If Penn State is Line Backer U, and Purdue is the Cradle of Quarterbacks, what does that make Notre Dame? Tight End U, of course! Over the last decade, and throughout much of Notre Dame’s history, the Fighting Irish have produced top-notch tight ends.
Given their size, versatility, and blocking abilities, a top notch tight end can be essential for the win column, especially in close games and in the red zone.
This week we will examine some of Notre Dame’s past stars and also the man charged with continuing the Fighting Irish’s tradition: Tyler Eifert.
But first, let’s look at some of Notre Dame’s best Tight Ends.
You've probably heard of Casper the Ghost, but have you heard of Dave "The Ghost" Casper? As a member of the 1973 National Championship team David Casper was an All-American and the 1973 Notre Dame Offensive MVP.
After Notre Dame, Casper would be selected in the second round of the NFL draft as the 45th pick. He would go on to play for the Oakland Raiders, where after a few slow seasons he became a major force on the team. He also become famous for his “Ghost to the Post.”
Casper was selected to four straight Pro Bowls (1976-1980), with his last Pro Bowl selection coming while playing on the Houston Oilers. In 2002, Casper was elected to the NFL hall of fame.
Arguably the greatest Notre Dame tight end of all time, Ken MacAfee was selected as an All-American three years in a row, from 1975-1977 before being taken as the seventh overall draft pick.
MacAfee recorded an impressive 128 career passes for 1,759 yards and 15 TDs and was a key component of the 1977 Notre Dame National championship team. For his efforts he would win the 1977 Walter Camp Award.
He didn’t fare as well in the NFL though, and after being traded to the Minnesota Vikings in 1981 he decided to retire.
A finalist for the John Mackey Award, Anthony Fasano recorded an impressive 1112 yard on 93 receptions, most of them coming in 2004 and 2005, his junior and senior years. In 2005, his most notable season, Fasano caught an impressive 47 catches for 576 yards.
Fasano would be the 53rd overall pick in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He started slow under the Dallas Cowboys, recording less then 300 yards in two seasons, however since being traded to the Miami Dolphins he has pushed his career totals to 1590 yards and 14 touchdowns. Last season he recorded a solid 528 yards on 39 receptions, for a total of 13.5 yards per catch. For his effort he was awarded a generous contract extension.
A captain in his junior (2006) and senior (2007) years, John Carlson racked up an impressive 100 receptions for just under 1100 yards. Averaging about 10.93 yards per catch, Carlson was not just catching the ball, he was moving the chains and earning first downs. He also recorded a solid eight touchdowns. His junior year was his strongest performance, and Carlson ended up as a finalist for the Mackey Award.
Carlson went to the Seattle Seahawks in the second round (38th pick overall). He has played in 33 games, starting in 28 of them. Over his three years he has recorded 109 catches for 1,237 yards, a solid 11.3 yards per catch. So far Carlson has recorded an impressive 15 touchdowns, including a two-touchdown performance in the 2010 playoffs.
Why is Tyler Eifert on the spot? Because star Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph left early for the NFL. Rudolph came out of the gate strong, starting in all of Notre Dame’s games in his freshmen year and recording 29 catches for 340 yards.
Unfortunately, his sophomore and junior years would be hampered by injuries. In 2009 a shoulder injury would limit him to just nine games, though he still managed to record a solid 364 yards on 33 catches. In his junior year, a hamstring injury would limit him to only six games, in which he recorded 328 yards on just 28 receptions.
Even with his injury-limited collegiate career, Rudolph declared for the NFL in his junior year and was taken by the Minnesota Vikings in the second round (43rd pick).
He’s got big shoes to fill, no doubt. Then again, all he really has to do is continue his in-game performance. Eifert caught 27 passes for 352 yards and two touchdowns, with 26 of those catches coming in the last seven games of the season. Not bad production by any means, and if he can play strong all season, look for him to continue the Fighting Irish run of top notch tight ends.
So can he? If tight ends had any worries that Kelly would not use the position much in his version of the spread, those fears have been quickly erased. Rudolph and Eifert combined for over 700 yards last season. So the system is definitely in place for Eifert to have some footballs thrown his way.
Eifert himself has already proven his skills, racking up over 350 yards. While Eifert came in as a moderately ranked three star recruit, other major programs also extended him offers, indicating that coaches clearly saw his upside. And at 6'6" and 250 pounds he does not have much to worry about in the size department.
Given his already proven performance, there should be little doubt that Eifert will not under-perform, barring a serious injury of course. Listed as one of the 34 members of the Mackey Award list, Eifert has the speed and ability to break free of defenders and get open for big plays.
Further, Eifert, along with most Notre Dame players, had to switch from Weis' pro-style attack to Brian Kelly's version of the spread. Now that all of those X's and O's have been settled, defenders on the other side of the line of scrimmage are going to have a heck of a time slowing the Fighting Irish down.
And if you don’t take my word for it, look to the Rivals.com experts. They have him ranked as the eighth best tight end in the nation.