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Rachel Terlep
Rachel Terlep
Notre Dame beat writer Rachel Terlep offers scribbles and stories about Fighting Irish sports.



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Notre Dame shines in historic NFL Draft weekend

Tears, Instagram pictures and a lot of exclamation marks punctuated NFL Draft weekend for several former Notre Dame players.

Posted on May 12, 2014 at 1:24 p.m.

For the first time since 1994, eight former Notre Dame players were picked in the NFL Draft, tying Alabama for the second most of any college program. LSU’s nine picks ranked first.

Additionally, six former Irish signed with NFL teams as undrafted free agents, bringing Notre Dame’s grand total to 14 by the end of the weekend, May 8-10.

A review of where Notre Dame’s former stalwarts ended up:

Zack Martin, offensive line
1st round: Dallas Cowboys (16th pick)
Former Irish on current roster: N/A

Martin — who spent his entire collegiate career at left tackle but will likely be shifted to left guard — is now tasked with protecting quarterback Tony Romo. Lauded as a “safe” pick in the weeks leading up to the draft, Martin is a valuable add to Dallas’s already strong front line.

After his pick, Martin reflected on what head coach Jason Garrett said to him: 

"He just said ‘congratulations, you’re the type of guy we want on this team and get ready to go to work.’ I’m ready to go down there and start competing and be a part of this team.”

Stephon Tuitt, defensive end

2nd round: Pittsburgh Steelers (46th pick)
Former Irish on current roster: N/A

Though bitten by injury that plagued him through big chunks of his sophomore and junior campaigns, Tuitt’s size, shape and potential proved too great to pass by.

Tuitt’s was brought to tears when selected by the Steelers and carried that emotion to his post-draft interviews.

"Oh my gosh it’s exciting. It’s a blessing to be part of this defense, and tremendous,“ he said. ”I can’t wait to get there tomorrow and help this team and be part of an organization that many people don’t get a chance to be part of and I get a chance to be part of.“

Troy Niklas, tight end
2nd round: Arizona Cardinals (52nd pick)
Former Irish on current roster: John Carlson (TE, ’07), Robert Hughes (RB, ’10), Michael Floyd (WR, ’11).

Niklas joins former teammate Michael Floyd in the Arizona receiving corps, though the 6-foot-6, 296-pound converted linebacker will be utilized largely as a blocking tight end. Niklas’s decision to leave Notre Dame after his junior year was met with many a raised eyebrow concerning Niklas’s relative inexperience at the position. Now Niklas has a third round draft pick to show for it.

“I’ve still got a lot to learn, and that’s something that I didn’t hide from teams,” Niklas said following his selection. “I said that I had only been playing tight end for two years, but I think in a sense it can be an asset also, because I haven’t been able to learn bad techniques and really develop a lot of those bad qualities that you can develop through bad coaching. We didn’t have bad coaching at Notre Dame. Personally, I think it will help coach be able to mold me into the tight end that he wants me to be instead of having to change me from something I’ve already become.”

Louis Nix, nose guard
3rd round: Houston Texans (83rd pick)
Former Irish on current roster: N/A

The jumbo sized nose guard with an even bigger personality went a bit later in the draft than expected, but it was worth the wait. Nix will join J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney on an increasingly imposing Houston Texans line.

"I’ve never thought ever in life that would happen, but having the chance to play next to Clowney, J.J. Watt, and everybody else on the defense, I’m just super excited and happy,” Nix told houstontexans.com.

Chris Watt, offensive guard
3rd round: San Diego Chargers (89th pick)
Former Irish on current roster: Manti Te’o (LB, ’12)

Though largely overshadowed by Martin, Watt landed squarely in his third-to-fifth round projections. Watt became just as crucial as Martin during his years on the Notre Dame offensive line, starting 37 out of 39 games in three years. As long as Watt stays healthy, he’s a solid fit for the Chargers.

Watt provided chargers.com a brief self-assessment following his selection:

"I’d say he is a smart player and understands how to block. Knows to play through to the whistle and make the most out of every opportunity he gets. I’m coming out there to really work my (tail) off basically.“

Prince Shembo, linebacker
4th round: Atlanta Falcons (139th pick)
Former Irish on current roster: Zeke Motta (S, ’12)

An aggressive, oft-underrated linebacker who addressed his connection to the Lizzy Seeberg sexual assault investigation in 2010, Shembo was under the microscope of NFL offices during player interviews. 

Shembo said he was up front with the Falcons concerning the Seeberg case during the interviews.

"All I can say is I met with all the Falcons guys, I told them exactly what happened, and I had a great time talking to them," Shembo told ESPN. "And they were able to see me. Now, I'm just ready to play for them."

Bennett Jackson, cornerback
6th round: New York Giants (187th pick)
Former Irish on current roster: N/A

Jackson has the size and speed to play at the next level, but an underwhelming 2013 campaign (tied, in part, to a lingering shoulder injury) likely lowered his stock.

Still, a healthy Jackson may prove valuable for New York and film from 2012 likely showed that.

T.J. Jones, wide receiver
6th round: Detroit Lions (189th pick)
Former Irish on current roster: Theo Riddick (RB, ’12), Golden Tate (WR, ’09)

A receiver-rich draft scooted Jones back a round or two later than he may have otherwise been selected. Jones skyrockted from his junior to senior years, combining speed and strength with reliability. Under the tutelage of Detroit megastar receiver Calvin Johnson, Jones will only get better.

Undrafted free agents

Dan Fox, linebacker 
New York Giants

Carlo Calabrese, linebacker
Cleveland Browns

George Atkinson III, running back
Oakland Raiders

Tommy Rees, quarterback
Washington Redskins

Kona Schwenke, defensive tackle
Kansas City Chiefs

 

 


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