Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt to enter NFL Draft

Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt to enter NFL Draft
January 5, 2014, 8:00 pm
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Stephon Tuitt has made his call, and he's leaving Notre Dame early to turn pro.

The junior defensive end announced his verdict on Twitter Sunday evening. "Thanks for a wonderful three years at the best University on earth. I will forever be IRISH," Tuitt tweeted. Sports Illustrated first reported Tuitt's decision.

Tuitt is projected as a first-round pick by CBS Sports and ranks No. 11 on Scouts Inc's top 32 rankings for this year's NFL Draft. While he received a second-round grade in the NFL evaluation Notre Dame submitted on his behalf, that's been the only early indication he might not be a first-round pick this spring.

Tuitt underwent offseason surgery on a sports hernia and was hampered by the procedure for about half of the 2013 season, though still managed 7 1/2 sacks and nine tackles for a loss.

The 6-foot-6, 312-pound Tuitt may fit better as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme, though his sheer strength may translate to defensive end in the pros as well. In three years at Notre Dame, Tuitt recorded 21 1/2 sacks, 12 of which came in 2012 and stand as the second-most by an Irish player in a single season.

[More: Five Notre Dame players to watch in 2014]

Tuitt also recorded 23 tackles for a loss and returned scored two touchdowns, one on an interception in 2013 at Michigan and the other on a fumble recovery against Navy in 2012.

While this reported decision throws a curve in Tuitt's efforts to graduate -- he promised his family he would get a degree from Notre Dame when he committed to the Irish -- it's still possible he could come back and accomplish that goal. Tuitt has one year in school left to earn his degree in psychology.

Losing Tuitt for 2014 deals a significant blow to Notre Dame's playoff hopes, as the Irish will be without Tuitt as well as nose guard Louis Nix next fall. With linebackers Prince Shembo, Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese done as well, Notre Dame will have to replace five starters on its 2013 front seven -- only defensive end Sheldon Day and linebacker Jaylon Smith return as opening week starters, while defensive tackle Jarron Jones and linebacker Jarrett Grace earned starts later in the year. 

In October, Tuitt told Notre Dame's student newspaper he was "coming back next year" but later recanted after the Irish beat USC on Oct. 20.

"What I said the other night, I wasn't really thinking," Tuitt said then. "I was just thinking about the (USC) game. At the end of the day, when the end of the season comes, whatever predicament I'm in I'm going to talk to coach Kelly, my mom, my family and see what the best decision will be then."