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Mike Mayock evaluates Notre Dame draft prospects

| Wednesday, February 19, 2014

NFL Media draft analyst and NBC Notre Dame football broadcaster Mike Mayock discussed his evaluations of former Irish players Tuesday heading into Saturday’s NFL Scouting Combine.

On Monday, NFL.com released the first edition Mayock’s position-by-position rankings for the NFL Draft. Four former Irish players — tight end Troy Niklas, guard Chris Watt, tackle Zack Martin and defensive tackle Louis Nix — checked in in the top five of their respective positions.

Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt

20130921, FootballvMichSt, Nix, Emily Kruse, Football, football 20120921Emily Kruse
Mayock ranks Nix as the top defensive tackle, ahead of Timmy Jernigan (Florida State) and Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh), among others. Stephon Tuitt, meanwhile, didn’t crack Mayock’s top five at defensive end or defensive tackle.

“They’re really kind of lightning rods right now around the league,” Mayock said of the Irish defensive-line duo.

Mayock said Nix is “a prototypical nose tackle” who possesses solid short-area quickness for a player his size. Nix missed five of the last six games in 2013 due to a knee injury and Mayock said he didn’t consistently play at a high level.

“When you put all the composites of Louis Nix together — when he’s healthy, when he’s in shape, when he plays with leverage and doesn’t stand up — when you put all that together, he’s a top-20 pick.

“The good thing for Louis is it only takes one [team],” Mayock added. “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? But he is a good kid and I think he’s going to check out.”

Similarly, Mayock noted how Tuitt battled injury and weight issues at the outset of the 2013 season. At his current size (Notre Dame listed Tuitt at 6-foot-6.5, 312 pounds this season) Mayock said Tuitt has probably grown into a five-technique defensive lineman (the defensive end in a 3-4 formation).

“I think Tuitt, if he went somewhere between 25 and 50, it wouldn’t surprise me,” Mayock said.

Zack Martin

Zack Martin, by Emily KruseEmily Kruse
On the offensive line, Mayock slots Martin as the No. 4 tackle behind Jake Matthews (Texas A&M), Greg Robinson (Auburn) and Taylor Lewan (Michigan), and ahead of No. 5 tackle Cyrus Kouandijo (Alabama). Mayock said he believes Martin will be drafted somewhere around No. 20 overall.

“I think he can play tackle, but the beauty of this kid is he can play all five positions in the NFL,” Mayock said. “Some teams look at him as a Pro Bowl-guard and that therefore playing the tackle doesn’t make as much sense.”

Chris Watt

Chris Watt, Kevin SongKevin Song
Watt started 11 games at left guard in his graduate-student season, missing the games against Navy and Rutgers, respectively, due to a knee injury. Mayock said he thinks Watt can be a starting left guard and pegged him as a third-round pick.

Troy Niklas

Troy Niklas, John NingJohn Ning
Niklas, who elected to forego his senior season and enter the Draft, ranks behind fellow tight ends Eric Ebron (North Carolina), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington) and Jace Amaro (Texas Tech), according to Mayock. In 2013, Niklas hauled in 32 receptions for 498 yards and five touchdowns.

“If he commits to becoming a good inline blocker, he could be the best blocking tight end in the NFL in two or three years,” Mayock said “He’s a better receiver than people think. He’s not Tyler Eifert. He’s not a 4.5 guy, but he’s probably a 4.75, 4.8 kind of guy. He can catch the ball short and intermediate. He’s got really good hands. He understands how to use his body to position it.

“I don’t think he’s getting out of the second round because I think there’s a dropoff after him.”

Bennett Jackson

Bennett Jackson, Zach LlorensZach Llorens
Cornerback Bennett Jackson finished fourth on the team with 64 tackles and tallied a pair of interceptions in his senior season. Mayock projected Jackson as a mid-to-late-round draftee, somewhere near the fifth round.

“I see Bennett Jackson as a corner with some length,” Mayock said. “He’s gotta get stronger. He’s got some pretty good movement skills but he’s not an elite speed guy so he’s gotta use his length to compete on the outside.”

George Atkinson

George Atkinson, Kevin SongKevin Song
Junior running back George Atkinson elected to forego his senior season and enter the draft following the Pinstripe Bowl. Atkinson finished second on the squad with 93 carries and 555 rushing yards. He also served as the primary kick-returner in each of his three seasons at Notre Dame. Mayock said Atkinson “is draftable if only as a kick-returner.”

The Combine begins Saturday with the offensive linemen, tight ends and kickers, continues Sunday with running backs, quarterbacks and receivers, Monday with linebackers and defensive linemen and Tuesday with defensive backs.

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About Mike Monaco

Senior Sports Writer Mike Monaco is a senior majoring in Film, Television and Theatre with a minor in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy as well as Business Economics. The O’Neill Hall native hails from the Boston area and is an aspiring play-by-play broadcaster.

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