Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football Is The Real Tight End U
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Counterpoint: Notre Dame Is The Real Tight End U

Past, present and future Notre Dame tight ends have been in the news the past two weeks.

• On July 21, Chicago Bears rookie Cole Kmet — who turned pro as a junior and was drafted in the second round this spring — signed a contract reportedly valued at $7.5 million with a signing bonus of more than $3 million over four years.

• Current junior Tommy Tremble was on the cover of this month’s Blue & Gold Illustrated which included a feature story on his rise.

• Two more tight ends verbally committed to Notre Dame last week: Mitchell Evans in the 2021 class and Jack Nickel in 2022.

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Former Notre Dame and current Chicago Bears tight end Cole Kmet during a game versus USC in 2019
Cole Kmet this spring became the 11th Notre Dame tight end since 1974 drafted in the first or second round. (Andris Visockis)

Finally, this week Bleacher Report did a series on schools with the best history at any single position since 1970 (when the NFL-AFL merger occurred). At tight end, Maryland received the bronze medal for third place, while Notre Dame had to settle for the silver behind Miami.

The caveat is that the rankings were based strictly on NFL production in terms of yardage accumulated.

Indeed, no school ever had a run in the NFL Draft with tight ends like the Hurricanes did from 2000-10 with four first-round picks at the position: Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow Jr. and Greg Olsen (who originally enrolled at Notre Dame), and then third-rounder Jimmy Graham.

However, one decade does not a Tight End U make. When we are talking 50 years of data and impact, both collegiate and pro, Notre Dame boasts the most quantity and quality.

Since the NFL-AFL merger, Miami has had seven tight ends taken in the first or second round. This April, Kmet became the 11th Notre Dame tight end over the past 46 years who was drafted in either the first or second round.

That is not including 12 other Fighting Irish tight ends drafted in that 50-year span, among them future All-Pro and fourth-round pick Mark Bavaro in 1985.

That’s 23 in the 46 years since 1974 — or one every two years. Miami has had 19 overall since then, which certainly makes them a worthy competitor.

The 2020s already have continued the tradition with Kmet, who as Rivals’ No. 95 overall recruit in 2017 actually was rated behind current Irish senior Brock Wright (No. 44 that same year).

Tremble, who grabbed 16 passes for 183 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore (better than Kmet’s 15 receptions for 162 yards and no scores his sophomore year) is on track to be next in line.

And for good measure, the Irish in their 2020 recruiting haul signed the nation’s top duo at tight end in Michael Mayer (No. 36 overall nationally) and Kevin Bauman (No. 129).

Starting in the 1960s, the term “tight end” began to be a part of the football nomenclature at Notre Dame, rather than just listing a player as an end. Here’s a decade-by-decade synopsis:

The 1970s

Mike Creaney (1970-72)

The three-year starter averaged a remarkable 19.4 yards per catch on his 45 career grabs, and his presence allowed Dave Casper to start in 1971-72 at offensive tackle, where the Irish were short on bodies.


Dave Casper (1973)

One of the rare players in both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, Casper was a captain for the 1973 national champs, and his sensational 30-yard catch set up the go-ahead score with 4:26 left in the 24-23 victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. It was overshadowed because …


Robin Weber (1973-76)

Made the most famous catch in school history, the 35-yard grab in the closing minutes on third-and-eight from the 3-yard line — while everyone converged on Casper — to seal the national title. Injuries would later stifle his football career.


Ken MacAfee (1974-77)

Three-time All-American and Walter Camp Player of the Year for the 1977 national champs. The No. 7 overall pick in the 1978 NFL Draft is in the College Football Hall of Fame and was noted on several All-Century teams in the 20th century.


Dean Masztak (1978-81)

He had first round written all over him after averaging about 18 yards on his 16 catches as a freshman in 1978 and pacing the team in receptions as a sophomore (27), but injuries his last two seasons truncated his football career.



