7 Irish Players Testing at the NFL Combine

Cave at the Senior Bowl a few weeks ago. - USA TODAY Sports

Breaking down how the Notre Dame players will test at the upcoming NFL combine.

The NFL Scouting Combine begins this weekend on Saturday the 23rd and runs through Tuesday the 26th. A total of 8 Notre Dame players were invited but DE Kapron Lewis-Moore will not be able to test as he is early in to recovery from a knee injury sustained in the national championship game.

The positional testing at the Combine will be as follows:

Saturday: Tight End, Offensive Line, Special Teams

Sunday: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers

Monday: Defensive Linemen, Linebackers

Tuesday: Defensive Backs

Today we'll take a look at the 7 players who will test at the Combine through the eyes of their NFL.com draft profile pages. These profiles appear to be written some time ago and they are using the players official heights and weights as reported by UND.com---the players will be meticulously inspected for more precise measurements this weekend.

C, Braxston Cave

6'3" 304 pounds

Grade: 57.3

Strengths:

Tough-as-nails center with good overall strength and the intelligence to lead an NFL line. Gives good effort to sustain run blocks through the play, whether it's a reach block or chasing down Mike linebackers when asked. Good enough feet to move to correct blocking angle while engaged. Displays bend and a punch to knock linebackers away from the play in space. Flashes mirror ability when man-up in pass pro, won't be bull-rushed when in balance. Brings a big punch to help either of his guards, knocks defenders sideways. Reliable shotgun snapper, hands get up quickly to handle tackles trying to beat him off the snap.

Weaknesses:

Not overly athletic and possesses average size and strength. Stiff, lacks quickness, and balance. Stops his feet and bends at the waist in one-on-one blocks, better tackles can pull down and disengage. Quicker second-level targets will avoid his advance or get back into play after initial contact. Struggles to recover when initially beaten.

Bottom Line:

Growing up about 20 minutes from South Bend and being named after a former Notre Dame player made it quite likely a high school All-American like Cave would suit up for the Irish. Cave earned third-team All-American honors his senior year in part due to his toughness, and intangibles. However, Cave isn't very athletic, or overally strong. He's not very quick, and rarely recovers when beaten. In order to improve, he will have to be more efficient in winning with his hands, and maintaining adequate balance.

I think this hits the nail on the head. Cave was a good college center, maybe even very good, but he's going to face some challenges at the next level. Part of me sees the tattoo's, the home town kid, and the toughness but there's also a lot of the weaknesses pointed out above that make me question whether Cave is going to hold a job in the NFL.

In this way, I think the Irish fan base has Cave a little overrated. I may take heat for this from our community but with his poor performance at the Senior Bowl I think Cave could be in danger of not being drafted. Many will point to Golic as the weak-link on the 2012 Notre Dame offensive line, but Cave struggled a lot more than someone getting All-American honors should have (remember Purdue?).

I'm not sure how much the Combine is going to help Cave, either. Maybe he can string together some strong workouts but athleticism doesn't seem to be his forte. I look at former Michigan center David Molk who was a 1st-team All-American, Rimington Award winner as a senior, did 41 reps on the bench press at the Combine and still went in the 7th round---I don't think that is good news for Cave. I know Molk is short, but is Cave better overall?

I do think Braxston's leadership and intelligence can help him immensely at the next level, but I don't know how much that is going to help him on draft day.

Projection: 5-6th Round

OFD Projection: 7th-Undrafted

TE, Tyler Eifert

6'6" 251 pounds

Grade: 83.3

Strengths:

Very tough in a crowd, showing strong hands to make contested catches and a physical demeanor to come down with the ball in tight spaces. Tall, lean frame. Lines up with his hand down, in an H-back role, in the slot and outside. Threatens the seam with his long strides off the snap, takes a lot of hits across the middle and bounces up. Nice job gaining position in coverage with very good footwork, taking pride in his routes and showing much improvement in this area. Elevates well to go up and attack the ball, just needs an opportunity and chances are he'll come down with it - very good at mid-air adjustments, making a lot of catches with his feet off the ground. Uses his height, length and strong hands to snatch passes out of the air. Flashes quick feet on out-cuts to be an effective safety valve. Fights through arm tackles to get extra yardage. Gets off the line effectively from a three-point stance, can shimmy past a defender near the line to get into his route. Gives effort as an in-line blocker, uses his length to hold off defensive ends, uses agility to get angle and create outside running lane. Also works hard to prevent defenders from reaching teammates downfield. Productive in his three seasons, leaving Notre Dame with just about every school receiving record for a TE including catches (140) and receiving yards (1,840).

