|Eifert may be the fourth Irish TE taken in the second round since '06, unless he goes in the first. (Getty Images)|
In preparation for the 2013 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series will run until the start of the college football season.
NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 14
2012 NFL Draft picks: 4 – WR Michael Floyd (1st round, 13th overall), S Harrison Smith (1st round, 29th overall), CB Robert Blanton (5th round, 139th overall), LB Darius Fleming (5th round, 165th overall)
Although South Bend isn't the hotbed for NFL talent that it once was, Notre Dame has produced at least one draft pick each year dating back to 1953. Last season, the Irish had two players selected in the first round (WR Michael Floyd and S Harrison Smith), the first time a pair of Notre Dame teammates were selected that high since 1994. Regardless of their win-loss record on the field, the Fighting Irish continue to attract athletes to South Bend and NFL scouts know there will always be at least a handful of Irish prospects worth checking out.
After last season, Notre Dame knew they were losing Floyd, Smith and several other team leaders, but head coach Brian Kelly and Irish fans received surprising news when underclassmen Manti Te'o and Tyler Eifert decided to return to school in 2012. Both Te'o and Eifert project as first round players and have the skill-sets to be starters at the next level. Although this list is limited to the top-five prospects, Notre Dame has over a dozen worthy draft-eligible players that will receive looks by the NFL.
Top-five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. ILB Manti Te'o (6-2, 255)
Considered by many to be a sure-fire first round pick after his junior season, Te'o (pictured above) surprised many when he decided to put the NFL on hold and return to the Irish for the 2012 season. After leading Notre Dame in tackles the past two seasons, he is poised for another banner year as a senior and has a chance to make his mark in the Fighting Irish record books. Te'o was widely considered the top linebacker recruit out of high school in 2008 and the top defensive prospect by many, choosing Notre Dame over USC and several other top programs. He worked his way into the starting line-up as a true freshman and started nine games, finishing fourth on the team in tackles with 63 stops. Te'o emerged as a defensive leader in 2010 as a sophomore, leading the team with a career-best 133 tackles. He again led the Irish defense in tackles in 2011 as a junior with 128 stops, adding 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks and earning All-American honors. Te'o, who is the only senior on this list, is an intense competitor and covers a lot of ground with his rangy, active playing style and lateral agility to cover both sidelines. He trusts his eyes and attacks the action quickly, showing a high football IQ to play smart, assignment football. Te'o needs to tighten his angles in space and get stronger at the point of attack to consistently finish once he gets his hands on the ballcarrier. He is a smooth, thickly-built athlete and his ability to quickly diagnose the play is why he projects as a starter at the next level.
2. TE Tyler Eifert (6-6, 250)*
Since 2006, the Irish have had three tight ends drafted in the second round (Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson and Anthony Fasano) and Eifert could be the fourth, unless of course he sneaks into the backend of round one. Coming off an All-American sophomore season, he is NFLDraftScout.com's top draft-eligible tight end prospect entering the 2012 season. Eifert wasn't considered a blue-chip recruit out of high school, tipping the scale at just 215-pounds, but received a scholarship offer from Notre Dame and redshirted in 2009. He served as a back-up in 2010, but was forced into duty after Rudolph and Mike Ragone went down with injuries, starting eight games and recording 27 receptions. Last season, Rudolph left early for the NFL and Eifert found himself No. 1 on the depth chart at tight end as only a sophomore. He started all 13 games and led the country at his position with 63 catches for 803 yards and five touchdowns, earning All-American honors. Eifert is extremely productive with very good body control to adjust to off-target passes and snatch the ball away from his frame. He is fearless over the middle and does a nice job working in a crowd, showing the quarterback his numbers and shielding defenders from the ball. Eifert is still developing as a blocker, but has shown steady improvement in this area and flashes the raw power to put defenders on their heels in the run game. He received a third round grade from the Advisory Committee last season, but he could sneak into the first round with another All-American season in 2012.
3. RB Cierre Wood (6-0, 215)*
One of the more underrated running backs in the nation, Wood is a creative runner with the natural ability to make an impact at the next level. He offers an athletic blend of vision and quickness to accelerate in a flash and explode through holes at the line of scrimmage. Wood was one of the top running back recruits out of high school in California and chose the Irish over UCLA, redshirting in 2009. He was in-and-out of the starting line-up as a redshirt freshman in 2010 (five starts), finishing with a team-high 603 rush yards and three scores. Wood had his best season last year as a sophomore back, starting nine contests and finishing with a career-best 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns. He is a patient runner with good eyes, allowing blocks to develop with natural running instincts. Wood is a balanced runner with the fluid change of direction ability to make sharp cuts, sidestep defenders and elude would-be tacklers. He runs with deceiving power and won't go down easy, but can be too indecisive at times and tends to wear down late in games. Wood is an exciting player with home-run ability every time he touches the ball. However, Wood will face a competition at running back in 2012 with former receiver Theo Riddick moving to the backfield full-time and sophomore back George Atkinson not far behind on the depth chart.
4. OT Zack Martin (6-4, 305)*
The Notre Dame offensive line has been a heavily scrutinized unit in recent memory, but that stigma began to change last season with Martin entrenched at the left tackle position. The Indianapolis-native impressed the coaching staff as a redshirt freshman and has started every game the past two seasons. A three-star recruit out of high school, Martin chose South Bend over Michigan and Iowa, redshirting in 2009. He worked his way into the starting line-up in 2010, starting the season at left tackle, but also seeing time on the right side (13 starts – 11 at left tackle, two at right tackle). Martin stayed at left tackle as a sophomore and started all 13 games. He doesn't have huge frame, but he bends well and stays balanced in his stance, sinking his butt and extending off the snap. Martin shows good lateral athleticism in his initial kickslide and does a nice job staying square to the defender. He lacks elite length and strength, but takes pride in his craft and flashes the raw nastiness to develop into a pro blocker.
5. DT Louis Nix (6-3, 325)*
Despite almost leaving the program (several times), Nix shot down rumors that he would be transferring from South Bend and appears rededicated to Notre Dame. The Florida-native comes from a tough background and is a long way from home, but the 325-pounder has a bright football future if he stays dedicated to the game. Nix was highly recruited out of high school and chose Notre Dame over several in-state programs, including Florida, Florida State and Miami (FL). After redshirting in 2010, he started 11 games last season as a first-year player at the nose guard position, anchoring the middle of the Irish's three-man front. Nix finished with 45 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and a half sack. Although just a redshirt sophomore, Nix is built like a full-grown man with a large frame and strong muscle definition throughout his body. He has nimble feet with the lateral quickness to explode in any direction and chase down the action in pursuit. He plays hard with a feisty motor and the emergence of back-up Kona Schwenke should allow Nix to stay fresh late in games. Nix has struggled with the pressure and expectations of playing for a high-profile program away from home, but he flashes a rare skill-set for a player his size and strength.
RB/WR Theo Riddick (5-11, 200)
WR TJ Jones (5-11, 190)*
WR Robby Toma (5-9, 185)
WR John Goodman (6-3, 205)
OG Chris Watt (6-3, 310)*
OG Mike Golic (6-3, 295)
C Braxston Cave (6-3, 305)
DE Kaptron Lewis-Moore (6-4, 305)
OLB Prince Shembo (6-2, 250)*
ILB Dax Fox (6-3, 240)*
ILB Carlo Calabrese (6-1, 245)*
S Jamoris Slaughter (6-0, 200)
S Zeke Motta (6-2, 215)
S Dan McCarthy (6-2, 205)
For more 2012 college football draft previews click here.
Photo credit: US Presswire