Nine Irish players invited to the NFL Scouting Combine

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Notre Dame will have nine former players in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine. The premiere pre-draft talent evaluation session, taking place February 22-25 at Lucas Oil Stadium, will give NFL coaches, scouts and general managers a closer look at NFL prospects before the upcoming draft.

The following former Notre Dame players received invites:

George Atkinson III, Jr.
Bennett Jackson, Sr.
TJ Jones, Sr.
Zack Martin, Sr.
Troy Niklas, Jr.
Louis Nix, Sr.
Prince Shembo, Sr.
Stephon Tuitt, Jr.
Chris Watt, Sr.

After a few off years of producing talent, the NFL has looked kindly upon the prospects the Notre Dame football program has produced. Last season, the Irish had eight players invited to Indianapolis, with six drafted. The 17 prospects over the two year window is behind only LSU (24), Alabama (22), Florida State (22) and Florida (18).

Of course, not all prospects invited get drafted. Last year, Tyler Eifert parlayed his performance at the combine into a first round selection. Manti Te’o, the story of the combine as he was embroiled in his catfishing scandal, put up subpar test results, likely causing him to slip into the second round. Cierre Wood and Braxston Cave went undrafted last year.

The combine presents different opportunities for different Irish players. For Stephon Tuitt, it’s an chance to stake his claim as a first round defensive lineman. Physically, Tuitt must impress, both in measureables like height and weight, but also showing advanced athleticism during drills. The same goes for Louis Nix, who will likely raise a few eyebrows upon weigh-in, but should also impress with his quickness in individual drills and events like the shuttle run.

For as important as the combine is at the top of the draft, it may be even more important for players down the board. George Atkinson’s invite allows the former running back to display his greatest asset, his breakaway speed. If Atkinson blazes an elite time in the 40-yard dash, it could help a team take a flier on him in the late rounds. The same goes for Bennett Jackson, with his track background likely to come in handy.

Two bigger stories at the combine will likely be talent evaluators first look at junior Troy Niklas, who will show off a lot of impressive assets in Indianapolis. Physically, few tight ends will match what Niklas and his 6-foot-7, 270-pound frame can produce, and if Niklas is able to run in the 4.6 range, he’ll likely climb more than a few draft boards, pushing for the top spot among a crowded tight end position group.

Similarly, Zack Martin will have another chance to show his skills, though workouts in shorts and t-shirts tend to devalue what Martin is capable of doing on the field.

Notre Dame’s nine participants in the combine are the third most from a college football program, trailing just Alabama and LSU. The Irish’s two-year output is more players invited than the program produced over the previous five combines (2008-12).