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Notre Dame Football: What Has Happened to Tight End U?

Notre Dame’s tight end production has fallen off mightily the past few seasons. If the first two games are any inclination, 2016 won’t be much better.

Notre Dame v Virginia Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

For over the past 10-15 years Notre Dame has been known as “Tight End U”. They’ve produced some of college football’s premier tight ends that have gone on to make a name for themselves in the NFL. From Anthony Fasano to John Carlson, from Kyle Rudolph to Tyler Eifert, the Irish have had loads of success developing tight ends.

But in the past two seasons the tight end has really been a none factor in the Irish offense, and 2016 is no different. Through the first two games Irish tight ends have caught just one pass for eight yards, which was to Durham Smythe against Texas. Against Nevada, none of the Irish tight ends were even targeted.

Here is the tight end production through the first two games of every year since Brian Kelly has been the coach.

Year Receptions Yards Touchdowns
2010 14 224 1
2011 11 154 0
2012 12 207 1
2013 7 142 2
2014 5 65 0
2015 2 13 1
2016 1 8 0

As you can see ever since the departure of Troy Niklas in 2013, no one really has been able to carry the torch of being the tight end at Notre Dame. Ben Koyack had a decent year in 2014, but he paled in comparison to the guys that came before him. Last year Smythe was injured in the second game of the year and Alize Jones was just a freshman, not to mention there was a guy named Will Fuller who got the ball thrown his way a lot.

We know this year would probably be a different story if Jones wasn’t ruled academically ineligible, but it is what it is. For those out there, myself being one of them, that were optimistic about Smythe and Nic Weishar picking up the load for Jones, it’s safe to say that won’t be the case this season.

Washington v Notre Dame Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Why has tight end production fallen off? Notre Dame has simply got better, much better at other positions over the past three seasons. They’ve had guys like Fuller and Chris Brown on the outside. In recent years Kelly has been more committed to the run, so guys like C.J. Prosise, Tarean Folston and Josh Adams have received more touches. On top of all that Notre Dame’s quarterback play has been better than it has been in quite some time, so DeShone Kizer tends to call his own number more often.

This season is no different. Notre Dame simply has better options than Smythe and Weishar. Adams, Folston, Equanimeous St. Brown, C.J. Sanders, Torii Hunter Jr., heck even Dexter Williams and Kevin Stepherson will all get their named called before either of Notre Dame’s tight ends.

Another reason is that there are no Kyle Rudolph or Tyler Eifert on the roster. There is just no clear-cut stud at tight end, and there hasn’t been one since Niklas. Jones would have been that guy this year if he could have stayed eligible.

If the first two games are any type of measuring stick, don’t expect much from Notre Dame’s tight ends for the rest of 2016. Things will change though next season as Jones should return from being ineligible.