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January 22, 2014
Early ND draft projections
Including three early entrants and a fourth with college eligibility remaining (Louis Nix), Notre Dame has 13 former players vying for spots in May's NFL Draft and/or subsequent camps. Depending on showings in various combines in the next three months, Nix will likely be the first of the Irish off the board on May 8. Who will follow him? Notre Dame's prospects are listed alphabetically below.
George Atkinson, RB: Though his stats may not have shown it, Atkinson's body-type alone may warrant NFL teams to consider the junior. At 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, Atkinson reportedly received a draft grade of fourth-round or lower after Irish head coach Brian Kelly submitted evaluation paperwork on Atkinson's behalf. That grade could depend on the former track star's 40-time in front of NFL scouts.
More likely, Atkinson will land as an undrafted free agent and end up in a rookie mini-camp. CBS's NFL Draft Scout rates Atkinson as the 23rd running back in this draft. Again, a 40-time reflecting his past performances on a track could help Atkinson's cause.
Carlo Calabrese, ILB: Calabrese will keep his phone close at hand on the final day of the draft, but the call he receives likely won't come from a team drafting him. Rather, the 6-foot-1, 250-pounder can expect a few phone calls looking to sign him as an undrafted free agent. Draft Scout ranks him as the 33rd linebacker in the draft.
Dan Fox, ILB: Fox's plight will be akin to Calabrese's come May. Unfortunately for Fox, his versatility may work against him as teams know exactly what Calabrese can do: stop the run. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Fox will need to find a home in an NFL defense during mini-camps if he hopes to stick in the League.
Bennett Jackson, CB: ESPN's Mel Kiper identified Jackson as a likely late-round pick in November, and without an especially strong showing in the East-West Shrine Game last week, that projection likely will hold accurate.
TJ Jones, WR: Jones sat out the East-West Shrine Game due to the shoulder injury he suffered in Notre Dame's Pinstripe Bowl victory. In November, Kiper lumped Jones in with Jackson as a likely late-round pick, adding the senior receiver could end up an undrafted free agent. When asked about that assessment, Kelly quickly rose to his player's defense.
"Mel Kiper doesn't really…I don't know where his information comes from as it relates to TJ Jones," Kelly said before Notre Dame's home finale. "From everyone I've talked to, he will not be undrafted."
Draft Scout projects Jones as a possible sixth-round pick, though as always, his 40-time could help or hinder that landing spot.
Zack Martin, OL: Martin started the week of practice at the Senior Bowl well, earning consistently high-praise after spending Monday afternoon going against a frequent foe -- former Stanford defensive end Trent Murphy -- and shining Tuesday afternoon at both tackle and guard. Though Martin's measurements have long-sparked concern from scouts -- he checked in at 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds with 32 ¼-inch arms and a 76 7/8-inch wingspan -- a strong performance this week could move him into the first round.
Troy Niklas, TE: Niklas's unexpected departure from Notre Dame came after he received a second-round grade in his draft evaluation. Draft Scout ranks Niklas as the fourth tight end in this draft behind three other juniors. In order for the 6-foot-6, 270-pounder to move into the first round, he will need to impress at a combine.
Louis Nix, DT: There is not much debate about Nix's draft chances, hence his decision to forgo his final season at Notre Dame. Kiper has pegged Nix as a top-10 pick. SI.com slots the Florida-native closer to the middle of the first round. Draft Scout ranks him as the No. 1 defensive tackle. Despite the slight variance in opinion, everyone expects Nix to be a first-day pick.
Tommy Rees, QB: Notre Dame's lightning rod for the last few seasons will spark rampant debate from Irish fans for a few more months as they ponder his draft odds. Most pundits project the senior quarterback will go undrafted before quickly finding a home in a rookie camp and at least one mini-camp.
Rees finished his appearance in the Shrine Game 5-of-11 for 69 yards with an interception. He received positive feedback from his all-star game performance.
Kona Schwenke, DL: Despite an impressive senior season, Schwenke remains off most -- if not all -- draft analysts' radars. Despite that, Kelly has spoken optimistically about Schwenke's odds in the NFL.
"We're getting a lot of favorable reports on him being able to play next year as well, at the next level," Kelly said during the season. "He's a kid who is lean at 305 pounds right now. They're hard to find at 6-foot-4. And he's played well for us.
"His play has been for us the best it's been since he's been here."
Prince Shembo, OLB: Shembo finished the Shrine Game with four tackles and remains projected as a late-round pick by most. Kiper has said he could see Shembo going as high as the fourth round. Draft Scout expects the linebacker to go in the fifth or sixth round.
Stephon Tuitt, DL: When Tuitt received a second-round evaluation, many expected him to return for his senior year. Instead, the defensive lineman entered the draft and is widely-projected to go after Nix in the first round, though SI.com continues to speculate that Tuitt will be selected on the draft's second day.
Kiper has gone so far as to predict Tuitt could be drafted in the top-10 while Draft Scout ranks him as the third defensive tackle in the draft. Whether Tuitt plays as a tackle or an end in the NFL depends largely on the defensive system he is drafted into.
Chris Watt, G: Watt's senior season -- a capstone on an underrated career -- vaulted him into draft considerations. His 6-foot-3, 321-pound frame will keep him on the interior of the offensive line. He will likely be chosen in the first half of the draft.
Draft Scout ranks Watt as the sixth offensive guard in the draft, good for a third- or fourth-pick, while Kiper gave the lineman a third-round grade.
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