9 Notre Dame Players Set to Work Out at the NFL Combine

USA TODAY Sports

The Irish are invading Indy this weekend looking to place some high draft picks in May.

The NFL Combine begins this weekend with some pre-workout activities (interviews, exams, etc.) starting today as well. The Combine will once again take place at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana with coverage beginning at 9 AM this Saturday on the NFL Network. The list of positional workouts are as follows:

  • Feb. 22: Tight ends, offensive linemen, specialists
  • Feb. 23: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers
  • Feb. 24: Defensive linemen, linebackers
  • Feb. 25: Defensive backs

If you haven't checked them out already please read up on jchrapek's informative posts on the Combine HERE and HERE. There's some excellent S&C info in there for everyone to enjoy.

You can also read Mike Mayock's evaluations of some of the Irish players HERE from The Observer.

Notre Dame is sending 9 players to the Combine this year and today we will take a look at each of them individually. The scouting reports and player sizes provided below are courtesy of NFL.com.

TJ Jones, Wide Receiver

5-11, 193 pounds

Grade: 5.35

STRENGTHS

Fluid movement with good balance and body control. Releases cleanly and accelerates off the line. Excellent route runner. Sinks his hips and gets in and out of cuts cleanly to create separation. Adjusts to throws and has soft, reliable hands. Exhibits field awareness and is quarterback friendly. Quick and slippery after the catch. Comes from football family. Durable and experienced. Mature, likeable, intelligent team captain.

WEAKNESSES

Could stand to add some body armor and improve functional strength. Average physicality. Lacks elite top-end speed. Not exceptionally explosive, nor is he a go-up-and-get-it guy. Limited kick-return experience.

BOTTOM LINE

Athletic, smooth-moving, polished receiver who runs crisp routes, has terrific hands and boasts NFL bloodlines. Balanced skill set, dependability and versatility will be valued at the next level, where he could be a productive No. 2 or No. 3 receiver in a sophisticated passing system. Arrow pointing up.

OFD Take: These scouting reports are all really spot on and this one in particular. Jones is unlikely to ever sniff a No. 1 receiver role in the NFL and that's okay. He's just not fast or explosive enough to be The Guy for a team. I don't think he's fast enough for the Combine to do much for him and his stock. He's put down enough game tape showing off his toughness and playmaking in traffic to be a solid mid-to-late-round pick.

Troy Niklas, Tight End

6-6, 270 pounds

Grade: 5.65

STRENGTHS

Outstanding size with a well-proportioned, muscular build. Big target over the middle and in the red zone. Athletic with flexible hips and knees to run the full tight end route tree. Bursts into routes and stretches the seam. Good hands. Has playmaking ability. Lined up flexed and in-line. Good potential as a blocker. Bends his knees, shuffles and fans rushers wide. Works well in tandem and can combo block effectively. Takes care of his body and maintains low body fat. Has NFL bloodlines.

WEAKNESSES

Work in progress as an in-line blocker -- lacks ideal base strength, grip strength and overall body power. Bends at the waist and falls off some blocks. Route running needs refinement. Is still learning to use his frame advantageously -- inconsistent traffic player. Lacks elite top-end speed. Average elusiveness and creativity after the catch. Could stand to play with more physicality and become a better finisher.

BOTTOM LINE

A converted DE/OLB who emerged from the shadow of Bengals 2013 first-rounder Tyler Eifert, Niklas is the latest in a line of NFL tight ends produced by Notre Dame. He boasts an intriguing combination of size, athleticism, receiving ability and blocking ability to develop into a bona fide, balanced, No. 1 tight end. Has played tight end for just two years and arrow is pointing up.

OFD Take: I really think Niklas is the one Irish player with the biggest ability to impact his stock with his Combine workout. I'm not sure a great workout--and I think he'll have one--is enough to get into the first round but it could be close. He's still pretty raw and will develop really quickly focusing full-time on football.

George Atkinson, Running Back

6-1, 220 pounds

Grade: 5.1

STRENGTHS

Outstanding timed speed -- has been clocked below 10.4 seconds in the 100 meters. Has kickoff-return experience and returned two for scores as a freshman. Can take it the distance when he gets in the clear. Has plenty of tread on his tires having carried just 153 times at Notre Dame. Has NFL bloodlines.

