May 11, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
Craig Chval, the official 2013 football beat writer for the Strong & True blog, is currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Over the course of the year Craig will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and previews of each game. You can follow Craig (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggers.
Continuing our look-in on Notre Dame draftees, the third guy we’re looking at is tight end Troy Niklas, the converted linebacker who took over for Mackey Award winner Tyler Eifert in 2013. He was chosen by the Arizona Cardinals with the 52nd overall pick (20th in the second round).
Here’s the Cardinals’ tight end situation.
2013 tight end starters: Rob Housler, Jim Dray
The Cardinals still have their top tight end from 2013 in Rob Housler, but Jim Dray went to the Browns. Other depth guys on the roster include Jake Ballard and Brett Brackett.
But Arizona did sign former Notre Dame tight end John Carlson in the offseason, giving a capable tandem with Housler. The two aren’t top-tier ends, but you don’t need exceptional tight end production when you have Larry Fitzgerald.
It might seem it will be difficult for Niklas to see time this season behind two talented players in Housler and Carlson who have starting history. But Bruce Arians runs a two-tight end system, which gives Niklas the chance to either compete for that second spot or find a place in the rotation. Because of this system, the Cardinals keep four tight ends on the roster, while most teams have either two or three.
With Housler and Carlson, tight end was not a big need for Arizona, but they chose to pick up Niklas in the second round because he was too good to pass up. Niklas didn’t have the production of his Irish predecessors, but he has only played the position for two years. And scouts were drooling over his physical tools, which could allow him to develop into an elite NFL player.
Niklas doesn’t have great top-end speed, but he moves very well for his 6’6, 270-pound frame. For a player who came to Notre Dame on the defensive side of the ball, he has good hands and blocking ability, but the latter could see some improvement at the NFL level. The general consensus is that he has all the tools to be successful if his raw talent can be refined with his rare blend of size and athleticism.
Of course, the Cardinals might also have picked up Niklas with the recent history of NFl tight ends out of Notre Dame. He joins his new teammate Carlson, as well as Tyler Eifert, Anthony Fasano, and Kyle Rudolph.
Every starting tight end for Notre Dame for the last 11 seasons has been drafted in the first or second round. They have all been productive players, especially Rudolph, the 2012 Pro Bowl MVP. Maybe the Cardinals are just playing the odds.
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