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Notre Dame tight end Niklas off to NFL

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For complete Notre Dame football coverage, follow Tom Davis via Twitter at www.Twitter.com/Tom101010

It appeared as if the junior was set to return in 2014

Friday, January 10, 2014 - 2:06 am

The pipeline for Notre Dame tight ends to the NFL continues to churn out prospects.

Late Thursday night, SI.com reported that the father of Troy Niklas, Don, confirmed that his son will forego the remainder of his college career and enter May's NFL Draft.

The 6-foot-7, 270-pound Niklas emerged as the primary pass catcher at tight end this past season for Notre Dame after the departure of Bishop Dwenger product Tyler Eifert to the NFL. Niklas finished with third on the team with 32 receptions for 498 yards and five touchdowns.

Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly submitted draft evaluations for Niklas as well as teammates George Atkinson III and Stephon Tuitt in December. It was reported by ESPN.com that Niklas received a grade between the second and fourth round.

It was then believed that Niklas would return for his senior season, but now he will head to the pros.

With the transfer of fifth-year senior Alex Welch to Miami of Ohio, Notre Dame now has three tight ends on scholarship, including junior Ben Koyack and freshmen Durham Smythe and Mike Heuerman.

Kelly praised Smythe during the lead-up to the Pinstripe Bowl in late December.

“I don't want to over-hype Durham,” Kelly told The News-Sentinel. “But he has some really unique ball skills for that position. As long as he continues to develop and get stronger physically, and he doesn't get into a hybrid position in terms of not getting strong enough to play as an in-line tight end, he's going to be an exceptional player.”

The Fighting Irish also have a pair of verbal commitments at tight end in four-stars Tyler Luatua and Nic Weishar.