Nine former Notre Dame players will descend on Indianapolis later this week to participate in the NFL Combine in an effort to boost their draft stock less than three months before the 2014 NFL Draft.
Offensive tackle Zack Martin is projected as a top-20 pick by Mike Mayock.
Mike Mayock, who serves as an analyst for NBC’s coverage of Notre Dame football and the NFL Network, discussed the Irish players on Tuesday.
RB George Atkinson III
Mayock made it clear that Atkinson’s draft stock depends on his willingness to contribute on special teams.
“He’s an interesting kid,” Mayock said. “He might be one of the best two or three kickoff return guys in the country. A 215-pound kid with world-class speed, so he’s draftable solely as a kickoff return guy. If he embraces special teams, not just kickoff returns, if he’s a four-team special teams player, he could probably go in the fifth round or so and then try to earn his way as a tailback. His key is going to be special teams.”
CB Bennett Jackson
Projected by Mayock as a fifth-round pick, Jackson’s value in the NFL depends on his future strength, the analyst said.
“Bennett Jackson’s a corner with some length,” Mayock said. “He’s got to get stronger. He’s got some pretty good movement skills, but he’s not an elite speed guy, so he needs his length to compete on the outside. He’s probably going to be mid to late, probably in the fifth round or so.”
OL Zack Martin
Mayock has heaped praise on Martin for months, due in large part to his versatility at tackle, guard and center. The analyst sees a team selecting Martin around 20th overall. He rated Martin as the fourth-best tackle in this class.
“He can play tackle, but the beauty in this kid is he can play all five positions in the NFL,” Mayock said. “Some teams look at him as a Pro Bowl guard. Therefore, playing at tackle [wouldn’t] make as much sense.”
TE Troy Niklas
Niklas, an early entrant, is the fourth-rated tight end by Mayock.
Tight end Troy Niklas could be one of the best in-line blockers in the NFL in a few years, Mayock said.
“[Notre Dame has] had quite a run of tight ends going back to the ’70s and ’80s,” he said. “He’s an interesting guy, first of all because of his size [at] 6-6½, 265 [pounds]. He played outside linebacker his freshman year, converted to tight end. He only has two years of college football at tight end.
“His first year [in 2012], Tyler Eifert got most of the attention while [Niklas] was trying to learn the position. You’re looking at one year of production in terms of catching the football. 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. If I was him or his father or his coach, I would try to [have him] become the best blocker he can and make a lot of money for a lot of years.”
Mayock also has high expectations for Niklas as a receiving threat.
“He’s a better receiver than people think,” he said. “He is not a Tyler Eifert or a 4.5 guy [in the 40-yard dash]. He’s probably a 4.75-4.8 kind of guy. He can catch the ball short and intermediate and has really good hands. The other thing is that he uses his body to position it. I don’t think he’s getting out of the second round because I think there’s a drop-off after him. He will be a valuable commodity in the second round. I think he’s in between Kyle Rudolph — a better blocker than Kyle, but not as good of a receiver as Tyler.”
DL Louis Nix III
One of the teams expected to give Nix a long look is the New England Patriots at the 29th overall pick because of their need at the position. Mayock doesn’t expect his top-rated defensive tackle to still be on the board at that spot.
“Regarding Nix, some teams and general managers really like him as a protypical nose tackle,” Mayock said. “[He’s a] big kid, he’s got good, short-area quickness for a 330-pound guy. He had a knee [issue] last year, 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 gain an edge and push the pocket. If you believe in that, then he’s probably a top-20 pick. … If you don’t believe that, he’s probably not a top-20 pick for your team.
“One of the keys is keeping that weight where it belongs. He’s a better player at 330 than he is at 350. When you put all the composites of Louis Nix together when he’s healthy and in shape, when he plays with leverage and doesn’t stand up, when you put that together, he’s a top-20 pick. When you say he wasn’t healthy and because the knee was hurt he wasn’t in as good shape, there are teams out there that really like him and teams out there that say, ‘No, I don’t really see it.’ The good thing for Louis is it only takes one [team]. I think teams are going to look real hard at him, what kind of kid are we getting, what kind of work ethic are we getting? He is a good kid and I think he will check out.”
DL Stephon Tuitt
Mayock called Nix and Tuitt “lightning rods right now around the league” in regards to where they will be drafted. Mayock mentioned Tuitt’s weight as a factor and said the Georgia product could be selected anywhere from 25th to 50th overall without surprising him. Tuitt did not make Mayock’s list of top five defensive ends.
“He’s probably grown into a five technique, which is the defensive end in the 3-4,” he said. “He doesn’t have as much value as a three technique or a 3-4 outside backer.”
OL Chris Watt
Mayock said he does not only see the former Irish guard as a future starter at that position, but also potentially at center.
“Watt is a better football player than people have given him credit for in the past,” Mayock said. “I think he’s a starting guard or center in the league. He’s smart enough, quick enough and tough enough and has the size to play center. I give him a third-round rating as a guard. I think he’s a starting guard in the NFL and I think if you want to look at him at center, it’s a pretty good idea.”
Wide receiver TJ Jones and linebacker Prince Shembo will also participate in the NFL Combine workouts, which begin Saturday. Player interviews will take place Thursday through Sunday.