SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Running back George Atkinson III has become the third Notre Dame player this offseason to skip his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft.
Atkinson joins defensive linemen Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt in declaring for the NFL after the Irish finished the season 9-4 and ranked No. 21. While Nix and Tuitt have been projected as potential first-round picks by some, Atkinson is projected as a later-round pick.
''He look at as an opportunity,'' Atkinson's father, former Oakland Raiders great George Atkinson Jr., said in a telephone interview Wednesday. ''We did our due diligence and decided to roll the dice with it.''
Atkinson started the season listed as Notre Dame's starting back, but finished second in yards and carries with 555 yards on 93 attempts. He saw his carries diminish as the season wore on and freshman Tarean Folston got more carries. Coach Brian Kelly said Atkinson didn't consistently run tough enough.
The Irish already have a crowded backfield with Folston and leading rusher Cam McDaniel returning as well as Amir Carlisle and Greg Bryant, who sat out last season after knee surgery.
Atkinson was suspended from playing in the Pinstripe Bowl for violating an unspecified team rule. He tweeted he was suspended for texting friends and family during a team meal. His father said neither the suspension nor the crowded backfield played roles in his son's decision.
''The time was just right to make that move,'' he said.
Atkinson said his other son, Josh Atkinson - George III's twin brother - will stay at Notre Dame. Josh Atkinson spent time at cornerback and wide receiver this past season.