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Last updated: Wed. Apr. 30, 2014 - 07:12 am EDT

COLUMN

Notre Dame players could feel NFL love

Three players possible for first round next week

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As much as last season was a disappointment for Notre Dame football fans, the NFL Draft could deliver a feel-good epilogue.

Three Notre Dame players could go in the first round of the draft, which runs May 8-10.

“Mock” drafts by the media are perfectly named, since they are an inexact science – if science is even the right word – and tend to be mocked in another form in retrospect.

So any guess on exactly where the Notre Dame players will land is guesswork. It can be informed, well-researched guesswork, but it's guesswork nonetheless.

Informed guesswork says a week from Thursday looks like a great day for Zack Martin and maybe Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III.

Martin appears to be the most likely first-rounder, based on the various mock drafts from NFL.com, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and others.

The 6-foot-4, 308-pound Martin played left tackle at Notre Dame and was as durable as the “Play Like A Champion” sign at Notre Dame Stadium. He started every game in his Irish career after redshirting as a freshman.

Some are projecting he'll switch to right tackle (he played there a bit early in college) or even to guard considering his relatively smaller size and wingspan. But his size seems to be the only negative surfacing among the various analyses of his skills.

Writers at NFL.com have him going as high as No.9 to the Buffalo Bills or as low as No.31 to the Denver Broncos, but everyone has him in the first round. Martin's most popular projected landing point is No.19 to the Miami Dolphins. If he drops low enough for Denver, that would be an intriguing spot since the Broncos could use immediate help at guard. If you're going to slide in the draft, landing in front of Peyton Manning is not a bad place to be.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has Martin going 16th to the Dallas Cowboys. Other landing spots mentioned in various mock drafts include the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens.

The verdict is less clear for former Irish defensive end Tuitt.

Kiper has Tuitt going to the Seattle Seahawks with the final pick of the first round while a couple of NFL.com writers have him being taken 29th by the New England Patriots.

Health is a concern for Tuitt, who was discovered to have a fracture in his left foot during the NFL Combine. No long-term problems are foreseen, but teams might be hesitant to use a first-round pick based on his perceived durability issues.

NFL Network's Mike Mayock has Tuitt listed as the fifth-best defensive end in the draft, so maybe the second round is more likely.

If Tuitt doesn't land in the first round, it's still possible another Notre Dame defensive lineman could slip into the late first-round mix. Nix could be in the mix.

Nix is 6-2, 331 pounds worth of energy and drive – when he's healthy.

Nix suffered a knee injury in the national title game against Alabama two years ago and then struggled with knee tendinitis and a meniscus tear last season. He eventually had season-ending surgery. Some issues with carrying too much weight at times have also been a question mark.

If the draft were based solely on interviews, Nix would go in the top 10. He's an outgoing, engaging player. That might bother some scouts, but the NFL as a whole likes personalities.

Good teams can afford to take a chance on such a explosive talent, so it seems likely Nix will go near the latter stretch of the first round if he doesn't drop to the second. Among the mock drafts, his name is mentioned as a possibility for the San Diego Chargers at No.25, the New Orleans Saints at No.27 and the Patriots at No.29.

None of the other Notre Dame players in the draft are projected for the first round. Tight end Troy Niklas and guard Chris Watt seem likely second-round picks, and wide receiver TJ Jones has captured some attention for his sure hands.

Ball State on the board?

The Cardinals most likely to get some consideration in the draft are defensive end Jonathan Newsome, quarterback Keith Wenning and wide receiver Willie Snead.

Newsome's college years were peppered with issues, including some academic shortcomings and a marijuana possession charge. In the bigger picture of pro football, none of those were deal-breakers. His ability to rush the quarterback makes him worth a look. But he's likely a late-round pick or undrafted free agent.

Wenning has talked to some teams and fits the profile of a late-round Mid-American Conference quarterback with his intelligence and leadership qualities. His arm strength has been solid in individual workouts. Teams looking for a young (i.e. inexpensive) third quarterback could snag Wenning late.

Snead doesn't have blinding speed, but his highlight reel shows a receiver who knows how to match tough catches look easy. Some receivers are simply better on the field, in pads, than in sprinting to a stopwatch. In draft deep with wide receivers, Snead seems more likely to earn a training-camp invitation as an undrafted free agent.

rhayes@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.


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