As expected, Notre Dame will have a limited crew of former players participating in the annual NFL Scouting Combine, which begins Wednesday in Indianapolis.
Amidst more familiar names such as quarterbacks Marcus Mariota (Oregon) and Jameis Winston (Florida State), running backs Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin), T.J. Yeldon (Alabama) and Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska), and receivers Amari Cooper (Alabama) and DeVante Parker (Louisville) will be three Irish players trying to make inroads into the NFL.
Tight end Ben Koyack, wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, and kicker Kyle Brindza will put their skills to the test. Daniels has the most to prove/overcome after missing the 2014 season following his “academic dishonesty” involvement with four other Irish players.
A somewhat surprising omission from the combine is Irish cornerback Cody Riggs, who used his fifth year of eligibility with the Irish after playing cornerback and safety at Florida. Thirty cornerbacks were invited to the combine.
Here is a breakdown of each of Notre Dame’s participants:
Koyack continues to get mixed reviews as one of 20 tight ends that will participate in Indianapolis. He caught a touchdown pass in the Senior Bowl, but was critiqued for his inconsistent practices during the week. The rap Koyack must beat is his “love for the game,” which has come under question because of his understated play while at Notre Dame.
The fact is Koyack has good size and has shown some versatility as an in-line blocker and a Y tight end. He has to prove he’s got some pop in the blocking department and that he has enough quickness to be an effective pass-catching tight end on the next level. But he’s shown big, productive hands and the ability to make the contested catch, although he certainly lacks some of the athleticism of previous Irish tight ends such as Tyler Eifert and Kyle Rudolph.
Top competition at combine: Devin Funchess (Michigan), Nick O’Leary (Florida State), Maxx Williams (Minnesota), Jesse James (Penn State), Nick Boyle (Delaware).
Irish fans will see a more filled-out Daniels in Indianapolis since the last time he played for Notre Dame, which was a three-catch, 25-yard performance in the Pinstripe Bowl to conclude the 2013 season. Daniels developed into a go-to receiver in ’13, catching 49 passes (second to TJ Jones’ 70) for 745 yards (15.2 avg.) and seven touchdowns. It was a marked improvement over the previous campaign when he failed to score a touchdown on 31 receptions.
In addition to having to overcome some perceptions in the aftermath of missing the ’14 season, NFL analysts will be evaluating his “play speed” and ability to separate from defensive backs. The NFL Scouting Combine analysis questions his ability to sink his hips into breaks and accelerate out of those breaks. There’s also question about the sharpness of his cuts/routes, although he offers some size and – by and large – caught the football well at Notre Dame. Daniels has a mass of talent at the wide receiver position (43 at the combine) with which to contend.
Top competition at combine: DeVante Parker (Louisville), Amari Cooper (Alabama), Dorial Green-Beckham (Missouri), Rashad Greene (Florida State), Jaelen Strong (Arizona State), Nelson Agholor (USC), Stefon Diggs (Maryland).
The question on the minds of NFL talent scouts will be which Kyle Brindza is the real Kyle Brindza? Is it the one who converted 43-of-57 field-goal attempts in 2012-13, or the one who struggled in 2014, making just 14-of-24, including 5-of-10 in the fourth quarter/overtime.
Of course, Brindza had to deal with snap/hold issues, particularly late in the season when it was a crapshoot as to whether the timing/execution of the operation would be sufficient for him to concentrate on making the kick. And yet by NFL standards, Brindza’s 75.4 percentage in 2012-13 is not a high level of success, and now he and the other kickers will have to boot brand new NFL footballs, which are slick, harder and simply more difficult to kick consistently well.
Working in Brindza’s favor is the fact he is a proven kickoff man and can double as a punter. He also is one of only 13 specialists (kickers/punters/long snappers) invited to the combine, including one of just five kickers.
Top competition at combine: Jared Roberts (Colorado State), Justin Manton (Louisiana-Monroe), Josh Lembo (Texas A&M), Sam Ficken (Penn State).