We wished, we hoped, but it was not to be: Cole Kmet will not be returning to play tight end for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in 2020. Not that we should be surprised or angry; Kmet is absolutely NFL-ready and I look forward to watching him play on Sundays.
The Chip Long era at Notre Dame netted a ton of talent at the tight end position (though his tight-end-centric offense never quite materialized), leaving Tommy Rees a lot to play with in Kmet’s absence. We’ll break down all that talent in the penultimate edition of Rees’s Pieces.
TE1A: Brock Wright
Wright and Cole Kmet were held in more or less equally high regard when they signed with Notre Dame in 2017. With Chip Long’s aforementioned tight-end-centric philosophy inbound, Irish fans had dreams of Wright and Kmet devastating offenses together for years to come. But while Kmet’s size and athleticism asserted themselves early in his career, Wright remained a reserve player until last year. As the number-two tight end in 2019, he was mostly used as a blocker and in goal-line packages. He thus gained a reputation among fans as slow and not a receiving threat. This is a mistake.
When given the opportunity, Wright has shown downfield speed and strong hands. His comfort level with Ian Book (they have played together for three years) will make him an effective third-down security blanket. With Kmet on his way to the NFL, Wright will now have an opportunity to seize the number-one role.
Notre Dame will use several different tight ends this year, but if I had to bet on who will get the most snaps and have the most catches, I’d bet on Wright.
TE1B: Tommy Tremble
If I’m betting on Wright to have the most snaps and catches among the tight ends on this team, I’m betting on Tremble to have the most touchdowns. He is a bona fide playmaker and red-zone nightmare with the speed to burn linebackers who try to cover him and the size to outmuscle defensive backs. He is, in short, a ton of fun to watch.
Where Tremble still has to catch up to Wright - and the reason why you will likely see them used in tandem - is on in-line blocking, as he was mostly just a receiving threat last year. While I have no doubt he will make progress, I would still anticipate a lot of sets next year where Wright is attached on the line with Tremble split out wide. If both players play up to their potential, this could be a deadly combination. While anything can happen during the season, expect to see these two as your 1A/1B tight ends on Aug. 29 in Dublin.
TE3: George Takacs
We haven’t seen a lot of Takacs so far at Notre Dame, though he did make a great touchdown catch in the Duke game.
This isn’t Takacs’s fault, merely a result of the depth Notre Dame has accumulated at tight end. Takacs has received consistent praise from the Irish coaching staff for his ability to both block and catch passes as an attached tight end. He absolutely has the talent and the will to contribute, it’s just a matter of opportunities.
It’s difficult to see where Takacs fits into the picture in 2020, as he doesn’t bring a lot to the table that Wright or Tremble can’t. That said, it is always great to have such a talented and well-rounded player on the roster, and he provides important depth. In 2021 and going forward, expect his role to be similar to that occupied by Wright in the past couple years - maybe not as a star player, but definitely making important contributions.
TE4: Michael Mayer
For the third week and position group in a row, I’m going to make this comment: Mayer is a freshman wild card whose elite talent could displace, or at least threaten, everyone ahead of him on the depth chart. An absolute beast at 6’5”, 240 pounds, Mayer runs like a Mack truck and already runs routes, brings down catches and runs after the catch at a college level. He is reminiscent of Kyle Rudolph in his physical running, YAC ability and vise-like hands.
What may keep Mayer from getting a starting role in 2020 is his blocking ability, which is a bit behind his skills as a receiving threat. That will limit his ability to play on an every-down basis ahead of a reliable blocker in Brock Wright, and while he can play well out of the slot, he does not have quite the speed of Tremble. That said, we will almost certainly see him on the field right away. Mayer is the kind of player who doesn’t stay for four years, let alone five. Barring significant injury or regression, he should be a Day 1 or 2 draft pick when he eventually moves on.
TE5: Kevin Bauman
Bauman is an incoming four-star prospect from Red Bank, New Jersey. Bauman is not quite as prepared in his route running, speed, and acceleration as his classmate Michael Mayer. He received high marks from scouts for his blocking, hands, ability to make contested catches and instincts in navigating zone coverage. In any recruiting class that did not include Mayer, he would be considered a major get; as it is, his considerable talents have been somewhat overlooked by most Irish fans.
Between Notre Dame’s experienced upperclassmen and the five-star phenom in his own recruiting class, it’s highly unlikely we see Bauman on the field in 2020. In the future, this may be a Kmet/Wright-type situation where Bauman acts as an important role player complementing a standout in Mayer before taking on a starting role as a senior.