Atkinson Exits Early

George Atkinson will join Irish classmate Stephon Tuitt as early NFL Draft entrants for 2014.

As first reported by Blue and Gold Illustrated's Dan Murphy, Notre Dame junior running back George Atkinson intends to forgo his senior season and enter the 2014 NFL Draft.

Atkinson led the Irish in yards per rush in both 2012 (7.1) and 2013 (6.0) and finished second to fellow junior Cam McDaniel (705/152) this season in both rushing yards (555) and attempts (93). Atkinson scored 10 touchdowns in his Irish career, eight rushing and two courtesy of 2011 kickoff returns.

Atkinson was suspended for the team's December 28 Pinstripe Bowl matchup with Rutgers. Irish head coach Brian Kelly was asked post-game: "Does George's suspension affect his future and the decision he's making?"

Kelly answered, "I haven't made that decision yet."

Atkinson leaves campus as the school's all-time leader in total kickoff return attempts (88) and kickoff return yardage (2,136). Though Atkinson never returned a punt for the Irish, the latter number marks the most combined kickoff and punt return yards in program history breaking the previous mark set by Julius Jones (1999-01, '03).

The 6'2" 220-pound Stockton, California product ran for in excess of 100 yards twice in his Irish career including a career-best 18-carry, 148-yard effort vs. Oklahoma on September 28, 2013. Atkinson's 80-yard touchdown rush that afternoon is the longest by a Notre Dame player since Robert Farmer ripped off an 81-yard touchdown run at Boston College in 1996.

Atkinson told Murphy he received a late-round grade after submitting his NFL paperwork for evaluation. He joins Tuitt and former Irish tight end Kyle Rudolph as the only Notre Dame players to leave for the NFL following their junior seasons under fourth-year head coach Brian Kelly.

Notre Dame has had 10 players depart for the NFL following their junior seasons, the first Raghib "Rocket" Ismail following the 1990 campaign. Joining Ismail thereafter were Jerome Bettis and Tom Carter (1993 Draft), Bobby Taylor (1995), Darius Walker (2007), Golden Tate and Jimmy Clausen (2010), Rudolph (2011) and now Tuitt and Atkinson (2014).

Atkinson started four games for the Irish this season, none since an October 26 win at Air Force. His 12 total touchdowns are tied as the fifth-highest by a player during the Kelly era (2010-2013), trailing only WR Michael Floyd (22), WR T.J. Jones (21), RB Cierre Wood (18), and WR/RB Theo Riddick (13). Running back Jonas Gray also scored 12 touchdowns, all rushing and all in 2011.

Notre Dame's offensive backfield for 2014 is comprised of five scholarship runners: Seniors Cam McDaniel and Amir Carlisle, junior Will Mahone, and sophomores Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant.

Of the five, only McDaniel will exhaust his eligibility at season's end. Top Stories