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Niklas Makes Jump To NFL

Irish tight end Troy Niklas made 32 catches for 498 yards in his final season at Notre Dame.

Junior tight end Troy Niklas plans to join the small exodus of Notre Dame talent this week and declare for the NFL Draft, according to multiple reports.

Niklas is the third Irish player to decide to put his diploma on hold this week in order to test professional waters. Juniors Stephon Tuitt and George Atkinson III are also foregoing their final seasons of eligibility in South Bend.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said he submitted draft evaluation requests for all three players in December. Niklas reportedly received an early-round grade. He said in December that he did not play on turning pro unless "there is a really good reason."

"I’m just looking to see what comes back. It’s really just kind of a learning experience," Niklas said. "I’m pretty sure I’m coming back."

The 6-foot-6, 270-pound tight end caught 32 passes for 498 yards and five touchdowns in his second year at the position. Niklas played outside linebacker as a true freshman and came into his own as a blocking tight end during the last two years.

Niklas was considered the least likely among the junior threesome to cut his college career short. He is the 82nd underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft this season, which is a record high. Prior to this week, only one player — Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph — left the Irish for the NFL before graduating during Kelly's tenure in South Bend.

Without Niklas, Notre Dame looks to Ben Koyack and a pair of rising sophomores to fill the tight end position in 2014. Koyack emerged as a more consistent pass-catching threat in the second half of the 2013 season. Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe did not play as freshmen this year, but Smythe received high praise from coaches and teammates for his work in practice.

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