NFL Prospect Focus: Notre Dame Offense

It wasn’t that long ago that we saw 6-8 Notre Dame players drafted every year. That’s hasn’t been the case for nearly 10 years, things are starting to change. Head Coach Brian Kelly has done an excellent job recruiting in his four years with the Irish and we are starting to see to see the number of prospects at the school growing. Depending on how many underclassman enter the draft, we could see as many as seven players get drafted from the school this year. Some, like nose tackle Louis Nix and defensive end Stephan Tuitt, should be premium round players. Today we will talk about the offense.

Zack Martin – Offensive Tackle

Martin is a fifth-year senior and a four-year starter at left tackle. The very durable performer has not missed a start in those four years. Martin is not the biggest tackle in this year’s draft (estimated at 6042 – 310) but he is very athletic and strong. Some scouts will knock Martin and say he has short arms, but I was at the Notre Dame Pro Day last spring, and the scout who was doing the hand and arm measurements was not doing it correctly. If I recall, they measured his arms at just over 32”. When he goes to the Combine, they will be longer.

Martin is an efficient run and pass blocker. In the run game, he can get off the ball quickly and into his block. He is explosive on contact and drives his feet, enabling him to generate movement. He takes good angles to the second level and can adjust on the move. He is consistent with both angle and combo blocks. He will pull at times and has the speed and athleticism to play in space and make productive blocks. On passing downs, he usually plays from a two-point stance. He can set quickly, has quick hands, and a good punch. He plays with natural bend and can anchor. He shows good footwork and balance and, generally, does a good job mirroring his opponents. I have seen a few plays where he has trouble with wide speed but he is very effective as a pass blocker.

Martin reminds me of former New England tackle, Matt Light. They are just about the same size and very similar athletes coming out of college. There are some very talented junior tackles who may enter this Draft and if that is the case, I don’t see Martin going in the first round. He should be a very solid second round pick. Some will say he is more suited to play guard but I would start him out at tackle and let him prove he can’t play there. Martin is a very competitive player and can be a winning lineman in the NFL for years to come.

Chris Watt – Offensive Guard

Watt is a fifth-year senior and a three-year starter at left guard. He is a thick, wide-bodied player with good strength and power. Watt will measure at about 6030 – 320. He has adequate arm length. He is an above average to good athlete with balance. He plays with adequate speed and quickness.

Watt is best in the run game. He is a powerful drive blocker who keeps his feet moving on contact and gets movement on a consistent basis. He is good with angle and combo blocks but can be a bit inconsistent getting to the second level. While he takes good angles, he doesn’t consistently get to the block on time. When asked to pull, he is not consistent getting to the block because he lacks top speed. In pass protection, he can set with good quickness and has quick hands. He has to do a better job keeping his hands inside. He has a strong punch and plays with average bend. With his strength and power, he handles bull rushers very well. He can have some trouble staying with opponents when they use counter moves. His feet and recovery quickness are adequate.

Watt is a strong tough guy who overachieves. He has some athletic limitations, but he is a competitor who plays hard every down. The more I watch him, the more I feel his best position in the NFL may be at center. He has a center's frame and with his power, would match up well against the bigger nose tackles in the league.

Until this year, Watt had been a very durable performer. This year, he missed a game mid-season with a knee injury and then reinjured the knee when he came back and had to have surgery. Having the surgery so late in the year could affect his draft status as he may have to start next year out on PUP. Before the injury, I thought he was a solid mid-round type of player. Now, I feel he will probably go in the later rounds. Still, once healthy I see him as an eventual starter in the league.

T.J. Jones – Wide Receiver

Jones is a fourth-year senior and has been a starter since midway through his freshman year. Jones is a player who has shown improvement every year and has become Notre Dame’s most consistent receiver this year. Going into this week’s Bowl game, Jones has 65 catches for 1042 yards and nine TDs. For his career, he has 176 catches and 19 TDs. He is the primary punt returner, averaging just under nine yards per return.

Jones doesn’t have great size. He will measure about 5114 – 195. He is athletic with deceptive speed. While not a burner, he will time in the 4.48 – 4.50 area. He has quick feet, a burst, and good overall body control allowing him to run good routes and make quick cuts to get separation. I like that he has become a much more consistent player this year. He is productive as both a short and deep receiver and has shown the toughness to compete for the ball in traffic. He has good hands and shows the body flexibility to adjust to poorly thrown balls. After the catch, he is a quick, elusive runner who can consistently get extra yards.
Overall, I see Jones as good “B” level prospect (third – fourth round). Early in his career, I questioned his toughness, but he has matured as a player and become very consistent. Jones will probably end up as a good slot receiver in the NFL. He can play outside, but with his size, he is not ideal for that position. He will need a year to develop but should become an eventual starter. He has the toughness to play on special teams cover units while he is developing. I don’t see him as having the return skills to be a club’s top returner, but he can be a quality backup in that position.

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