- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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Two Notre Dame (technical) underclassmen are heading to the NFL. Two more decided to return for another year (or two) of college.
What do we make of their decisions?
Biggest winners: Frankly, I like all of their decisions. Eifert may have been a first-round pick last season just as easily as he may be this season, and now he has his degree, too. Wood, too, is done with school and has a daughter to care for. I don't think his draft stock could have improved a whole lot with one more year. This isn't a Jonas Gray situation, where a guy underachieved for much of his career before it all came together during his final campaign. Wood has been a very steady, productive back for Notre Dame, and I think the potential risks of coming back far outweighed the potential rewards.
Martin has professed his love for college and can improve with another year, and Nix, too, has really only had two full seasons of college ball from which scouts can evaluate. I wouldn't fault him if he left, especially given his family situation, but one more year at the production rate of 2012 will have him on many teams' radars as a first-round pick.
Biggest loser: None. I would rarely, if ever, call someone a loser for coming back to school to get a degree, especially after seeing how well it worked out for Eifert and Manti Te'o (the past nine days notwithstanding). There were benefits to both decisions for Nix, and Mel Kiper Jr. thinks that the nose guard made a good call.
The replacements: Theo Riddick is out of eligibility, so the Irish backfield will be undergoing a makeover, with a crowded field of replacements. Speedster George Atkinson III and glue-guy Cam McDaniel are the only returners with experience, and USC transfer Amir Carlisle should be at full health following a broken ankle that forced him to redshirt. William Mahone will have his redshirt come off, too, and Notre Dame is welcoming in ESPN's No. 2 running back in Greg Bryant (Delray Beach, Fla./American Heritage).
At tight end, converted linebacker Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack received most of the second-team reps this season while Alex Welch missed the year with an ACL tear. All three figure to be in the mix for action next season, but replacing the most productive tight end in school history is no easy task.