Report: George Atkinson III turning pro

Report: George Atkinson III turning pro
January 8, 2014, 1:30 pm

Following the Pinstripe Bowl, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly gave a somewhat terse response when asked about the future of running back George Atkinson.

"I haven't made that decision yet," Kelly said.

Atkinson was suspended from the game for a violation of team rules -- a violation, he contended on Twitter, was nothing more than using his phone during a team meal (Notre Dame does not provide specifics when a player is suspended for violating team rules).

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That Kelly said the decision was in his hands seemed to speak volumes about how he viewed Atkinson. The junior running back never took hold of the starting role he earned prior to the season, with his blazing speed never amounting to anything consistent.

Now, according to Blue & Gold Illustrated's Dan Murphy, Atkinson took his future into his own hands: He'll forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.

Atkinson's father told BGI the decision to turn pro wasn't based on the Pinstripe Bowl suspension. But Notre Dame's backfield will get more crowded this fall, with Greg Bryant -- the five-star recruit who redshirted in 2013 -- entering the mix. Atkinson very well could've slid back into the limited role he filled in 2012 behind Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, but with Bryant, Tarean Folston and Cam McDaniel all likely to top the depth chart there may not have been enough carries to go around for him.

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Expect Atkinson to light up the combine with an impressive 40-yard dash, though his skills as a running back need to be honed. A major complaint Irish coaches had was how easily Atkinson was often tackled, too many times by the ankles. Atkinson rushed 93 times for 555 yards and three touchdowns in 2013.

Atkinson received a late-round draft grade in the evaluation submitted on his behalf by Notre Dame. He'll join Stephon Tuitt in leaving Notre Dame early, though Tuitt likely will wind up a first-round pick.