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Talent at the Tight End: A Notre Dame Tradition and Its Future

Written by Connor Regan|Writer

Photo by The Irish Tribune


We've now completed the 2023 regular season schedule, and Marcus Freeman's squad has improved to 9-3, his best record yet as a head coach, and a few simple observations can be made. First, the defense has outperformed the offense this year. Al Golden's squad has ended the season as the 3rd best pass defense in the country and 9th in points allowed. On the flipside, the Irish offense notched only the 50th-best passing game in the country with 247.8 yards/game. Despite the highly touted transfer of Same Hartman and the prolific production of Audric Estime out of the backfield, Gered Parker's offense has underperformed, and the passing game in particular, has shown to be the most obvious area of improvement. One of the chief concerns has been the receiving core, with the wide receivers having drawn criticism due to inconsistent performance and issues meshing with Hartman at various points through the year.





As far as consistent foundational strengths, Notre Dame has been called "O-Line-U" for years now because of the NFL-level talent they consistently produce. Although accurate, Notre Dame has had an equally significant impact on another position; the tight end. Simply put, the Irish have quietly dominated the tight end market for nearly 50 years. Since 1973, the Irish have sent 25 tight ends to the NFL, roughly one every two years, with 5 going in the 1st round, 7 in the 2nd round, and 1 in the 3rd. Names ranging from past greats like:


Dave Casper - 1974 - 2nd, Pk. 45

Ken MacAfee - 1978 - 1st, Pk. 7

Tony Hunter - 1983 - 1st, Pk. 12

Derek Brown - 1992 - 1st, Pk. 14


To the more modern crop of talent, like:

Anthony Fasano - 2006 - 2nd, Pk. 53

John Carlson - 2008 - 2nd, Pk. 38

Kyle Rudolph - 2011 - 2nd, Pk. 43

Tyler Eifert - 2013 - 1st, Pk. 21

Durham Smythe - 2018 - 4th, Pk. 123

Cole Kmet - 2020 - 2nd, Pk. 43

Tommy Tremble - 2021 - 3rd, Pk. 83

Michael Mayer - 2023 - 2nd, Pk. 35


Notre Dame currently has 5 active tight ends in the NFL, and with Michael Mayer's recent departure to the NFL, there's a significant vacancy on the Irish offense that needs to be filled. The competition to do so has been incredibly interesting over the course of this season, with some players showing streaks of promise and others cementing themselves as legitimate contenders to be the next big name among Notre Dame's tight ends.





The season began with a mix of Holden Staes and Mitchell Evans, with Staes going on a 3-game stretch where he scored 4 touchdowns (Tennessee State, Central Michigan, & and NC State), followed by Evans truly breaking out not only as the leading tight end, but Hartman's favorite target during Notre Dame's most challenging stretch of the season (Ohio State, Duke, Louisville). Staes is currently tied with Jaden Greathouse for most receiving touchdowns this season at 4, and despite being sidelined after only 7 games with a torn ACL, Evans finished the season in receptions with 29 and finished second with 422 receiving yards behind just Chris Tyree. If you adjust Evan's stats for a 12-game season, he was on pace to nearly match Michael Mayer's final season averages with the Irish when he posted 67 receptions for 809 yards. With some time and once fully healed, Mitchell Evans could follow very closely in the footsteps of Michael Mayer, suggesting big things for his remaining time with Notre Dame.


In the face of Evans going down, highly touted 4-star recruit and freshman Cooper Flanagan stepped up to grab both the first pass and first touchdown of his Notre Dame career via a late 4th quarter pass from Steve Angeli against Pitt. Two weeks later against Wake Forest, 4-star recruit and sophomore Eli Raridon had a big day for himself, catching 3 balls for 39 yards and also scoring his first career touchdown. That marks the 5th Notre Dame tight end this season to score at least 1 touchdown. As for the more distant future, things look promising. 2024 marks the arrival of talented 4-star tight end recruit Jack Larsen, and 2025 will see the #5 tight end recruit in the country, James Flannigan, arrive in South Bend, bolstering an already loaded tight end room.


The Irish may have unknowns surrounding their offense for the 2024-2025 season, with questions about Gerad Parker's future, QB uncertainty with Hartman leaving, the possibility of Estime declaring for the draft, and who will step up from the receiving core, the offense needs something to build off of going forward. Thankfully, with the emergence of Mitchell Evans, the performance of Holden Staes, the promising debuts of Eli Raridon and Cooper Flanagan, and the incoming talent of Jack Larsen in 2024 and James Flannigan in 2025, Notre Dame looks to follow the dominance of Michael Mayer with another high caliber talent and continue their decades-old tradition of dominance at the tight end.



2 Comments


Guest
Nov 28, 2023

Arguably the most well written article I've read on this site. I can tell this author really cares about this team. Great job and keep up the good work!

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Connor Regan
Connor Regan
Dec 25, 2023
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Thank you!

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