The 1980s

Pete Holohan (1977-80)

Although he lined up mostly as a flanker at Notre Dame, he was drafted as a tight end and caught 363 passes during a 12-year NFL career.


Tony Hunter (1981-82)

After Masztak’s injury, the former wideout Hunter was moved to tight end, earned All-America notice as Notre Dame’s top pass catcher in 1982 (42) and was the No. 12 pick in the first round.


Mark Bavaro (1983-84)

A future All-Pro player for the two-time Super Bowl champion New York Giants, Bavaro also was a first-team Associated Press All-American as a senior with a team-high 32 catches.


Derek Brown (1988-91)

A starter as a freshman for the 1988 national champs, he was the Parade High School Player of the Year and was taken with the 14th pick in the first round after his senior year.


Note: Tom Rehder (1984-87) and Andy Heck (1985-88) were former starting tight ends who were shifted to left tackle and were drafted in the third and first rounds of the NFL Draft after their final college season … Joel Williams (1983-86) was an eighth-round pick and Frank Jacobs (1987-89), who caught a touchdown pass in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl win over West Virginia for the national title, was considered the nation’s top recruit at tight end before later embarking on a baseball career.

The 1990s

Irv Smith (1989-92)

Out from the shadow of Brown, he too became a first-round pick (20th pick overall) after his senior year, and his son with the same name starred this past decade at Alabama.


Pete Chryplewicz (1993-96)

Paced the team in receptions (27) as a senior in head coach Lou Holtz’s final season and was selected in the fifth round.


Dan O’Leary and Jabari Holloway (1997-2000)

A strong tandem throughout their career after being elite recruits, O’Leary was drafted in the sixth round and Holloway in the fourth.


Note: 1994 starter Oscar McBride was not drafted while mostly in the shadow of Brown and Smith, but played two years with the Arizona Cardinals.

The 2000s

John Owens (2000-02)

Although he caught only six passes at Notre Dame, the fifth-round selection played seven years in the NFL.


Jerome Collins (2000-04)

Fifth-round selection moved around on offense and defense with the Irish, but played four years in the NFL, mostly on practice squads, and was part of two Super Bowl champions.


Anthony Fasano (2002-05)

Mackey Award finalist caught 90 career passes and was a second-round pick, and his 12-year NFL career saw him nab 299 passes (36 for touchdowns).


John Carlson (2004-07)

Like Fasano, he was a Mackey Award finalist and second-round pick after latching on to 100 career passes. In six NFL seasons, he has caught 210 passes.


Note: Marcus Freeman went undrafted, but played for Baltimore in 2007.

The 2010s

Kyle Rudolph (2008-10)

Caught a Notre Dame freshman tight end record 28 passes as a 13-game starter and morphed into the No. 1 tight end pick (second round) after his junior season. The two-time Pro Bowl picks has more career catches (425) and touchdowns (47) than any other former Fighting Irish tight end.


Tyler Eifert (2009-12)

Mackey Award winner for the 12-1 Irish in 2012 broke MacAfee’s 35-year record for career passes caught by a Notre Dame tight end with 140 en route to a first-round selection. He made the Pro Bowl in 2015 when he grabbed 74 passes, 13 for scores (most in a season by an Irish player), and is making a comeback after some injuries..


Troy Niklas (2011-13)

Like Rudolph, turned pro after his junior year when he grabbed 32 passes that averaged 15.6 yards per catch and included five touchdowns.


Ben Koyack (2011-14)

The lone Notre Dame player selected in the 2015 draft (seventh round), he is currently a free agent after having played 48 games with 18 starts at Jacksonville.


Durham Smythe (2013-17)

Fourth-round selection has played in 31 of the Miami Dolphins’ 32 games the past two seasons.


Alizé Mack (2015-18)

Drafted in the seventh round, he was on three different practice squads last year and is currently a free agent.


The 2020s have begun with the aforementioned Kmet.

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