Notre Dame football: Kiper sees a lot to like about Tuitt

South Bend Tribune

Count ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. among those who didn't exactly agree with the targeting penalty that caused Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt to be ejected from last Saturday's 28-21 loss at Pittsburgh.

"I thought that was something that ... I'm not a fan of that rule," Kiper said Thursday in a conference call. "That affected Notre Dame's ability to win that football game, obviously."

Also count Kiper among those who sees the 6-foot-6, 322-pound Tuitt, ND's junior defensive end, as a potential first-round pick, should Tuitt decide to forego his senior season.

Tuitt last month told Notre Dame's student newspaper that he would be back in 2014 but later said a decision wouldn't be made until after the season.

If he goes, Kiper sees big things for Tuitt.

"I think he's a top-10 guy," said Kiper, who compared Tuitt to former University of Georgia and NFL defensive lineman Richard Seymour, the sixth overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft.

Kiper assesses Tuitt as a guy whose pass-rush ability makes him a perfect fit for a 3-4 defense, a guy who plays hard all the time, and one who, in Kiper's opinion, was a major reason ND was able to beat USC last month.

"I like what he is," Kiper said. "He was unblockable in a number of games this year."

While Kiper has seen Tuitt as at times unblockable, he sees Tuitt's running mate along the Irish line, senior nose guard Louis Nix, as a guy who gets blocked. A lot.

"Nix is one of those guys who's kind of like a pinball on the interior," Kiper said. "They're blocking him with two guys."

Because the 6-3, 357-pound Nix did not play in 2010 as a freshman, he retains a fifth year of eligibility. Tendinitis in his left knee cost him two games this season, and Nix has yet to publicly announce whether he'll be back next year, but he’s strongly hinted in the past this will be his final year at ND.

"Of course he has the injury situation now, but overall he's still in that top-10 mix," Kiper said. "You've got two potential top-10 picks there."

Kiper also sees other picks dotting ND's roster. They include:

•Left tackle Zack Martin: Kiper said Martin could play guard or tackle in the NFL. "I think he could be in that third-round discussion," Kiper said.

•Offensive guard Chris Watt: "I think he's got a chance to be a third- or fourth-round pick," Kiper said. "I like the way Watt has played in a variety of games this year for Notre Dame at the guard spot."

•Outside linebacker Prince Shembo: "(He) has flashed some big-time pass-rush ability in certain games," Kiper said. "He's got a chance as a day-three (Rounds 4-7) pick."

Kiper also projected wide receiver TJ Jones and cornerback Bennett Jackson as late-rounders or free-agent pickups.

The draft will be held May 8-10 in New York City.

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. sees Notre Dame defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt as a potential first-round pick. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER