Scouting The Pinstripe Bowl
As part of Football.com's coverage of all 35 bowl games, we will provide a draft prospect-primer, so you know whom to watch during every postseason game.
It's a far cry from where Notre Dame opened the year. Back in January, the Fighting Irish were in Miami, back in the national championship game for the first time in a couple of decades.
Now, they bring down the curtain on 2013 not in South Beach but the South Bronx, playing football in a baseball stadium that's home to another iconic franchise that suffered a disappointing season.
And the best pro prospect on their roster -- defensive tackle Louis Nix III -- is on the shelf, sidelined with a surgically repaired meniscus.
Still, there's ample reason for NFL scouts to take the 4 train to 161st Street, including a top-10 prospect who has not yet declared his plans whether to turn pro or return to South Bend for his senior season.
Stephon Tuitt, DE
If Tuitt elects to turn pro, he'll be the best 3-4 defensive end prospect available, by a considerable distance. There aren't many guys who can make Nix (6-foot-2, 342 pounds) look small in the trenches, but there are many times Tuitt (6-6, 312) looks like the dominant presence on the field. He has the strength to match his size and, like Nix, plays with a high motor; holding the edge as a 5 technique will be no problem for Tuitt. His lack of quickness probably disqualifies him as an end in the eyes of any 4-3 team, although it's conceivable they could try him on the interior. His 12 sacks this year suggest that perhaps he could be used as an interior pass rusher, a la Justin Tuck. But that would seem not to be the best use if Tuitt's skill set. With a declining number of dedicated 3-4 fronts, he could fall out of the top 10 but probably would not get past the Steelers.
Zack Martin, T
No one has ever played more games for the Irish than Martin, who has started 51 games -- including 49 at left tackle. He's been named Notre Dame's Lineman of the Year the last three seasons and has been practically impenetrable on an Irish line that has allowed a mere eight sacks this season. He's faced Trent Murphy, Aaron Donald and Kyle Van Noy, and allowed not a single sack against these pass rush specialists. His balance and polished footwork enable him to handle speed or power rushers alike, and his hands are quick and forceful, making him an effective blocker in both the run game and pass protection. He may not look dominant, but he'll be a solid if understated pro for a long time.
Chris Watt, G
Like Martin, Watt has been a fixture on the Notre Dame offensive line. He had started 34 straight games at left guard prior to sitting out the Navy game on Nov. 2nd. He's battled Nix and Tuitt in practice for years, which should prepare him for the caliber of D lineman he'll face at the next level. The issue with Watt is that he doesn't always win his matchup in the run game, perhaps an indictment of his lower body strength, as his hand technique is solid and forceful.
Bennett Jackson, CB
Recruited as a wide receiver and contributed primarily as a kick returner in his early seasons in South Bend, Jackson continues to develop as a cornerback. He has six interceptions over the past two seasons, as well as 124 tackles. His play in run support and limited fluidity in and out of breaks suggests Jackson might be more effective as a zone corner.
Prince Shembo, OLB
Shembo is a bit of a project. His tackling skills are fine, his coverage skills are still developing, and he's shown promise as a pass rusher (19 career sacks, 24 TFL) -- though that success has come as the benificiary of playing behind Nix and Tuitt. Still, Shembo's athleticism and size (6-2, 258) will earn him a late-round look, and he could be a fit for either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme.
T.J. Jones, WR
Jones lacks the speed and athleticism to be considered a big-play receiver at the next level. But he is a pure hands catcher, has good body control and the toughness to catch the ball in traffic. He's likely to finish his college career second to Michael Floyd in receptions and with a good bowl game could move past Tim Brown into Notre Dame's all-time top-5 in receiving yards.
Troy Niklas, TE
He's unlikely to turn pro as a junior, and returning to school would be the right move. Niklas may have the ideal measurables (6-7, 270) already, but his game is not yet developed enough. He's taken strides as a receiver, catching 28 passes and five touchdowns, but he's not yet near the offensive weapon that Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert were before him.
Brandon Coleman, WR
After I watched Coleman's opening game against Fresno State (9 rec. 94 yards, 2 TDs), I came away expecting a monster season and a rise into the first round. He looked effortless out there, but in a good way -- since his effort has been questioned through his career. He made only 23 catches the rest of the year, and had more than two catches only twice in his last 10 games. It'd be fair to presume he was discouraged by Rutgers' inconsistent play, but that suggests he might have fair weather tendencies and might struggle on a team without a top-notch quarterback. His consistency issues probably are a factor of intermittent focus rather than any shortcoming with his hands. Still, his size (6-6, 220) and skills catching the ball in traffic and along the sideline make Coleman a potential big-time big receiver. But I can see it taking a few years and finding the right system and coaching staff before he blossoms.
Jeremy Deering, FS
Deering is intriguing as a prospect, primarily because of his versatility. He played so many positions at Rutgers (running back, wide receiver, wildcat quarterback, kick returner) before finding a home at safety during his senior season. He's still learning the position and developing as a tackler, but a lot of teams will be drawn to a guy who could potentially fill multiple roles, including special teams. Considering Bill Belichick's apparent penchant for DBs from Rutgers, it would surprise no one to see Deering wind up in New England.