Notre Dame Named In Several ‘Position U’ Rankings For Producing NFL Stars
Notre Dame can stake a fair claim to “Tight End U.”
Every primary starter since Anthony Fasano broke into the Irish’s lineup in 2003 has become an NFL Draft pick. The most recent, Cole Kmet, was the first tight end taken in the 2020 draft. Tommy Tremble is his likely successor and a popular breakout pick with some NFL traits.
It’s a recent trend bested by almost no one, and Bleacher Report’s Position U series concurs. Bleacher Report writers Kerry Miller and David Kenyon wrote an eight-part series this summer on the college programs that generated the most productive NFL players at each position since 1970. Their tight end series ranked Notre Dame second, behind only Miami.
When a tight end comes into the NFL every couple years, there are bound to be productive ones from the bunch. But some of the most successful came before the 21st century.
“Led by Dave Casper at 5,216 yards, five alums have crested 3,000 yards at the professional level since 1970. Casper earned five Pro Bowl and four All-Pro nods, and Mark Bavaro secured two apiece,” Kenyon wrote. “Kyle Rudolph is already tied for 16th among NFL tight ends with 47 career touchdowns, and Anthony Fasano is tied for 36th.
“Tyler Eifert has fought injuries throughout a seven-year career, but managed a Pro Bowl appearance in a healthy season. For good measure, John Carlson and Irv Smith both had 1,700-plus yards and 15 touchdowns.”
Notre Dame’s defensive line, meanwhile, earned the No. 3 spot for top talent producing at that position. Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt is the most notable active name, and this season he can become the latest of the near-dozen former Irish defensive linemen to play at least 100 career NFL games.
“Hall of Fame tackle Alan Page was a force on the Minnesota Vikings’ ‘Purple People Eaters’ defensive line in the 1970s,” Kenyon wrote. “As his career ended, Bob Golic started his rise as a three-time Pro Bowler with college teammate Ross Browner becoming a 10-year player.
“Bryant Young entered the league in the mid-1990s, played 14 seasons, went to four Pro Bowls and is tied for 50th in career sacks. Justin Tuck followed in the mid-2000s with an All-Pro campaign in 2008 and two Super Bowl rings earned on the New York Giants.”
The Irish’s three highest-drafted players of this century are offensive linemen — guard Quenton Nelson, tackle Ronnie Stanley (Ravens) and tackle Mike McGlinchey (49ers). Each one of them was a top-10 pick and is a starter for the team that drafted them. Nelson and Stanley were All-Pro picks in 2019, and Nelson earned the highest ranking of any offensive linemen in the 2020 NFL Top 100. Former Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin was second.
That was not, though, enough to crack the top three of offensive line producing schools. Notre Dame was an honorable mention, while USC, Michigan and Ohio State made the top three.
“What the Irish lack in Hall of Fame recognition, they atone for in depth,” Kenyon wrote. “Ten alums tallied 100-plus NFL starts, including Bob Kuechenberg and George Kunz — six- and eight-time Pro Bowlers, respectively. Martin is approaching the 100-start mark and is a four-time All-Pro guard.”
Notre Dame’s NFL quarterback production earned it honorable mention status, but unlike offensive line, most of the weight comes from decades-ago stars. Recent high draft picks Brady Quinn, Jimmy Clausen and DeShone Kizer were not successful starters, but having a four-time Super Bowl winner is enough to get recognition.
“Notre Dame's QB lineage boasts a Hall of Famer in Joe Montana, league MVP in Joe Theismann and pre-merger star Daryle Lamonica. Steve Beuerlein also managed a Pro Bowl season in 1999,” Kenyon wrote. “Rick Mirer is the final notable QB to have a semblance of NFL success.”
Notre Dame was not listed in the rankings of best running back, receiver, linebacker or defensive back producers.
All told, Notre Dame was an honorable mention on Kenyon and Miller’s “Offense U” and “Defense U” lists. LSU, Michigan and Oklahoma joined Notre Dame as four offensive honorable mentions, behind Miami, Ohio State and USC.
Kenyon and Miller dubbed Miami, USC and Florida State as the top three defensive-producing schools, with Notre Dame among 10 honorable mentions.
“If Nick Buoniconti's best years (1963-69) counted in this exercise, Notre Dame would have had a better case for the top three,” Miller wrote. “As is, the Fighting Irish do get credit for almost all of Page's Hall of Fame career, plus Harrison Smith, Young and Dave Duerson, each of whom was selected to at least four Pro Bowls. Tuck was also one of the best pass rushers in the business when he was healthy.”
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