No. NFL scouts did not see a mirage when they looked at the Notre Dame Fighting Irish secondary this season. Zeke Motta had a great season leading a young secondary group and his play immediately grew comparisons to a former Notre Dame player.
In 2011, Harrison Smith led the Irish secondary and was perhaps the biggest impact maker on the Notre Dame defense. Smith was very talented, quick and played well throughout the season and dazzled scouts at his individual workouts. Smith was drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings and the former Golden Doomer did not disappoint Vikings fans. Smith was one of the top tacklers for the Vikings and had three interceptions returning two for touchdowns.
Motta like Smith had a great senior season and has impressed scouts, but lacks the speed that Smith possessed. Motta could possibly follow Smith in becoming a starting safety his rookie season . Before Motta works on being a starter his first focus is improving his draft stock, which already is on the rise.
Going into the season scouts reportedly rated Motta as a possible free agent graded player, who could possibly make a team. Motta had a great season helping the Notre Dame defense become one of the top defenses in the country. The Irish were phenomenal against the run during the regular season and among the best in holding their opponents out of the endzone. 12 wins later, and being the key to Notre Dame’s secondary, the hard hitting Motta was rated as a possible fifth or sixth round pick going into the NFL combine.
Motta has continued to turn heads and his stock is still on the rise. Reports now from scouts rate Motta as a possibly top 100 pick in the draft, which would place him in the early fourth round. Motta still has an opportunity to improve his status at the Notre Dame pro day on March 26 in South Bend.
Motta could be just as impressive of an impact player for a team, as Smith was for Minnesota last season. What team will reach for Motta is debatable. One thing is certain, those teams who passed on Smith and tried to take a safety later in the draft missed big and they might not want to do the same at this year’s draft.