Checking the Fit, Part 1: ND's Newest NFL Representatives

I always wanted to play in the NFL, and I finally got around... Never mind. - Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

With the NFL draft finally behind us and the professional destinations clear for all the Irish who will make the jump to the next level, let's take a look at how our intrepid rookies will fit in with their new employers.

Long time listener, first time caller... While I've enjoyed the site for several years, this will be my very first post as a member of the OFD staff. I'm very grateful the guys (and girl) gave me the opportunity to join the crew - and so is my wife, who no longer has to feign an interest in football just so I can have an outlet to express all this stuff. I've followed Notre Dame football since the near-magical season of 1993, and hope to someday soon see the championship jinx I placed on the team be reversed. I hope you enjoy this first effort and each subsequent one - I'll be active in the comment threads, and you can always send me an email by clicking on my profile link in the byline. Go Irish!


On to the draft results... We'll browse through the group by draft order, because, well, why not? Part 1 focuses on the guys who went in the top half of the draft, Part 2 will focus on those who went in the bottom half, and Part 3 will focus on the undrafted free agents.

Zack Martin, Cowboys, #16 overall

The Cowboys needed to upgrade their offensive line coming into the draft. True, they have significant needs on the defensive line with the loss of Demarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher, and to call their safety situation "murky" would be charitable - in fact, NFL.com lists their pre-draft needs as safety, defensive line, and offensive line in that order. Yet it's very reasonable to think that offensive line was their true first need, as Tony Romo's back issues and cap hit over the next five years mean he must be protected at all costs - and their line did have some issues with pass blocking last year. Enter Zack Martin, a Swiss Army knife who will bolster the unit immediately and allow the Boys exceptional flexibility as they seek other upgrades on the line. Early in rookie camp, Martin has seen time at right guard and is making a positive impression; Jason Garrett said he looks like a "natural fit" at right guard and offensive line coach Bill Callahan said he's "a great guy who wants to learn, wants to work hard." No surprise to Irish fans.

Jersey Buy Rating: Pre-order #70. Martin will start from Day 1 and likely be around for a long time.

Won't miss a beat.

Stephon Tuitt, Steelers, #46 overall

The Steelers seem to have announced their intent to get after the quarterback next season. They needed a cornerback and a wide receiver; there were quality players at both positions available when they took athletic Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier at #15 and Tuitt at #46. That's not to say they made bad choices - both players are excellent picks. It's just clear that while the analysts had one idea of the Steelers' needs, the Steelers themselves had another. Both players should spend a decent amount of time in the opponent's backfield next year, although I suspect that in the early going at least Shazier will see more time than Tuitt, who may need a little bit of development. He could be a starter by the end of the year, but likely will be more of a rotation guy early.

Jersey Buy Rating: Post-camp. Tuitt needs to show up motivated, and if he does great things will lie ahead for him.

You know, on second thought... Buying now could work. That does look pretty cool.

Troy Niklas, Cardinals, #52 overall

Interesting pick in that Niklas doesn't really address any immediate need for the Cardinals and will definitely need time to develop. On the other hand, Ebron, Seferian-Jenkins, and Amaro were all gone and Niklas was clearly the best of the remaining tight ends, so if they were underwhelmed by the options at need positions Niklas is a good roll of the dice. In addition to his rawness as a receiver, Niklas apparently has more work to do in developing his blocking than most Notre Dame fans would imagine - pre-draft scouting reports were pretty consistent in saying that he was still rough around the edges as both a run and pass blocker. Veteran TE Rob Housler had 49 catches for the Cards last year and they imported our own John Carlson from Minnesota, which likely means Niklas will be a firm #3 tight end in the early going. That's probably for the best, though, as it would behoove him to learn at a gentler pace. Niklas hasn't participated in the Cards' rookie mini-camp as he apparently underwent hernia surgery after the combine - he's expected to be fully available for the second camp, though.

Jersey Buy Rating: Wait til next year to see how that potential develops. Don't do what I did and get the John Wallace Knicks jersey because you loved the guy in college and he was so awesome that of course he'll be a great pro and wait what?

Still a big dude.

Louis Nix, Texans, #83 overall

Nothing against Troy Niklas, but it's unfathomable that Nix went 31 spots lower than Hercules. There have been whispers that NFL scouts were concerned about his weight, injury history, personality, and a perceived lack of disruptive ability. To those of us who hold a special place in our hearts for Big Lou, the fall was shocking - yet much like the fall of Te'o in 2013, the lower draft position may cost him a few dollars but ultimately will land him in one of the best possible situations. With their two staunchest DL workhorses not named JJ Watt no longer on the roster - Antonio Smith (Oakland) played 72.5% of their defensive snaps last year and Earl Mitchell (Miami) played 52.4%, and no other returners were above 27% - it would seem that Nix has an inside track to start or at least to play a significant role. He'll be much more difficult to neutralize with Clowney and Watt on the outside, and I suspect may surprise some people with his ability to get upfield. Houston got themselves a steal.

Jersey Buy Rating: Pre-order. Who are we kidding? Put "Nix" on anything and we'll buy it.

Admit it. You want that shirt. Well, not that shirt - one just like it that would fit you.

Chris Watt, Chargers, #89 overall

Watt did an excellent job of improving his draft stock with his fifth-year performance. He looked good in 2012 but probably would've ended up a fifth-to-seventh round pick; to go in the third is a testament to his hard work and Harry Hiestand's guidance. The immediate playing time situation in San Diego is a bit murkier than for the guys discussed so far; veteran Jeromey Clary is entrenched at right guard, having started 87 games over the last six seasons, while Chris Rinehart is the incumbent at left guard and just signed a two-year contract. The fans seem to think Watt and DJ Fluker will eventually team up on the right side of the line as a dominant run-blocking tandem and they may be right, as Clary is in the final year of a contract that he declined to restructure. Watt will probably be in the rotation early with the hope that he'll develop into a full-time starter for 2015.

Jersey Buy Rating: Wait til next year. Watt should blossom into a front line player based on ability, attitude, and opportunity, but the league can be a funny place.

We can't include their photo here, so go to the article to see Watt in his Chargers uni. It's worth a read anyway!

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