Weaknesses:

Lean receiver-like build. Does not play with consistent explosiveness and leverage when blocking in-line, will get pulled down by NFL ends and miss reach-blocks against quicker ends. Still growing as a blocker and needs to use better angles. Stronger linebackers will rip off his blocks and ride him off his route when he does not use his hands effectively. Allows throws into his body on occasion, will drop the ball when trying to run before securing.

Bottom Line:

Eifert was a 215-pound TE out of high school who didn't receive too many scholarship offers, but has developed into one of the top all-around tight ends to enter the NFL draft in recent memory. He was Notre Dame's No. 1 offensive weapon in 2012, lining up out wide as a WR or in-line as a traditional TE, and was the type of target defensive coordinators had to game plan against. Eifert is a fluid pass-catcher with vacuum hands and the hand/eye coordination to make tough catches and although he doesn't create a lot of space, he secures grabs in traffic, showing outstanding tracking and high-pointing ability. He is a soft spoken guy, but an animal on the field and a much better blocker than given credit, improving in leaps and bounds the past three years with excellent effort - projects as a starting NFL TE with excellent potential as both a receiver and blocker.

These guys are pretty good at scouting reports. Only thing I take issue is with Eifert dropping the ball---what did that happen like 4 times total over the past 3 years?

If Eifert can run a strong 40 and show good athleticism in the Combine he's a lock for the 1st round. His God-given abilities aren't going to blow you away like Vernon Davis, but Eifert has 3 inches on Davis. Eifert is deceptively fast anyway and I think teams won't mind that he's a little slower than your typical elite NFL tight end when he's going to be 6'6" and winning a ton of jump balls down field.

His ability to make catches in traffic really can't be overvalued. For however many great tight ends Notre Dame has produced it's probably Eifert with the best catch radius and the ability snag balls with a freakish calm. He's improved as a blocker and that will help too, plus his toughness (he's taken some really big shots and jumped right up like it was nothing) is really underrated.

Of course Eifert will be subject to the needs of NFL teams but I think he sneaks inside the 1st round.

Projection: 1-2nd Round

OFD Projection: Late 1st Round

RB, Cierre Wood

6'0" 215 pounds

Grade: 61.0

NFL.com doesn't have a profile written for Wood, but his grade is 10 points higher than teammate Theo Riddick. Of course he doesn't offer the same versatility as Riddick but his speed and test scores could be a little bit higher and make Wood a little more attractive to an NFL club.

Wood didn't burst through on the national scene in 2012 like many thought he could, but being being one of the most productive Irish backs of the last 15 years will certainly attract enough attention.

With a sub-4.6 time in the 40-yard dash Wood could move in to the 4th round but anything higher might be out of reach. Nevertheless, he's a healthy back who low mileage who has enough upside and playmaking ability to be snatched up by a team in the middle rounds.

Projection: 4-5th Round

OFD Projection: 5th Round

RB, Theo Riddick

5'11" 205 pounds

Grade: 51.05

Strengths:

Slasher with some open-field speed. Flashes a strong cut and acceleration to get through a hole. Has value as a receiver out of the backfield with his experience as a slot man. Freezes linebacker with his wiggle in his route, can adjust to poor throws to bring them in. Willing to lower his pads and lean for the extra yard in short-yardage situations, also not afraid to bring his shoulder or step through a would-be tackler. Runs behind his pads, and keeps his legs churning when hit. Finds a defensive lineman to chip via a thrown shoulder in pass protection.

Weaknesses:

Longer legs and leaner overall build than many teams prefer in a tailback. Upright runner who doesn't tuck the ball away in the open field. Gets himself off-balance with too much dancing in space. Stands up to blitzers in pass protection but won't anchor against stronger linebackers.

Bottom Line:

Riddick made some plays as an inside receiver in his sophomore (40 catches, 414 yards, 3 TD) and junior (38-436, 3 TD) seasons, but the former all-state running back from New Jersey returned to his natural position for his senior year, while also seeing snaps at receiver when Cierre Wood was in. Riddick's chess piece potential will likely earn him a draftable grade.

I'm banking on Riddick having a strong Combine and getting his 4-time down under 4.62. If he can do that some team is going to want his versatility and toughness. He should test reasonably well in all other areas so that's a bonus. If he's in the upper third in the cone drills that will be an even bigger boost.

At the same time, this is looking like a fairly strong running back class and Riddick is floating around the 20th best at his position. He'll be on a roster next year but there's real danger that he just misses being drafted.

That may be a tough pill to swallow but Riddick didn't have the production as a runner and he's limited speed-wise. There are a lot of intangibles that burst out as a senior so we'll see how much those matter to a NFL team.

Projection: 5-7th Round

OFD Projection: Late 6th Round

LB, Manti Te'o

6'2" 255 pounds

Grade: 87.5

Strengths:

Aggressive middle linebacker with a thick overall build. Vocal leader on the off the field, communicates the call and moves teammates into place when necessary. Downhill player who recognizes plays and closes quickly. Provides pop as a tackler, capable of thumping the ballcarrier and wrapping up to secure the stop. Aware run-stopper between the tackles, finds the ball and can mirror backs to prevent cutbacks. Stops backs' momentum on first contact and drive them backwards. Takes on linemen and fullbacks, can bounce or use his hands to rip off and make a stop. Hustles to recover from cut blocks, work through double teams at the second level. Shows enough movement skills to follow stretch plays to either sideline and cover running backs in the flat. Drops to the first-down marker, but is able to close on receivers and backs over the middle to prevent yards after the catch. Attacks gaps as a delayed blitzer, will try to work past the shoulder of linemen picking him up. High character player who performs community service and became an Eagle Scout in 2008.

Weaknesses:

Only average height for the position. Linemen and bigger tight ends have a size and length advantage, can ride him out of plays. Backpedal is high and stiff on his drops. Must prove he has the short-area quickness and long speed to stay with tight ends and receivers in coverage. Takes false steps on play action and misdirection; has only adequate recovery speed. Blunt instrument as a tackler, slips off some tackles when trying to make a big hit. Comes into ballcarriers with his head down at times, allowing them to elude him.

Bottom Line:

Te'o has become the All-American middle linebacker everyone expected coming out of high school, receiving high marks for his character and leadership ability. After some suggested he could be one of the top picks in April's draft, Te'o took a step back against a very good Alabama offensive line during the BCS National Championship. As a hammer between the tackles, the Irish star will be a great inside backer for any 4-3 team, but some may question his ability to reach edge plays or get over blocks in time.

Everyone is waiting to see if Te'o's volatile month of January is going to affect his draft status. With strong interviews with teams I'm sure his rep will be quickly repaired, although his performance against Alabama will need to be explained.

Manti's leadership is going to be a factor that propels him back in to the spotlight after the combine. This kind of got lost with the Catfish story, but Manti's dedication, drive, and personality are aces in his back pocket. Even the sterile NFL will be attracted to his personality. I also think he's going to test really well with his speed---he might even surprise some of his biggest supporters here too.

Te'o will still face an up-hill battle playing a position that is traditionally not drafted very high but the Combine should be a much needed spotlight on his football skills that pushes him firmly in to the top 20 overall.

