NFL Draft on the Horizon

The NFL draft is rapidly approaching and a number of former Irish players are hoping to realize their dreams of playing professional football. Tom Marino is one of Scout.com's NFL Draft experts, and we caught up with Marino to get his thoughts on some former Irish players and their draft prospects.

"I really haven't watched a lot of tape on the guys," Marino said of the former ND players eligible for the draft. "I watched them play this year a number of times, but I really haven't spent a lot of time watching tape of them yet."

According to Marino, he feels Litchfield, Minn. tight end John Carlson is Notre Dame's best prospect.

"The top prospect is (John Carlson). He's smart. He's a good blocker," Marino said. "For a college tight end he's an exceptional blocker. Most of them can't block a lick. He's probably the most complete tight end.

"I like the kid at Purdue (Dustin Keller), but (Carlson) is probably better. He runs fairly well. I don't think he's exceptional at any one thing, but he's a very good football player that you can win with.

"The negative thing with him is that it's a position right now where teams are, in this modern day offense, they're phasing them out a bit, them and the fullback. You see so many three and four wide sets anymore. If you're looking for a tight end, there aren't a lot of great guys, and he's a pretty polished player. He uses his hands well. I think he's the real deal."

Another Minnesota native, Apple Valley, Minn. defensive lineman Trevor Laws is the next Irish player most likely to get drafted.

"He's a fighter inside," said Marion of Laws. "That's what you look for in pro ball. You look for guys who play like that. He plays like his hair is on fire. He's short. He's not a great looking kid physically, but he's relentless. "He's quick in the gaps. He's relentless as a pass rusher. He will make plays. He'll play at the pro level. He won't just make a club, he'll play at the pro level. He'll be in the rotation quickly. I'm interested to see how he does in the bowl games."

Marino said the fifth-year senior reminds him of another Irish player recently drafted, Derek Landri.

"They're both high motor guys," he said of Laws and Landri. "They both kind of play alike. He may not be as athletic as Landri, but he's got a motor that won't quit. It's like he's earning his scholarship by the hour.

"He played like that even when his team was getting whipped. I liked that. I like seeing kids playing hard when they're losing."

A couple of Irish seniors didn't live up to expectations this past season according to Marino, and it will probably hurt their draft status a bit.

"I'm disappointed in Tommy (Zbikowski)," said Marino. "I don't think his shoulder is right yet. He's not hitting anybody anymore. That's the one thing he did well. He'd come down hill and smack, and I didn't see a lot of that this year.

"There really aren't a lot of safeties (in the draft). I think he played so much better as a young guy. The one thing he has going for him is he's really a good return man. He could be special at those things. He's a fearless guy there, so that's why I thought he'd play that way. He just wasn't as active as he had been.

"It seemed like the play always ended at his feet. He wasn't in the play. It ended at his feet. He just didn't show that he was a striker, which is what he needs to be. He's not a great cover guy, he's an "in the box" type of guy, and you have to be a good striker to be that guy. I think he can be, he's shown he can be, but I'm not sure his shoulder is healthy. He's pretty quick though, so he'll get drafted for sure, I'm just not sure where yet. "

Irish center John Sullivan also slid a bit in the eyes of at least this draft expert.

"I didn't think the center (John Sullivan) played very well," Marino said. "His snapping didn't help him at all. At critical times he made some bad snaps. I didn't think he played very strong. I thought was a good player, but he didn't play well this year. I thought his play overall was just average. The whole offensive line didn't play well, and too many guys came free too often. I don't think he played up to expectations."

Another player who will likely make an NFL team is former Irish running back Travis Thomas according to Marino.

"I really don't know much about the running back (Travis Thomas)," he said. "I know he played special teams and played some goal line, but I really didn't get to see him much. I know he's a thick kid and a pretty athletic kid. I'd say free agent would probably be his best bet. He'll get signed, but probably as a free agent."


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