Notre Dame’s Tight End NFL Draft Streak Remains In Good Hands
Since 2004, all nine Notre Dame starting tight ends over the 16 seasons through 2019 were drafted by the NFL, five of them in the second round and one in the first.
This spring, that streak of excellence is expected to continue with junior Tommy Tremble, and possibly even senior Brock Wright.
In the 11-year Brian Kelly era, Tremble could become the fourth tight end drafted as a junior, joining second-round selections Kyle Rudolph (2011), Troy Niklas (2014) and Cole Kmet (2020).
Oddly, Tremble is embarking on a pro career early even though he played in the shadow of Kmet in 2019 and freshman phenom Michael Mayer this past season. Kmet tied the single season Notre Dame record for touchdown catches (six among his 43 grabs) last year. Meanwhile, Mayer’s 42 receptions were second-most ever by a Notre Dame freshman at any position (behind receiver Michael Floyd’s 48 in 2008) while becoming the first frosh to tie for the team lead in passes snared.
Despite Tremble's renown as a flex tight end with excellent athletic attributes — he had a 36.5 vertical leap and ran a 4.59 40-yard dash at Notre Dame’s Pro Day on Wednesday — where Tremble particularly excelled was as a supreme blocker in the running game. Seldom have television cameras isolated on a tight end purely as a ferocious blocker as they did this past season with Tremble.
While apprenticing behind Kmet in 2019, Tremble still grabbed 16 passes for 187 yards and four scores — but more impressive was his 82.8 blocking grade per Pro Football Focus (anything about 80 is considered strong) compared to Kmet’s 55.3. (In fairness, Kmet had twice as many snaps in his role.)
This past year while utilized as an old-fashioned fullback, flexed out, or even in the slot, Tremble’s blocking acumen continued with an 83.7 grade from PFF.
However, after catching five passes in the opener versus Duke, Tremble caught only 14 more the rest of the season while taking a secondary role in that area. It is an area of the game he knows he can better showcase.
“No matter what anyone else says, they haven't seen me do it all like that yet,” Tremble said of his versatility. “… I’m really excited to really show them how dangerous I can be in the passing game.”
He credited current tight ends coach John McNulty for helping him become a more sound technician. And while former 2017-19 offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Chip Long became a pariah to many players and coaches that eventually led to his release (he is now the OC at Tulane), Tremble attributes a lot of his intensity and nastiness to the “hard core” instruction from Long.
“He wanted the best out of everybody on the field and I tried to give him my best every time,” Tremble said. “That carried on really to this year as well. I appreciate what he's done for me, and he showed me the ropes on what being a real tight end is.”
Just how much Notre Dame has been Tight End U. for the better part of 50 years might be best reflected in Wright. He arrived in 2017 as Notre Dame’s top-ranked recruit — No. 44 nationally by Rivals, with Kmet next at No. 95 — yet throughout his career was the third option at the position.
However, even as the No. 3 man, he played 345 snaps (about 29 per game) in Notre Dame’s multi-tight end base last season. Wright finished his career with a modest seven receptions for 78 yards and a touchdown, but at 6-4, 257 pounds checked out exceptionally on Pro Day with 26 bench-press reps of 225 pounds, a 4.60 time in the 40-yard dash and a 31.5 vertical jump.
Although he played all four seasons with the Irish from 2017-20, Wright could have returned for a final season in 2021 because of the NCAA permitting an extra season due to the COVID-19 circumstances. He also could have been a graduate transfer someplace.
“Going into the season, it had always been my plan to finish up school and then get ready for the NFL,” Wright said. “That was always my goal coming here — graduate and go play at the next level. I knew I had a chance to do that now. It’s been my dream since I was a little kid. I just thought now or never, it’s my time to do it.”
In Wright, an NFL franchise would be getting a player who checks out well physically and with which there will be no issues with character. At Notre Dame he was a chapter leader with linebacker Drew White for Uplifting Athletes, which helps raise money for the Rare Disease Community.
“I’m a tough, smart, disciplined player that plays with 100 percent effort 100 percent of the time,” said Wright of his selling point to NFL teams. “I pride myself on doing the right thing and always trying to make others around me better, and I know I’m going to be able to do that wherever I go.”
Tight end at Notre Dame is never a bad place to start during that journey.
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