Being that the Independent “conference” has just four teams, two of which being military schools that both rarely have prospects and, because of their commitment to service, aren’t really NFL Draft prospects anyways, we’ll focus on the two NFL Draft prospect filled teams that may also have Top 25 hopes: Notre Dame and BYU.
As we’ll look at the top five juniors prospects from these two schools, a common trend arrises: questionable quarterback play like both these teams have should have a direct impact on how these top junior prospects fare in the future.
1. Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Anthony Fasano to John Carlson to Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame has become “Tight End U” recently. And with each of those tight ends better than the one they follow, Eifert could follow suit and be the best of the bunch. At 6’6 and 251, Eifert uses his size and length well, being able to set the seam, catch the ball away from his body and in traffic. He’s also able to split out in receiver type sets, and also is an adequate, not great college blocker. That completeness as a player as well as room to both get even stronger and develop further could have many teams thinking Rob Gronkowski if/when he declares.
2. Cierre Wood, RB, Notre Dame
Flashed as a freshman, Wood emerged as a staple for the Notre Dame team last year, keeping this offense stable through a bit of a quarterback quandry. A Matt Elder of BuffaloBillsDraft.com favorite, Wood is ideally a one cut and go running back with good bulk, room to get stronger, and vision up and through the hole. Downfield speed and explosion at the second level concerns me a bit, as he sometimes looks to break tackles and not attack any open spaces because of that lack of speed. Still, if he can have another 5+ YPC season this year (has an experienced offensive line), he could become among the Top 5 running backs in the future.
3. Cody Hoffman, WR, BYU
The feature receiver for senior Riley Nelson, Hoffman has the size, length (6’4), and explosive ability for is size to potentially develop into a high pick in the future. Impressive since he arrived on campus, Hoffman thrives in three key areas for a longer receiver: He’s able to win jump balls thanks to great ball skills and tracking ability on vertical routes. He has experience in deeper and middle of the field breaking routes to win at different levels of the defense. And, he’s able to get to his top speed quickly and has balance/minor shiftiness in the open field. He’s also the teams best kick returner, thriving as one of the better returners in the country despite being “over-sized” for a returner.
4. Zach Martin, OT, Notre Dame
It’s tough (for me) to really like a 6’4 offensive tackle, but Martin does have a skill set that could translate the in the NFL. While I don’t know his wingspan exactly, he doesn’t seem to have the length to play on the outside of an NFL offensive line with the possible exception of a zone blocking scheme, a system he plays in frequently at Notre Dame. A bit stiff in pass blocking at times and doesn’t dominate upfield as a blocker, he flashes balance laterally and in his initial reach blocks, and could be a potential right tackle in a zone blocking scheme or a right guard in many systems in the NFL in the future.
5. Chris Watt, OG, Notre Dame A strong, well-built, and powerful guard, Watt has a chance to pass Zach Martin as a prospect on this offensive line for the future with better hand placement and overall more consistency in his steps upfield. He holds the point of attack well when he can set up quick enough in pass protection, but needs to protect his outside shoulder on interior pass rushes. As a run blocker, he’s able to win battles on the interior and drive well with a strong initial upper body push.