Many around the Guglielmino Athletics Complex were caught slightly off guard this past winter when Notre Dame junior tight end Troy Niklas announced that he'd forgo his senior season and jump to the NFL. Questions abounded whether or not the behemoth athlete was ready to compete at the highest level after playing the position for just 24 months.
The Arizona Cardinals were not among the skeptics.
Niklas was selected by the Cardinals with the 52nd selection overall in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft Friday and Arizona coach Bruce Arians voiced no concerns whatsoever as to whether Niklas was ready to make an impact with his team.
“How long does it take to get on an airplane?,” Arians responded when asked the timetable for Niklas' impact.
“Once he gets through baggage claim,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim quickly added.
Niklas began his career in South Bend as an outside linebacker that the Irish coaches envisioned as a potent pass rusher. However, following his freshman season, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly moved him to tight end, which Niklas had always wanted to play, and he gradually evolved into a multi-threat player.
“(Niklas) is a threat down the field as a pass receiver,” Arians said. “He bends and turns very well, catches low balls, which is very hard for 6-6 guys, so he is more than just a blocking tight end. To me, he is an all-around tight end who the sky is the limit.”
Despite the lack of experience at the position, several things minimize any concerns on the part of the Cardinals and those would be Niklas' size, his athleticism, his size, his background, and there is that whole size thing again.
“He's a guy that in our mind has just started to scratch the surface on what he can become,” Arians said. “At 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, he has a tremendous physique, great size, athleticism, and the upside is really scary when we look at the package.
He is a guy that is a good player right now, and when you see the potential on tape, it excites you.”
Arians called Niklas the “leanest 270” he has ever seen in his longest coaching career and history indicates that Arians loves to utilize multiple tight ends.
In the 2012 Draft, Arians was part of the Colts' leadership that selected tight ends Coby Fleener (second round) and Dwayne Allen (third round) consecutively.
“They like their tight ends,” Niklas said. “So that's a big advantage for me because I'm a tight end and I like to block and I like to catch passes. I'm pretty pumped about it and really looking forward to getting out there.”
Niklas will see some familiar faces in Phoenix, as former Fighting Irish tight end John Carlson and wide receiver Michael Floyd are already members of the squad. It was the second consecutive Draft in which a Notre Dame tight end was selected (Tyler Eifert was a first round pick by Cincinnati in 2013) and Niklas becomes the 27th Irish tight end ever drafted.
Niklas' skill set is such that Arians and Keim believe broadens the versatility of the Cardinals' offensive attack.
“We don't have to put a tackle in to run the football (with Niklas due to his size),” Arians said. “When you put a tackle in like most teams when they struggle at the tight end spot versus defensive ends versus 4-3 teams, you lose a lot because the safety is down there two yards from the line of scrimmage, because you know he's not going off our pass. This is a big, strong guy who can go out for passes and also block the line of scrimmage. So, we are very versatile now.”