris Brown and CJ Prosise come into their own as upperclassmen?

Expect to see more out of the slot receiver this season, with some interesting candidates for the position already at wide receiver, but also with Amir Carlisle.

So while the talent on the edge continues to improve, the question marks certainly remain.


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.