Troy Niklas didn’t ask for an NFL draft evaluation. That doesn’t mean the junior tight end isn’t curious about what’s returned in the next couple weeks.
Niklas, Stephon Tuitt and George Atkinson III will all receive NFL draft evaluations after Brian Kelly started the process for the three juniors. Niklas doesn’t know what feedback he’ll get from the next level, and unless it’s a shock to his system, he’ll likely just use it to improve heading toward his senior year at Notre Dame.
“I’m pretty sure I’m coming back,” Niklas said. “Unless there’s a really good reason for me not to.”
Niklas joked if his draft grade came back first round, it might change his mind about where he should play next season, although it doesn’t appear the junior expects that kind of feedback. A semifinalist for the John Mackey Award, Niklas is practical about his game as his breakout season nears its conclusion.
The junior enters the Pinstripe Bowl with 28 catches for 422 yards and five touchdowns. He’s made more than two catches just once in the season’s final five games and hasn’t scored a touchdown since USC.
“We’re just not getting him the ball maybe as much as we should,” Kelly said.
Notre Dame’s head coach disputed the notion that any drop in Niklas’ production hinged on the wear of his first full season as a starter. Kelly pointed to Notre Dame’s record of protecting Tommy Rees as part of the tight end’s production.
The Irish have allowed just eight sacks all season, tied for second nationally.
As for the draft feedback, Niklas said he doesn’t know who does it or exactly what will be in it. He hopes the evaluation does offer something he can work on.
“Definitely some key takeaways, what they think I need to improve in my game,” Niklas said. “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.”
With Niklas and Ben Koyack, Notre Dame would return both its top tight ends next season, which could help offset the loss of TJ Jones in the pass game. The Irish might get something out of Durham Smythe as well, with the freshman wrapping up his red shirt freshman season.
Kelly called out Smythe last week for turning heads during bowl prep, with Niklas among that group too. After spending the season with the scout team, Smythe has been elevated during bowl practices as the coaching staff opens up reps for younger players.
“He’s just doing a good job of figuring out the offense,” Niklas said of Smythe. “You can definitely see a couple times where the potential has really shown in this game. As a freshman you’re gonna make mistakes, you’re kind of confused out there, but every so often you make that really good play or something like that and you show your potential.”
Niklas has already shown plenty of his own potential.
When the NFL draft feedback arrives he’ll learn just how much.