WEAKNESSES

Has an upright, linear running style -- exposes himself to some violent hits. Does not convert speed to power. Gears down to cut. Struggles to create on his own. Limited elusiveness and tackle-breaking ability -- too often grounded by the first tackler or ankle tackles. Crude eyes and instincts. Head-scratching career production. Has underachiever traits. Competitiveness and coachability need to be looked into.

BOTTOM LINE

A height-weight-speed prospect who slid down the depth chart as a junior, Atkinson made a premature jump to the NFL knowing he likely would have been behind underclassmen had he returned as a senior. Is not a natural running back, but has raw tools to warrant consideration as a developmental, one-cut slasher. Better tester than football player.

OFD Take: Mayock's comments are to the point: GA3 is only draftable as a kick returner. It will be interesting to see if he posts a scorching sub 4.35 time in the 40-yard dash and how he handles the rest of the Combine. He has plenty of room to improve his stock this weekend, but will it be enough? Good Lord, his size and speed should get him drafted but I don't think I'd bet on it.

Zack Martin, Offensive Line

6-4, 308 pounds

Grade: 5.97

STRENGTHS

Engages quickly. Flexible and light on his feet. Can work his hips and maneuver. Good blocking posture -- bends his knees, sits in his stance and can shuffle, slide and mirror. Good hand placement (can pop and recoil). Seals running lanes. Can combo block and fit on linebackers. Athletic to pull and trap. Passes off stunts and is alert to blitzers. Started all 52 games of his career. Played well against Alabama in the BCS Championship and was MVP of the Pinstripe Bowl. Sparkling intangibles. Highly respected, hardworking leader who does all the right things. Two-time captain.

WEAKNESSES

Lacks ideal length to stay outside in the pros -- relatively small wingspan. Not a pure road grader who rolls off flat-backed and buries defenders. Could be stressed by bigger, more powerful defensive tackles. Can improve balance and sustain on the second level. Does not have experience at guard. Could stand to bulk up in preparation for a move inside.

BOTTOM LINE

Athletic, smart, competitive, dependable college left tackle whose length dictates a move inside, where he has plug-and-play ability in a zone-blocking scheme. One of the cleanest prospects in this year's draft.

OFD Take: How fun is it going to be to watch Martin's career in the NFL? He should shine at the Combine but his length is always going to hold him back. I still think he can cut it as a right tackle at the next level and wouldn't immediately give up on him having to move inside. We'll see if that is the narrative following this weekend's workouts.

Chris Watt, Offensive Line

6-3, 318 pounds

Grade: 5.4

STRENGTHS

Engages quickly and runs his feet on contact. Effective with an angle and can swing his hips in the hole. Generates movement in the run game and works to finish blocks. Good bend and balance -- plays on his feet. Sound fundamentals in pass protection. Strong, active hands to punch and control defenders. Can shuffle and slide. Good mobility. Works well in tandem. Smart and alert. Praised for his toughness and blue-collar work ethic. Three-year starter.

WEAKNESSES

Lacks ideal arm length and does not have large hands. Needs more sand in his pants. Susceptible to bull rush when powerful tackles get into his frame. Average athlete. Inconsistent connecting with moving targets in space. Missed his final bowl game after suffering a knee injury.

BOTTOM LINE

Good-sized, physical, competitive, bump-and-steer technician with starter-caliber ability in multiple schemes. Has a desirable temperament for the position and is a projectable, low-risk prospect.

OFD Take: Watt might have been the most underrated player on Notre Dame's roster for the past two years. I'd say he's still underrated heading into the Combine but he's listed as going as high as the third round in some mock drafts and that's probably too high. I don't think many team's will be in a rush to get a guard like Watt but a solid pro career awaits.

Louis Nix, Defensive Line

6-2, 345 pounds

Grade: 5.9

STRENGTHS

Outstanding size. Commands a double team and has two-gap ability. Good quickness off the snap. Has press strength and power to push blockers into the backfield. Shows disruptive ability when his battery is charged. Flashes an arm-over. Redirects well for a big man. Nice pursuit effort. Strong wrap tackler. Scheme versatile.

WEAKNESSES

Can play with better leverage against double teams. Does not dominate single blocking. Needs to improve hand use -- punch impact, counter moves and shed timing. Limited pass-rush value (minimal sack production). Can do a better job protecting his legs -- is not as strong on his pegs as you'd expect and spends too much time on the ground. Conditioning and stamina will have to be monitored -- takes plays off and weight has fluctuated.

