George Atkinson headed to NFL draft

Updated: January 8, 2014, 3:22 PM ET
By Matt Fortuna | ESPN.com

The George Atkinson III saga has ended with the running back trying his hand at the next level.

The Notre Dame junior will forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft, his father, George Sr., confirmed to ESPN.com, ending an uneasy couple of weeks that included Atkinson getting suspended from the Fighting Irish's season finale in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Atkinson entered the 2013 season as Notre Dame's No. 1 running back, but he appeared to fall out of favor with the coaching staff down the stretch. He finished second on the team in carries (93) and rushing yards (555). He had three rushing touchdowns, along with seven catches for 51 yards.

Atkinson was also the Irish's primary kickoff returner, and he brought back two kicks for touchdowns during his freshman year in 2011.

The Stockton, Calif., native and son of the former Oakland Raiders all-pro defensive back with the same name, Atkinson was suspended for the Irish's Dec. 28 finale against Rutgers for what coach Brian Kelly said was "a violation of team rules." Atkinson tweeted, and quickly deleted, that he was suspended because he had been texting during a team meal, something he said he had done all season. Kelly said after the 29-16 win over Rutgers that he had not made a decision on Atkinson's future with the program.

Notre Dame returns leading rusher Cam McDaniel in 2014, along with promising sophomores-to-be Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, with the former having taken on a heavier workload during the home stretch of his rookie season at Notre Dame.

The 6-foot-1.5, 220-pound Atkinson does not have a draft grade from Scouts Inc. His twin brother, Irish receiver Josh Atkinson, plans on staying with the program. Both speedsters had joined the track and field team for one season in the spring of 2012.

Kelly had said in December that he had submitted evaluation paperwork to the NFL advisory board for Atkinson, tight end Troy Niklas and defensive end Stephon Tuitt.

Atkinson, according to a source, received a grade ranging from the fourth round and below. Niklas' father, Don Niklas, had told ESPN.com that Troy had received a grade between the second- and fourth-rounds, and that Troy plans on returning for his senior season and receiving his degree.

Tuitt said Sunday that he was declaring for the NFL draft.

Matt Fortuna | email

College Football

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