It was a good weekend for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football program. Coach Brian Kelly saw eight of his former players picked in the NFL Draft and five more signed as undrafted free agents.
Sending 13 players to the NFL is good for any college football program, but seems to be about average for the Irish. There are still lofty expectations in South Bend and sending this many players to pros just confirms that notion.
Offensive tackle Zach Martin was the only player taken in the first round. He was picked up by the Dallas Cowboys to the sounds of disappointment and shrugs from the crowd. The Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had stated that he was very fond of Johnny Manziel, and guess who was still available with the 16th pick in the draft?
The Cowboys taken Manziel would have undoubtedly crashed the internet and given the media fodder until the season begins. Martin to the Cowboys was surprising, considering how much help that team needs on defense. That isn’t any kind of knock on Martin, just that the team had higher needs elsewhere. He will likely have to change position (to guard) and will likely help anchor a weak offensive line in Dallas.
Defensive end Stephon Tuitt was taken in the second round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is one of those picks where you just go “that’s perfect.” Tuitt is going to replace Brett Keisel and will probably start from day one. The Steelers took a lot of steps to strengthen their defense and Tuitt is going to be a great fit.
Tight end Troy Niklas went a few picks after Tuitt in the second to the Arizona Cardinals. He was picked to fill the need of blocking tight end for the Cardinals. The roster currently has six TEs on it, but Niklas is larger than all of them which is something coach Bruce Arians loves. He’ll start out as a blocker, but watch him develop into a pass catcher as the season progresses.
Defensive tackle Louis Nix III was drafted in the third round by the Houston Texans. He fell a bit in the draft due to injuries and concerns about his work ethic. He’s a good fit with the Texans and will push to start on this team quickly. Nix could have easily gone in the second round, maybe to a team like the Colts, but the value the Texans got is fantastic.
Guard Chris Watt joined Nix in the third round and was picked up by the San Diego Chargers. Right now, Watt simply adds depth to the Chargers roster. He’ll fit in well with their zone blocking scheme and has a level of grit that the team is lacking. His toughness could be enough to get some starting minutes.
Outside linebacker Prince Shembo was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth round. The Falcons desperately needs edge rushers and Shembo fits that need. The problem is his lack of versatility (i.e. not very good against the run) will probably keep him off the field for most of the game. He’ll have to prove valuable on special teams to make the roster, but most fourth rounders usually do.
Cornerback Bennett Jackson found his way to the New York Giants early in the sixth round. While Jackson was a good corner in college, his limitations will be on display in the pros. He’ll probably be fourth on the depth chart and only see the field in dime packages. The Giants need help everywhere and Jackson can be useful, as long as the team stays in zone schemes.
Wide receiver T.J. Jones was taken just after Jackson by the Detroit Lions. Jones seemed to be the only receiver who consistently tried last season and as a result had far and away the best stats at the position. The Lions need options past Calvin Johnson, and Jones could prove to be a valuable possession receiver out of the slot. He joins another former Notre Dame receiver in Golden Tate. Jones will have to fight for a roster spot, but I like his odds of making the team.
No other Irish players were drafted, but a number of them will have an outside shot at making an NFL roster.
Quarterback Tommy Rees – Washington Redskins
Inside linebacker Dan Fox – NY Giants
Defensive Tackle Kona Schwenke – Kansas City Chiefs
Inside linebacker Carlo Calabrese – Cleveland Browns
Running back George Atkinson III – Oakland Raiders
We’ll keep you up to date on how these players are performing and who makes an NFL roster.