Certain schools have a reputation for producing top players at certain positions. Penn State is known for its strong history of linebackers. USC is known for churning out NFL quarterbacks. When it comes to the tight end position, perhaps nobody has done a better job of producing pro talent over the past decade than the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. In the last ten years alone, Notre Dame has yielded five tight ends who were selected within the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. The school's latest TE prospect, senior Ben Koyack, will look to emerge from the shadows of his predecessors and continue their tradition with a breakout season in 2014. If he lives up to his potential, Koyack could become the next Irish TE to hear his name called early in the NFL Draft.
Koyack was rated as five-star prospect by Scout.com and was the No. 1 prep TE in the 2011 high school recruiting class. Unlike many superstar recruits, the Oil City, Penn. product did not make an immediate impact. He caught just four passes through his first two seasons with the Irish and was relegated to a minor role behind starter Tyler Eifert. Koyack's opportunity expanded when Eifert left for the NFL after the 2012 season, but Koyack wasn't the only ultra-talented TE on the roster eager to prove himself in 2013
Fellow Notre Dame junior Troy Niklas, a top prospect in his own right, also had a strong case for inheriting Eifert's starting job. The towering California native ultimately claimed the majority of the pass-catching duties, with Koyack mainly doing grunt work as an extra blocker on the line of scrimmage. Niklas finished the season with 32 catches for 498 yards while Koyack had just 10 catches for 171 yards. Three years into his college career, the No. 1 TE from the 2011 high school class still hadn't managed to become the No. 1 TE on his own depth chart.
Despite never being the featured guy at his position, Koyack has shown plenty of talent during his time at Notre Dame. The 6-foot-5, 254-pound senior is an effective blocker. This trait won't attract a lot of media attention, but it has been valuable to his team's success and bodes well for his chances of becoming a complete starter at the next level. Koyack has also flashed a lot of potential as a receiver. He moves very well for a big target and has shown a knack for making difficult catches in limited opportunities. Overall, it seems as though Koyack is a player whose statistical production has suffered by virtue of a lack of playing time rather than a lack of talent. He seems to have all the tools needed to become a high-quality TE prospect. He simply hasn't had enough chances to show it yet.
That could change now that Niklas has departed for the NFL. With Niklas and Eifert finally out of the picture, Koyack is poised to get an extended audition as Notre Dame's clear-cut starter, and all of the early signs suggest that he's going to capitalize. Koyack already demonstrated glimmers of talent earlier in his Notre Dame career, and head coach Brian Kelly recently expressed his confidence in the senior's abilities. Koyack started his season well against Rice, catching three balls for 51 yards. It has been a long road to NCAA relevance for the former elite recruit, but expect a banner year from Koyack as he becomes the next product of the Irish's impressive tight end assembly line.
Georgia Bulldogs RB Todd Gurley
As the season ramps up, we'll be monitoring some of the top performers in college football. In addition to Koyack, here are some other players who started strong in Week 1:
RB Nick Chubb, Georgia – Georgia has a long and proud tradition of producing elite RB talent, and Chubb might be the next big name in that lineage. The 5-foot-10, 228-pound true freshman boasts an insane combination of speed and strength that saw him win the Georgia Class 4A high school state title in the shot put while also qualifying for the 100-meter finals with an impressive time of 10.79 seconds. Chubb carried the ball four times in Georgia's opener against Clemson, but he made those opportunities count, going for 70 yards and a score. His 47-yard TD run in the fourth quarter showed a combination of speed, vision and tackle-breaking ability that evoked memories of NFL star Marshawn Lynch. Expect Chubb to continue to shine this season in Georgia's crowded backfield.
RB Todd Gurley, Georgia – In a week full of standout performances, Gurley might have been the MVP. He is already regarded as one of the top players in college football and his performance against Clemson was a perfect example of why. Gurley tore through the Tigers with ease, scoring on a 100-yard kickoff return and adding 198 yards and three TDs on the ground. What’s scary is that Gurley did all of that damage on just 17 all-purpose touches. Gurley is a Heisman Trophy candidate and the clear frontrunner to become the top RB prospect in the 2015 NFL Draft class.
WR Devin Funchess, Michigan
The former tight end shined at WR against Appalachian State, catching seven passes for 95 yards and three TDs. Funchess is a tall target whose height and wingspan make him a handful for defenders in the red zone. He also has good speed and deceptive quickness, gliding downfield and easily gaining separation on vertical routes. Add it all up and Funchess is a constant mismatch. He's too big for corners and too mobile for linebackers and safeties.
WR Ty Montgomery, Stanford
The versatile Montgomery showed why he might be the most important individual on Stanford's team, playing a pivotal role in the Cardinal’s 45-0 drubbing of the University of California, Davis. He scored on a 60-yard punt return in the first quarter, took snaps out of the wildcat and hauled in five passes for 77 yards and a score. The senior was also inches away from snaring a deep TD pass from QB Kevin Hogan. Montgomery is an underrated player nationally who should be a top-75 pick in the NFL Draft next year. UC Davis had no answer for him, but he'll face a much steeper test when the Cardinal face the talented USC Trojans in Week 2.
WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
Last year's All-Everything true freshman had a strong debut season at Ole Miss with 72 catches for 608 yards, but he did not get many opportunities to show that he could be more than just a short-range possession receiver. With speedy teammate Donte Moncrief off to the NFL, Treadwell will be asked to take over more of the team's downfield playmaking responsibilities in his sophomore season. His seven-catch, 105-yard performance against Boise State in Week 1 marked a good start. The 6-foot-2, 229-pound Treadwell is already regarded as one of the top WR prospects in his class and should have more chances to expand his reputation this year.
WR D'haquille Williams, Auburn
Auburn WR Sammie Coates received most of the hype in the offseason, but in Week 1, it was Williams who grabbed all the plaudits. The junior college transfer wasted no time making an impact for the Tigers, catching nine passes for 154 yards and a score in his first NCAA game. Williams isn’t an elite prospect just yet, but he announced his presence in a big way and could continue to build momentum with more performances like this.