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POPE: Drafted Notre Dame players will make impact

Dallas Cowboys Draft choice Zach Martadjusts his cap as he speaks reporters Valley Ranch Irving Texas Saturday May 10 2014.

Dallas Cowboys Draft choice Zach Martin adjusts his cap as he speaks to reporters at Valley Ranch in Irving, Texas, Saturday, May 10, 2014. Martin will forever be known as the player the Cowboys drafted instead of Johnny Manziel and the Notre Dame offensive tackle is fine with it. Cowboys took Martin with the 16th pick in the first round of the NFL draft. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

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Updated: June 17, 2014 2:11PM



Dallas could have made the pick that would have crashed Twitter.

Instead, the Cowboys went in a direction that will be beneficial for a long time.

Quarterback Johnny Manziel — perhaps the most talked about player in the draft and a legend in the state for his play at Texas A&M — was still available. But Dallas selected former Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin with the No. 16 overall pick.

Dallas won’t regret it. Martin will be a great fit for the Cowboys.

He’s not the only former Notre Dame player to land at an ideal destination.

Eight Notre Dame players were drafted this year. It’s the school’s best showing since 1994, when 10 players got picked.

And almost all of them are at spots where they can make impacts.

In Martin, Dallas gets another piece to stabilize its offensive line. Martin showed his reliability with the Irish, starting 52 consecutive games.

“You need to build the infrastructure of your team. We feel like we’ve got a great start with that by drafting (lineman) Tyron Smith, added to that last year by drafting Travis Frederick. We feel like Zack Martin is in the same mode of those kinds of guys,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said during a news conference posted on the team’s website. “We just think he’s a darn good football player.”

Martin was the only Notre Dame player to go in the first round. But defensive end Stephon Tuitt, a second-round selection, will provide an instant boost to Pittsburgh because of his ability to get to the quarterback.

“He’s a guy that can rush the passer, inside. When he was lighter, he could rush outside. He’s able with long arms, his length and his power to convert speed to power. He’s got the ability also go 2-gap,” ESPN analyst Todd McShay said during a teleconference Monday. “He was a little bit up and down in terms of his performance at Notre Dame, but I think that in this right situation and allowed to develop for a year and just playing in a rotation, I think Tuitt is going to wind up being a really good pick for the Steelers and they needed to find a guy to fit their system that way.”

Some were surprised when Troy Niklas decided to declare for the draft instead of returning to Notre Dame. He had only had two years of experience as a college tight end after making the move from linebacker.

But Niklas had emerged as one of the dependable weapons in Notre Dame’s offense. He’ll be a perfect fit for a high-flying passing attack at Arizona. The Cardinals selected him in the second round.

“He can handle the line of scrimmage. He is the leanest 270 I have ever seen, but he also a threat down the field as a pass receiver,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. “He bends and turns very well, he catches low balls, which is very hard for 6-foot-6 guys. He’s more than just a blocking tight end. He’s an all-around tight end. The sky’s the limit.”

Like Tuitt and Niklas, Louis Nix III left Notre Dame with eligibility remaining. Some early draft projections had the nose tackle listed going in either the first or second round. He lasted until the third round with Houston. Now he might have the opportunity to play with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. Not bad at all.

“He may have gone late first with another year, but he’s a 3-4 nose tackle and another good scheme fit, but there are not a lot of teams that are going to look for a 3-4 nose tackle in the first round unless you are super elite. For him to go where he did, made a lot of sense,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said during a conference call Monday.

“I think (Nix and Tuitt) are provided a great opportunity.”

Ditto with offensive lineman Chris Watt in San Diego, linebacker Prince Shembo in Atlanta, cornerback Bennett Jackson with the New York Giants and receiver TJ Jones with the Lions.

It will also be interesting to follow the progress of the undrafted free agents. That list includes quarterback Tommy Rees, who went to the Redskins. Washington’s roster already includes quarterbacks Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy.

But let’s go back to the draft. Notre Dame has had at least one player drafted for 77 straight years. That’s the longest streak in the country.

It was a pretty good weekend for the Irish. And it could be just the beginning for those players.



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