BOTTOM LINE

Despite standing to benefit from a more dominant senior season in South Bend, Nix, who already graduated, opted to forgo his final year of eligibility in order to provide for 13 siblings. He does not enter the NFL with momentum, having coped with knee tendinitis before season-ending surgery to repair a torn left meniscus, and too often his gregarious personality and media hype overshadowed his performance. However, if the massive interior defender taps into his power more consistently, Nix has ample mass, strength and athleticism to anchor a "30" front as a space-eating, block-occupying run stuffer.

Eric's Take: Quite the doozy of a scouting report, wouldn't you say? Nix really needs a strong Combine--in interviews as much as anything--to lock up a selection in the first round. His lack of versatility could see him slide a little further than his talent level but that's life in the Draft. Any 3-4 defense that passes Nix up in the second half of the first round (if he falls that far) is really stupid.

Stephon Tuitt, Defensive Line

6-5, 318 pounds

Grade: 6.25

STRENGTHS

Looks the part -- has prototypical dimensions for a five-technique. Long-armed to play off blocks. Holds his ground at the point of attack. Can stack and shed. Has excellent movement skill for a man his size. Plays on his feet. Coordinated and in control of his body. Knee bender able to flatten or redirect efficiently. Strong wrap tackler. Scheme and position versatile -- played end and tackle in even and odd fronts. Notched 20.5 sacks in 28 career starts. Disrupts passing lanes.

WEAKNESSES

Monotone edge rusher -- not a quick-twitch athlete (average get-off quickness). Can play with more consistent leverage. Hip and shoulder stiffness shows when he attempts to bend the corner. Can do a better job shooting his hands with authority to jolt blockers. Needs to become a better hands fighter and develop pass-rush moves. Can play with more violence. Average intensity and relentlessness.

BOTTOM LINE

Hulking, long-armed, physically gifted defensive lineman with desirable size, strength, athleticism and versatility to appeal as a five-technique or as a defensive tackle or base end in a 4-3. Was not in peak condition for his junior season, but has disruptive upside.

OFD Take: Whoa, Tuitt gets a huge grade from NFL.com and that's really based on his potential due to his size. It kind of stinks that we missed almost half of a senior season from Nix with his injury but it's worse that Tuitt really took a step back last fall and now he's gone. Mayock wouldn't be surprised to see Tuitt go somewhere between 25 and 50 overall but if he's in shape a big Combine should lock up a first round selection even if his 2013 tape isn't impressive.

Prince Shembo, Linebacker

6-1, 254 pounds

Grade: 5.32

STRENGTHS

Large hands. Good balance and knee bend. Strong and physical -- can stuff tight ends and is surprisingly robust at the point of attack. Flows laterally and pursues to the boundary. Strong tackler. Flashes power-leverage potential. Effective stunting and looping. Operated from 2- and 3-point stance and played on special teams.

WEAKNESSES

Lacks ideal body length, elite flexibility and closing speed. Average eyes and instincts (see-and-go reactor). Can improve hand use. Hip tightness shows in space and when required to drop into coverage.

BOTTOM LINE

Thickly built, high-motor, highly competitive edge defender who projects best as a left outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Lacks desirable dimensions, flexibility and finishing speed, but has more than enough play strength, tenacity and toughness to compensate.

OFD Take: Shembo has to be the most mysterious Irish player in the Draft. I'm skeptical of his ability to play outside linebacker and work in space and his size is going to make it tough for him to work consistently as a pass rusher. A really strong Combine performance might not be as important as fit in the proper system and organization.

Bennett Jackson, Defensive Back

6-0, 187 pounds

Grade: 5.2

STRENGTHS

Good height and hands (former WR). Tough and durable. Has special-teams experience. Team captain with leadership traits and solid football and personal character.

WEAKNESSES

Could stand to bulk up and get stronger. Technique needs work. Choppy transition. Allows too much separation too often. Weak jam. Leaky tackler. Ordinary production on the ball. Still developing positional instincts. Reactive instead of anticipatory.

BOTTOM LINE

Looks the part, but strength, technical and instinctual deficiences are too significant to overlook. Did not distinguish himself enough as a senior to be considered more than a developmental prospect.

Eric's Take: Tough scouting report for Jackson. Remember when there was talk before the 2013 season of him going as high as the second round? Now he's a late round projection who needs to use his speed to clock a great 40-time. What's more, Jackson really needs to perform well in the positional drills too.

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