Atkinson, Niklas, Tuitt to go pro; Daniels suspended
Mike Monaco | Friday, January 10, 2014
Irish juniors Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas and George Atkinson will all forgo their senior seasons and enter the NFL Draft, according to multiple media reports.
Tuitt, widely projected to be a first-round pick, told SI.com of his intentions Jan. 5. Two days later, Atkinson’s father, George Jr., told Blue & Gold Illustrated his son would follow suit. Two days after that, Niklas joined his fellow juniors and circulated a statement to ESPN.com and other media outlets saying he made “the very difficult decision to pursue [his] childhood dream.”
Irish coach Brian Kelly requested NFL Draft evaluations for the three players leading up to Pinstripe Bowl in December. Kelly said Tuitt received a second-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, though multiple draft analysts peg the 6-foot-6.5, 312-pounder as a first-day pick. Kelly later told ESPN.com that Niklas’s evaluation slotted the monstrous tight end between the second and fourth round.
Tuitt tallied 49 tackles (nine for loss) and 7.5 sacks for the Irish in 2013, following a sophomore season in which he racked up 12 sacks. Tuitt began 2013 slowly — posting two sacks in the first five games — after surgery to correct a sports hernia in the offseason, but the Monroe, Ga., native rounded back into form and notched 5.5 sacks in the final eight games. Tuitt’s 21.5 career sacks rank tied for third in Irish history, three behind all-time leader Justin Tuck.
Niklas was Notre Dame’s third leading receiver in 2013, hauling in 32 receptions for 498 yards and five touchdowns. The 6-foot-6.5, 270-pound former linebacker had said in December that he expected to return for his senior season, but Niklas’s father, Don, told Irish Illustrated that his son reevaluated options after returning home from the Pinstripe Bowl.
Atkinson, meanwhile, was second on the Irish in carries and rushing yards and held the best yards-per-carry average (6.0) of the running backs, but he saw his playing time dwindle as the season wore on, culminating with his Pinstripe Bowl suspension for a violation of team rules. Atkinson also handled kick-return duties for three seasons.
DaVaris Daniels to miss spring semester
Hours before news broke of Niklas’s draft intentions, reports surfaced that junior receiver DaVaris Daniels will be suspended for the spring semester because of an academic issue.
“I understand that attending the University of Notre Dame is a privilege and with that comes a certain level of academic responsibility,” Daniels said in a statement to ESPN.com. “Therefore, I will not be attending Notre Dame in the spring semester but fully expect to re-enroll in the summer semester to earn my degree and continue playing football for the Irish.”
Daniels ranked second on the Irish in 2013 with 49 receptions for 745 yards and seven touchdowns and would be Notre Dame’s top returning target in 2014 with the graduation of TJ Jones.
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