Tag: Troy Niklas

TJ Jones, Julian Wilson

Last look back: Wide receivers and tight ends


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.

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.