Projection: 1st Round

OFD Projection: Mid-1st Round

S, Jamoris Slaughter

6'0" 200 pounds

Grade: 59.7

Strengths:

Solid pass defender. Knocks receivers off their route with a strong punch, and has the read-and-react skills to follow quarterbacks' eyes and knock away passes in zone. Attacking blitzer, able to throw aside running backs and run under the shoulder of tackles trying to protect their quarterback. Also plays with strength against the run, fighting off receivers to contain on the edge. Brings attitude into head-on collisions in the open field, can stop backs in the hole. Contributes on special teams coverage units, using speed and intensity to fight through blocks.

Weaknesses:

Lacks a true position. Might not have the size to suceed against tight ends or the foot quickness to handle faster receivers. Spends a lot of time around the line, will needs to prove the range and ability to read routes in two-deep looks. Hasn't been challenged in coverage often. Injuries.

Bottom Line:

Notre Dame coaches have used Slaughter's excellent football instincts all over the field throughout his career. However, between his lack of a true position, season ending injury, and a deep defensive back class, Slaughter might not hear his name called on draft day.

Pretty good assessment and you get the feeling if Slaughter hadn't of been injured his stock could be a lot higher right now. I'm actually a little surprised that Slaughter will be working out on Tuesday (has there been confirmation that he's 100% healthy?) but if he does that's great news.

I feel like Slaughter can play in the NFL. I agree with the above weaknesses but they're not very crippling and he still has a lot to offer a football team. In some ways, his versatility could help him at the next level too.

That said, Jamoris probably isn't getting drafted but I'd guarantee he gets a shot in a rookie camp somewhere as a free agent. Far less talented and physical Irish players latched on in the League and I think Slaughter can do so as well. He's kind of in that no-man's land between a large corner and a smaller safety and I think he'll have to get a little bigger to stick around.

Projection: 7th-Undrafted

OFD Projection: Undrafted

S, Zeke Motta

6'2" 215 pounds

Grade: 71.2

Strengths:

Combines a thick upper-body build with good athleticism for the safety position. Shows some range to play two-deep adeptly, gets to the sideline quickly and comes downhill on run plays or underneath routes. Looks fluid and smooth in his backpedal. Reads receiver route combinations, stays deeper than deepest but also reads quarterback to crash shorter routes immediately after the catch. Solid and secure open-field tackler, brings bad intentions, drops his hips and wraps using his long arms. Uses hustle to chase down ballcarriers as a last line of defense. Intelligent leader in the secondary, communicates well with his teammates on the field. Should be an excellent special teams contributor with his size, strength, and tackling ability.

Weaknesses:

Straight-line speed and change of direction ability questionable. Could be challenged by NFL receivers downfield. Does not have range to be a single-deep threat and lacks great closing speed to to make a play against multiple vertical routes. Has not made many plays in coverage. Needs to prove he can track the ball in the air to knock passes away without interfering and make the moderate-to-difficult interceptions. Often in a deep position, needs to show scouts he can flip his hips open to run with receivers downfield.

Bottom Line:

Nearly a carbon copy of 2012 first-round pick Harrison Smith in a physical sense, Motta doesn't have Smith's athleticism, and hasn't been able to duplicate Smith's dynamic playmaking ability. However, Motta possesses intelligence and physicality similar to Smith. Motta could find himself selected within the first 100 picks.

Inside the first 100 picks? Whoa, nelly!

Zeke does have a lot of things going for him as mentioned above. Most important may be his experience and his leadership---the latter developed rather nicely during his senior season.

I think Motta's athleticism and speed is limited somewhat, but he's not that far off from Harrison Smith. The issue with Zeke is that he had a strong senior season but a terrible championship game against Alabama---Smith played at a high level for two years. In this way, Smith was a much more proven commodity while Motta really never approached that level of success in college.

Motta's stock seems wildly volatile in the sense that he could go fairly high (top 100 is very unlikely IMO) but also really sweat out the last third of the draft. I have him going in the 5th but somewhere in the last two rounds wouldn't surprise me.

Projection: 4-6th Round

OFD Projection: 5th Round

*Kapron Lewis-Moore has a grade of 55.6 from NFL.com and looks likely to be undrafted with his knee injury.

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