Notre Dame tight end Koyack can stake his claim

BOB WIENEKE
South Bend Tribune

Question: Which Notre Dame football player whose eligibility expires following the 2014 season offers the most intrigue in terms of NFL Draft prospects?

NFL Draft analyst Scott Wright’s answer: Ben Koyack.

Surprising? Yes and no.

Koyack, in his first three seasons at ND, has caught 14 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns. Not exactly numbers that scream future NFL player.

But Notre Dame, during the last decade, has produced a string of NFL tight ends, starting with Anthony Fasano, then John Carlson, followed by Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas.

And with Niklas’ surprise move to the NFL a year early, the next man in is Koyack.

“The one who stands out is Ben Koyack for me,” said Wright, who runs DraftCountdown.com. “For the Notre Dame program, losing Niklas unexpectedly a year early hurt, but for Koyack it was a huge blessing because it put a huge opportunity in front of him.”

Scout.com named Koyack the best tight end in the country in the 2011 recruiting class, but he saw few balls come his way his first two seasons as Eifert was establishing himself as a first-round pick. Last season, Koyack caught three touchdown passes, but it was classmate Niklas who stepped into the role of go-to tight end.

A number of young players — sophomores Durham Smythe and Mike Heuerman, along with freshmen Nic Weishar and Tyler Luatua — all have various strengths, but the baton will be handed to Koyack.

“Now, he’s going into the season as the featured tight end in the offense, and he’s got Everett Golson, so I think Koyack has a ton of potential,” Wright said. “Now, he’s not at the same level as a Tyler Eifert. I don’t think he’s even a Kyle Rudolph. He might be closer to an Anthony Fasano type. He’s not going to be this dynamic Jimmy Graham downfield receiving threat.

“I think he has the potential to be a really good all-around tight end at the next level. I think he does have top-100 potential. Now, the senior year is going to be big. He made the most of limited opportunities last year. He made some big plays, but it’s a different ball-game when you’re the guy. It’s still a bit of a question, but I think he has the potential to emerge as one of the top senior tight ends in the country and a top-three round pick absolutely.”

Koyack is one of a number of Irish seniors whose eligibility expires following the 2014 season. Wright offered his thoughts on their early draft prospects.

• OL Christian Lombard: “The thing about him — versatility. A guy who can play right tackle or guard. Not the greatest athlete in the world, he’s a little heavy-footed, but we’re not talking about anybody expecting him to come in and be Jon Ogden.

“A guy who has a ton of big-time experience along with that versatility. He’s got good size, a big frame. Now, he had a back injury, and that’s a little bit concerning. Back injuries, when it comes to offensive linemen, is kind of a big red flag.

“If Christian Lombard has a good season, goes to an all-star game, checks out medically, could he work his way into the top 100? Sure. I think it’s a possibility, but I think he’s probably going to be more of a mid-round value.”

• DB Cody Riggs, who transferred to ND from Florida for his fifth year: “He’s definitely on the radar; he’s played a lot of big-time football against really top-notch competition, and maybe the best competition he saw was in his own defensive backfield.

“Not real tall but he’s a pretty good athlete and great tangibles. I absolutely think he’s in that late-round conversation.

“When you get to the late rounds, you definitely want guys who can play a couple different positions as a backup, who can play special teams, and I think Cody Riggs fits that mold.”

• S Austin Collinsworth, whose father Cris, played in the NFL and is now an NBC broadcaster: “He’ll get a look, and I don’t want to say just because of his family name, but it doesn’t hurt matters. It certainly doesn’t hurt when you have a famous football name and your dad is involved in the league.

“He’s going to get into a camp, he’s going to have an opportunity. Is he going to be a draftable guy? I don’t think so. Probably not, but he’ll get the chance. Would I be shocked if he made a roster at the next level eventually? No. And he’s going to get that opportunity. He will be in a camp I think.”

• K/P Kyle Brindza: “It’s going to come down to the kicking and kicking off. I think that’s more important than the punting for Brindza.

“I think he’s definitely one of the top senior kickers in the country, and that’s one of those positions where there’s really no rhyme or reason. You can’t go by the averages every year. Sometimes, there’s one, sometimes there’s none, sometimes there’s two or three. Every class is kind of different.

“I think he’s certainly going to be in the conversation to be the first kicker off the board, and even if that happens you’re still probably talking late rounds. I don’t think he’s the rare specialist prospect that’s going to go in the top three, four rounds or so, but I think rounds five, six, seven is going to be his range if he has a good senior year. But the No. 1 thing, I think, is to clean up his consistency.”

• RB Cam McDaniel: “Probably a little bit of a reach. He has to kind of win a full-time job before you can talk about too much. He’s taken advantage of his opportunities. He’s not the most physically talented guy in the world, but he’s a tough runner between the tack-les.

“He’ll have a chance. We’ll see. I’d probably slot him as more of an undrafted free agent.

• DE/OLB Ishaq Williams: “Other than Koyack, maybe the most intriguing guy on the roster for Notre Dame, because all the potential in the world. You see him on the field, he moves so well, he’s got the long arms, he absolutely looks the part. It’s just he’s never been able to put it together.

“Maybe going to this new defense, maybe that’s going to be what needed to happen. Maybe he was just a square peg in a round hole in a 3-4 scheme and now that they’re going to let him put his hand to the ground and pin his ears back and let him rush the passer, maybe the light will come on.

“This is kind of a contract year for him, and we see a lot of cases where talented guys who were considered underachievers earlier in their career turn it on for their final season when they have that payday in their sight.

“I think Ishaq Williams is going to be a guy to really watch closely, because, if he can translate his talent and potential into production, he absolutely has early-round talent. I could see that happening, but that’s a long way to go. He’ll have to prove it first on the field, but he definitely has the physical tools and the athleticism and the sheer ability to be an early-round pick, but he has to have that breakout senior campaign. I think he’s a candidate to do it.”

• Coming Tuesday: A look at the draft prospects for the rest of the ND roster.

BWieneke@SBTinfo.com; 574-235-6428

Twitter: @BobWienekeNDI

Despite paltry numbers during his first three seasons at Notre Dame, Ben Koyack has a chance of becoming the next in a long line of Irish tight ends to make the jump to the NFL. (SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER)